Illinois Legislative Session Ushers in Bold Progress Toward Equity

We can secure justice and advance opportunity for people living in poverty by supporting policies at the state level that counteract the attacks from the Trump Administration. This spring, the State of Illinois rose in firm opposition to the administration’s cruel, calculated, and xenophobic attacks on people of color and on struggling families. Instead, Illinois lawmakers passed legislation that represents proactive, positive, and transformative progress for our state.

The Illinois Legislature approved a groundswell of legislation to expand employment opportunities and equity, support families, and ultimately create stronger communities for everyone. Officials passed measures to let Illinois voters adopt a fairer income tax system, to ensure seniors and people with disabilities have access to hot meals, to create pay equity, to make our state more welcoming for immigrants, to protect access to healthcare from sabotage, and to better understand when and why returning citizens are placed on restrictive electronic monitoring and denied true freedom.

The Shriver Center on Poverty Law led the charge to make these bills and resolutions the law of the land in Illinois, and, ultimately, to make our state a better place to live for all our communities. This year we moved forward with a bold agenda to promote equity and pathways out of poverty. We focused on economic justicehousing justicehealth justice, and community justice, all with a focus on race. Promoting justice requires the advancement of racial equity. Poverty and racial inequity are inextricably linked in American life — and in every state’s institutions, structures, and systems.

Throughout this fight, we stood side by side with people experiencing poverty. We worked with our community allies to ensure the State adopted policies that will positively impact their daily lives and futures. Here are the measures we joined our partners in advocating for:

• The Governor and General Assembly took an important step toward equity in our tax system. Our elected officials passed a resolution to put a Fair Tax constitutional amendment before voters. Voters will decide in 2020 whether our state should adopt a Fair Tax. Doing so would raise more than $3 billion in needed revenue to fund schools and social services. It would alleviate the unfair tax burden currently faced by middle-class families and families with low income, while ensuring the wealthy pay their fair share.

• The Legislature advanced justice for seniors, people with disabilities, and people who are experiencing homelessness. Illinois lawmakers approved a measure that will allow people who may have trouble using or accessing kitchens to buy nutritious meals at participating restaurants — and possibly even grocery stores. The Hot Meals for Hungry Illinoisans Actis a commonsense bill that will make it possible for seniors, people with disabilities, and people experiencing homelessness to use their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to purchase hot meals at establishments that have opted in to the program.

• We also supported a measure that will bring Illinois in line with the best practices around SNAP Employment & Training requirements. The bill will remove an extra layer of tedious work requirements Illinois imposes on SNAP recipients.

• After three years of advocacy by the Shriver Center and our allies, and two vetoes by former Governor Bruce Rauner, Illinois took an important step this year to eliminate the gender wage gap. Lawmakers approved, and we expect Governor Pritzker to sign, the No Salary History Bill. This measure will strengthen the Equal Pay Act by preventing employers from asking job applicants about their previous salary history. Women are the primary or co-breadwinners in more than 60 percent of Illinois families. Yet, when taken as an average, women in the state are paid just 79 cents for every dollar white men earn. That gap in wages is even wider for Black women, Latinas, and other women of color. When employers base women’s wages on what they made in the past, it perpetuates pay inequity and leaves not only those women, but also their families at a disadvantage. The No Salary History Bill will help ensure a person’s salary is based on the requirements of the job and the employee’s qualifications.

• We are making Illinois a more welcoming state. Everyone has the right to feel safe in their home. Unfortunately, a person’s immigration status can leave them vulnerable to being mistreated when living in rental housing. Illinois lawmakers stepped up and approved the Immigrant Tenant Protection Act, which will make such discrimination illegal in Illinois. When this measure is signed into law, landlords will be prohibited from harassing, threatening, or evicting tenants based on any perceived immigration or citizenship status. If landlords carry out such discriminatory actions, tenants would be able to take civil action against the landlord and would also have a defense against eviction. By passing this bill, Illinois is becoming a better place for families to live. In a time of rising xenophobia and bigotry, we will stand as a nationwide leader in affirming that everyone has the right to fair housing.

• Lawmakers also passed a measure that will protect people in civil cases who may be pressured to drop their cases or accept unfavorable settlements for fear of having their immigration status exposed. The measure raises the threshold for admissibility of immigration status in Illinois Civil cases. This bill will make Illinois the third state to have these protections for civil litigants.

• Illinois affirmed its commitment to protecting healthcare access. The Illinois Senate passed a resolution pledging to protect Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act. Senators committed to resisting federal attempts to weaken these critical programs. This prepares Illinois to resist the Trump Administration’s ACA sabotage. The Shriver Center also championed another measure that will protect healthcare consumers. The No Bad Waiver Bill will prevent any Illinois governor from imposing burdensome, unnecessary work requirements on people who receive Medicaid. This bill creates a process that would require legislative input. Illinois will also become the first state in the nation to extend Medicaid coverage to women up to 12 months postpartum to reduce racial inequities in maternal mortality rates.

• In addition, we supported a Medicaid bill that will prevent people from temporarily losing their healthcare coverage due to paperwork delays. The bill will allow for more automatic Medicaid renewals so recipients don’t have gaps in their coverage year after year. The bill also makes it easier for people to secure their Medicaid coverage in the first place.

• Illinois lawmakers became the first in the nation to address electronic monitoring. People who’ve served their time should be free and able to re-integrate into society. But, annually in Illinois, the Department of Corrections and Prisoner Review Board place thousands of people on electronic monitoring after they have served their complete prison sentences. This session, lawmakers unanimously passed a measure to monitor the use of such devices. Illinois will be the first state in the country that requires its agencies to annually report how they use electronic monitoring. The Shriver Center will continue fighting to limit the use of this monitoring.

• After tireless championing by the Shriver Center and other advocates, low-wage workers, and activists, we helped increase the state’s minimum wage. Governor Pritzker signed a measure that will raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025. The increase will help all workers earn enough to meet their basic needs and care for their families.

• Consumers also gained protections this legislative session. The Consumer Fairness Act, which passed both chambers of the General Assembly, lowers post-judgment interest rates on civil judgments under $25,000 from nine percent to five percent. Most of these judgments are secured against people with low income, and debt collectors disproportionately pursue legal action and aggressive debt collection against Black and Brown communities for small amounts owed. The bill also reduces the amount of time a debt collector can revive debts owed by 10 years.

The spring 2019 legislative session closed with the Shriver Center securing victories for families with low income, people earning the minimum wage, individuals experiencing hunger, the formerly justice-involved, consumers, and more. But our work to create a more equitable Illinois continues. We know these fights to advance justice, while sometimes years long, are winnable. We will keep advancing policies that support economic and racial justice. We will continue standing with our community partners to build a future where all people, families, and future generations have equal dignity, respect, and power under the law. Join us in this movement!

Alissa Rivera contributed to this blog post.

About the Author

Stephanie Altman
Stephanie Altman
Stephanie Altman
Director of Healthcare Justice and Senior Director of Policy


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