Illinois Legislature Makes Strong Start Toward Recovery

State investments that address the COVID-19 crisis must protect communities now and move toward long overdue systemic change.

State investments that address the COVID-19 crisis must protect communities now and move toward long overdue systemic change.

The Shriver Center championed a special legislative agenda in Illinois to support working families, provide affordable healthcare for our most vulnerable, and ensure equitable housing practices. We urged Governor Pritzker and the Illinois General Assembly to enact policy changes and allocate budget resources to ensure equity and protect Black and Brown communities most affected by the pandemic.  

After an intense, four-day legislative session, Illinois emerges with strong investments in housing relief, economic security and expanded healthcare coverage – including making Illinois the first state to provide Medicaid coverage to seniors regardless of immigration status. 

The legislature also advanced the Fair Tax, an important measure that will lift an unfair tax burden from the middle class while raising revenue for schools and other priorities, which will be on the ballot in the fall. The legislature also recognized structural inequities exacerbated during this public health and economic crisis and put forth an equity lens in its FY 2021 budget. These wins are important first steps toward rebuilding a more equitable, fair and just Illinois for all.  

We must acknowledge the missed opportunities to support workers with paid sick leave as well as the advancement of legislation that enhances sentencing in the criminal code that further hurts Black and Brown communities. We also must acknowledge that comprehensive, affordable healthcare is still not attainable to all Illinoisans. We urge Illinois legislators to revisit these issues and further build upon an agenda of equity and long-term support for struggling communities as we look to the fall. 

Here are the gains achieved during this session:

Access to Healthcare

Everyone deserves access to affordable, comprehensive healthcare, no matter their income, race, gender, or where they’re from. This is especially obvious in the face of a worldwide public health crisis where Black and Brown communities are contracting and dying at disproportionately higher rates than others, due to systemic racism and a lack of investment in their communities. 

We are thrilled to report that the FY 2021 budget passed by the Illinois Legislature will make comprehensive health coverage available for older, low-income immigrants for the first time. 

The budget allocation, which includes language from HB 4891 (Rep. Ramirez) / SB 3703 (Sen. Aquino), the Healthy Illinois For All  bill, will create a pathway to health coverage for all uninsured low-income Illinois residents aged 65 and older, with household incomes of up to 100% FPL ($12,760 for an individual) regardless of their immigration status. Illinois is the first state in the nation to provide Medicaid look-alike coverage to seniors regardless of immigration status. This is a monumental and critical first step toward expanding healthcare coverage to all undocumented, uninsured Illinoisans.

The budget also allocates an additional $683 million to the Department of Human Services (DHS) to hire caseworkers to process Medicaid eligibility claimsa 6% increase from last year. Because of the dramatically rising unemployment rate, it is estimated that 200,000 to 1 million Illinoisans could become eligible for Medicaid in the coming year. This investment will ensure that more families experiencing hardship will be able to retain health coverage. 

In addition to the budget, the Healthcare Omnibus billSB 1864 (Sen. Hunter / Rep. Harris) contains many provisions that will advance access to healthcare for Illinoisans made vulnerable by COVID-19. Among other things, the bill:  

  • Requires the State to conduct a study to explore options to make health insurance more affordable for low-income and middle-income residents. A report detailing the design, costs, benefits, and implementation of these options is due in early 2021.
  • Lays out actions the State may take to improve access to healthcare for up to a year after the public health emergency ends. These actions will make it easier for Illinoisans to get and keep Medicaid coverage, will eliminate barriers to service, and will improve access to providers. 
  • Provides coverage for clinical trials involving the prevention, detection, or treatment of a life-threatening disease, including COVID-19. 
  • Covers treatment of COVID-19 for uninsured individuals, including to non-citizens for the duration of the state emergency period. 

These reforms address dire needs caused by historic inequities, and they should be made permanent.

Support for Workers 

Illinois’ current flat tax system is unfair and inadequate to meet state needs. The Fair Tax amendment will change the state constitution and ensure that Illinois’ highest earners pay their fair share. SJR 1 sets forth the Fair Tax pamphlet and ballot language that voters will be given before and on election day. The language in both makes a strong case for passing the Fair Tax constitutional amendment. 

The FY 2021 budget, SB 264, provides $89 million in new investment to immigrant communities in response to the pandemic. While insufficient to meet the need, these are historic levels of investment for services to immigrants in a difficult budget year. Funding for Immigrant Services is increased from $6.5 million to $30 million, and the Department of Human Services Welcoming Centers, which assist immigrant families affected by the pandemic, are provided $35 million. The budget also allocates an additional $32 million from federal COVID relief funding to the Welcoming Centers. 

The state legislature’s failure to provide all Illinois workers with paid sick leave, however, is deeply disappointing. In the midst of a pandemic, with so many front-line essential workers risking their health and safety, the General Assembly should have addressed this issue in its emergency session. With growing support for the bill however, we see a significant opportunity to have it enacted into law before the end of the year. 

Relief for Renters & Homeowners 

Millions of Illinoisans have suffered a sudden and unexpected loss of income leaving them vulnerable to eviction and foreclosure. But even before the crisis, housing was unaffordable to many.

Although the Emergency and Economic Recovery Renter and Homeowner Protection Act, HB 5574 /SB 3066 (Rep. Ramirez / Sen. Peters) failed to passadvocates succeeded in securing in the FY2021 budget an appropriation of nearly $400 million in emergency rent and mortgage relief for families experiencing financial hardship. These funds will provide relief for many Illinoisans fearful of losing their homes. The Governor’s announcement that he intends to extend the eviction moratorium should hopefully protect renters from eviction until the funds are made available.

We thank the Governor and the Illinois General Assembly for including all these measures in the budget and emergency omnibus bill to protect low-income families and communities throughout the state in the fight against COVID-19. We look forward to implementing these successes and to continuing to advance economic and racial justice. 

We can’t do this work alone. We need you in the fight for economic and racial justice. As we push toward systemic change, your voice matters. Sign our petition to support our advocacy agenda.

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