To the Pritzker Administration: A Blueprint to Economic & Racial Justice for Illinois

The Pritzker administration has a powerful opportunity to make Illinois a place where families thrive, communities are stronger, and no one is left behind.

As Governor J.B. Pritzker begins his term at the helm of Illinois government, he and his administration have a crucial opportunity to put the state on a path of progress. Over the next four years, the Pritzker administration must enact an agenda that is built on transparency and aimed at making Illinois better for all its residents. Key to this effort is dismantling the systems and structures that keep opportunity and justice for all from being a reality. The Sargent Shriver Center on National Poverty Law has spent more than 50 years advocating for everyday families and communities from our home base of Illinois. Below is our blueprint for how the Pritzker administration can reduce poverty and increase opportunity and justice in Illinois.

Push Illinois towards equity and fight fiercely against any attempts from the Trump Administration to inflict harm.

  • Governor Pritzker and his administration must be a stout line of defense for Illinoisans against harmful policies by the Trump administration to destabilize the healthcare marketplace, impose cruel and counterproductive requirements for people to access basic support programs, weaken protections for women and girls, rollback civil rights guidance in housing and education, and more.
  • Just as critical is a state government that will evaluate Illinois’ own commitment to equity and then embark on a path towards achieving it. In its first year, the Pritzker administration should assess how all of the state’s systems, laws, and policies — including the criminal justice and civil justice systems, housing, employment, community investment, the administrative of public benefit programs, healthcare, education, and childcare — advance or impede equity. This assessment should be used to build and follow a plan to advance meaningful reform. Illinois would also become an example for the rest of the nation, as this approach to reform is long overdue in most states across the country.

Move Illinois towards a fair revenue system that can sufficiently fund human services which benefit our communities.

  • To secure the long-term well-being of Illinois and the working families who reside here, the Pritzker administration should take the necessary action now to put on the ballot in 2020 a constitutional amendment that would allow for a Fair Tax in Illinois. This will enable the state to increase the fairness of its revenue system and raise the substantial revenue needed to stop cutting vital programs, pay bills on time, make smart and necessary investments to strengthen the safety net, secure opportunity for all, and efficiently solve fiscal problems.
  • While the implementation of a Fair Tax is pending, the Pritzker-led state government should identify and secure other sources of needed revenue for Illinois. Deep cuts during recent recessions and the budget impasse have significantly impaired and in some cases even threatened the existence of human services and health programs vital to Illinois families, robbing these crucial resources of capacity, talent, financial reserves, and the ability to come anywhere close to meeting the need of the people in our state.
  • The administration should measure any capital spending plan through an explicit lens of its impact on reducing poverty and improving equity, to ensure that both these goals are furthered as much as possible. Any capital spending plan should include investments in infrastructure that reduce poverty and improve equity (e.g., affordable housing, lead abatement in schools and housing, expanded health and dental facilities).

Provide access to and protections for affordable health care coverage for all Illinoisans.

  • Illinois was the first state in the country to take a stand that all children, regardless of immigration status, should get quality health coverage. Illinois can again be a leader for the nation by extending coverage to every person in the state, including undocumented adults. The administration should also strongly push back against any federal attempts to restrict health care coverage at the state level, including by explicitly rejecting work requirements under Medicaid and any attempts to sabotage the Affordable Care Act.
  • Improve the administrative process for Medicaid applicants and recipients so that Illinoisans with low income can get and keep healthcare coverage. Adequate funding for Medicaid services is also critical for ensuring patient access to providers.
  • The Pritzker administration should prioritize the protection and engagement of Illinois consumers in the health insurance marketplace.

Make Illinois a place where hardworking low-income families have a fair chance at economic advancement.

  • Shore up funding for programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and protect children from low-income families from losing nutrition due to draconian and counterproductive requirements.
  • Improve the operation of the federally-funded Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by investing in employment and training programs that prepare participants for good jobs. Make it easier for participants who are elderly, experiencing homelessness, or have a disability to access hot food with their benefits.
  • All workers in Illinois, regardless of who they work for or how much they earn, should be treated with dignity and respect. The administration must champion legislation that ensures fair pay, provides for stability and basic benefits like paid sick time for low-income workers, and protects against discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace. The administration must also ensure rigorous enforcement of existing and future labor laws so the workplace can work for both employers and employees in Illinois.
  • The administration should endeavor to protect consumers with lower incomes from unscrupulous business practices by banks, lenders, and other financial institutions who profit from exploiting people in difficult situations. The state should commit to robust monitoring of these groups, while also supporting laws and regulations that empower consumers to protect themselves from abusive behavior.

Reform the criminal justice system in Illinois to better support the long-term safety of communities and the successful re-integration of justice-involved individuals.

  • The administration should ensure that adequate funding is provided to counties so that every indigent person arrested is provided with a well-trained and resourced defense counsel from the time of their arrest through the end of their prosecution.
  • Support advocacy aimed at reducing the number of people detained in county jails across the state.
  • Help eliminate the use of unaffordable money bonds across Illinois and require courts to use less restrictive options such as curfews, court reminders, and check-ins.

Make Illinois communities stronger for all by investing in safe and affordable housing and promoting fairer housing enforcement policies.

  • Prioritize the production and preservation of affordable housing in the state budget. This will spur economic growth in Illinois and reduce homelessness, institutionalized care, the racial wealth gap, and housing instability.
  • Residential segregation impacts all aspects of a person’s life, including their health outcomes, economic stability, safety, and education. It is estimated that each year, hundreds of lives in the Chicago area alone are cut down by violence, and billions of dollars in income and human potential are lost due to residential segregation. Affordable housing located in high-opportunity neighborhoods, as well as support for meaningful economic development — including housing in areas that have faced disinvestment, will help promote residential diversity, help children in poor families climb the economic ladder, and remedy historical systemic inequities in community investment.
  • An effective criminal justice system helps justice-involved individuals secure safe, affordable housing upon release so that they can leave the system behind them. Yet, in Illinois, people with criminal records face numerous housing barriers, such as overly restrictive tenant screening policies, diminished ability to access and/or afford housing on the current market, and onerous enforcement of crime-free/nuisance ordinances. By breaking down these barriers, Illinois would benefit from lower rates of recidivism, fewer resources spent on costly prison stays and justice-related surveillance, and more individuals reunited with their families.
  • Illinois has the opportunity to become a leader in preventing lead poisoning. But today, thousands of Illinois children who experience lead poisoning, disproportionately children of color, do not receive necessary medical care and are in homes that do not undergo mandatory inspections which identify lead hazards. As a result, increased funding for lead poisoning prevention and a centralized and dedicated strategy for ending lead poisoning in Illinois is crucial.

All students in Illinois should be able to receive a high-quality education at public schools in their communities.

  • The Pritzker Administration should end former Gov. Bruce Rauner’s misguided “Invest in Kids” tax credit scholarship program. This program takes funding from already significantly underfunded public education, provides scholarships to families who can make nearly $100,000 annually, and also provides funding to support organizations administering the scholarships. Until our public schools offer every child an excellent education, we cannot afford to pay for private schools.
  • Improve facilities, technology, staffing, and social services at public schools so students in Illinois can be positioned for success. A significant increase in funding for public education is necessary if Illinois is to have a strong economy, good jobs, and the ability to attract new business investment.
  • Support student survivors of sexual and domestic violence in Illinois. The administration must ensure that schools across the state are safe environments where students who’ve experienced trauma can learn and succeed academically with protections against being re-victimized by school officials or their peers.

Ensure that every resident of Illinois, regardless of their income, race, ethnicity, or immigration status, is able to access basic needs.

  • Support the Illinois Tenant Protection Act to protect immigrant tenants from harassment and discrimination by their property owners and demonstrate our state’s commitment to being a stable, welcoming environment for all.
  • The Pritzker administration should reject federal efforts to tie immigration benefits to how much money a person has. Illinois should fight to protect access to nutrition, housing, healthcare, an education, and other necessary supports for its residents, irrespective of their immigration status.

Now is the time to boldly embark on an anti-poverty agenda in Illinois that promotes equity for all and is grounded in racial justice.

The Pritzker administration has a powerful opportunity to make Illinois a place where families thrive, communities are stronger, and no one is left behind. Throughout the next four years and beyond the Shriver Center stands ready as an expert partner, resource, and leading voice to help realize that vision. Learn how you can help.

About the Author

John Bouman
John Bouman
John Bouman
Kate Walz
Kate Walz
Kate Walz

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Our laws and policies must support people by ensuring fair work at a living wage and by providing the income supports families need to be successful.

Everyone should be paid decently and have basic workplace protections.

Everyone deserves access to affordable, comprehensive, culturally appropriate healthcare, no matter their income, race, gender, or where they're from.

All people should have the right to a safe, stable home to build better futures for themselves and their families.

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