Legislation Focusing On Providing Access To Equity And Human Rights May Potentially Impact Millions In Illinois
Heartland Alliance’s Policy and Advocacy team has just completed one of the most successful legislative sessions in recent years. We are proud to have led on and contributed to the passage of numerous bills that further Heartland Alliance’s vision and commitment to human rights and these pieces of legislation will go on to positively impact our participants and millions of others in Illinois.
We know that legislative change is often incremental, but we continue to make critical steps toward broad goals, like closing the racial wealth divide, eliminating collateral consequences for people with criminal records and safeguarding the programs and services that help people experiencing poverty meet their basic needs. Your dedication has helped bring millions of people in Illinois closer to accessing health and healing, economic opportunity as well as safety and justice. Your calls, emails, tweets, and voices, put these bills across the finish line so we invite you celebrate these wins with us, because YOU helped make them happen.
INCREASE WEALTH EQUITY
- Children’s Savings Accounts (HB2237) creates a statewide Children’s Savings Account (CSA) program so startingin 2021, all children born or adopted in Illinois will receive a $50 seed deposit into a 529 college savings account. This is the culmination of a decade-long campaign led by Heartland Alliance, and if signed into law by the Governor, it will be the largest CSA program in the country. Check out the fact sheet and press release to learn more.
- Debt Collection Reform (HB88) – Reforms Illinois debt collection laws to help families get out of debt more quickly, helping to close the racial wealth divide and give more families the opportunity to thrive. For more, read the fact sheet and press release.
- Basic Income Pilot Benefits Protection (SB1735) makes it possible for Illinois residents to participate in an innovative basic income research study so that the financial assistance provided to individuals enrolled in these pilot programs is excluded when determining eligibility and benefit levels for public aid. This ensures that individuals can keep accessing crucial supports while researchers are able to rigorously measure the impact of basic income pilots and provide important evidence to policymakers.
INCREASE ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITY
- Minimum Wage Increase (SB1): This bill puts Illinois on a path to raise the minimum wage to $15/hour over the next 6 years. The first increase to $9.25/hour will happen on January 1 of next year, the second increase will occur July 1, 2020 to $10/hour and the minimum wage will continue to increase by $1 on July 1 each year until it reaches $15.
SNAP and TANF Program Innovations and Improvements .
- The SNAP Restaurant Meals Program Bill (HB3343) allows SNAP recipients who are elderly, disabled or experiencing homelessness to use their LINK cards to purchase prepared meals at participating restaurants. We led this in partnership with the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless and the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law.
- The College Student Hunger bill (SB1641) requires the Illinois Student Assistance Commission to provide information about Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) eligibility to all students accepted for enrollment and identified as eligible for the Monetary Award Program (MAP) grant. The bill helps address the growing problem of hunger among college students and lack of information and misinformation many students receive about their eligibility for food assistance.
- Heartland Alliance, in strong partnership with the Chicago Jobs Council, also lead the efforts to pass the SNAP Employment & Training (E&T) Program Bill (SB1791). The bill will help build a stronger more effective SNAP E&T program by encourage new investment, capturing additional federal dollars and preventing people with significant barriers to employment from losing their food assistance. The bill functionally make SNAP E&T voluntary for the entire state.
- Strengthening TANF (HB3129) eliminates full family sanctions so that families experiencing extreme poverty are not completely destitute when they are not able to fully meet program requirements. Heartland Alliance also worked with the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless to make significant improvements to the TANF program to ensure that sanctions applied for the cash assistance program for our state’s neediest families are fair and rare. The bill also creates a good cause exemption for families who are experiencing homelessness, eviction or utility disruption. Good Cause exemptions are given to families when the adult can demonstrate that there are mitigating reasons for not meeting participant requirements. And it also ensures that the TANF grant amount remains at 30% of the Federal Poverty Level.
- VTTC Program Extension (HB2118) This bill continues a program that Heartland Alliance was responsible for creating in 2016 for another 3 years. The Victims of Trafficking, Torture, or Other Crimes (VTTC) program provides medical, food, and cash assistance to foreign-born survivors of human trafficking, torture and other serious crimes while they are preparing to file and waiting for a decision on their visa or asylum applications.
INCREASE ACCESS TO JUSTICE
- Housing as a Human Right (SB1780) creates a civil rights violation under the Illinois Human Rights Act to refuse to sell, rent, or otherwise make housing unavailable to any buyer or renter based on an arrest not leading to a finding of guilt, a juvenile record; or a criminal history record ordered expunged, sealed, or impounded. SB1780 is an initiative of the Restoring Rights and Opportunities Coalition of Illinois (RROCI). RROCI is a coalition of directly impacted community leaders, organizers, and policy advocates from Cabrini Green Legal Aid, Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, Community Renewal Society, and Heartland Alliance.
INCREASE HEALTH EQUITY
- Overdose Prevention and Harm Reduction Act (SB1828): Heartland Alliance worked with a number of community partners to advance this legislation to improve overdose prevention efforts and create a new statewide needle exchange program. These interventions are critical in preventing the spread of HIV and hepatitis, connecting people to treatment, and saving lives. Illinois now joins 21 other states who have a statewide needle exchange program. This bill also represents an important step for Heartland Alliance in becoming a recognized leader on effective approaches to addressing the opioid epidemic, both from a policy and programming perspective. Check out these stories from WTTW and the Tribune for more info.
- Medicaid Omnibus/Eligibility Reforms (SB1321): Heartland Alliance and our partners at the Protect Our Care Illinois (POCIL) coalition proposed significant reforms this year to the Medicaid eligibility, enrollment, and renewal system. This system has been in crisis, with Illinois unable to process Medicaid applications in a timely fashion and hundreds of thousands of enrollees losing their health coverage each month when up for renewal. After dozens of hours of meetings and negotiations with the new Administration and the General Assembly, we were able to secure many of our reforms through their incorporation into this larger Medicaid legislative package. Please view the POCIL public statement for more info.
In addition to this bills we led, we also lent our voice and efforts to other crucial pieces of legislation that were passed. These bills will improve our state in ways that could benefit us and the people we serve.
Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act (HB1438) represents one of the most significant criminal justice and economic development measures in recent memory and is the first successful legislative effort, of any state, to tax and regulate cannabis. While the bill represents a comprehensive approach to developing a legal market for adult recreational use of cannabis, a number of specific provisions stand out as important to Heartland Alliance’s efforts to advance racial equity:
- Expungement of previous cannabis offenses: An estimated 800,000 Illinoisans have a criminal record due to a cannabis related arrest or conviction andeople of color have been disproportionately impacted, limiting opportunities in employment, education, and housing. This bill leverages the Governor’s pardon power and sets up a system to automatically expunge most misdemeanors and class four felonies, pending any objections from states attorneys.
- Social equity in economic opportunities related to cannabis: The bill includes numerous provisions to promote equity in ownership and employment within the cannabis industry. Applicants seeking a license to open a business will receive preference if persons impacted by cannabis prohibition or persons residing in areas disproportionately impacted by prohibition are included in the application. The bill also does not impose any arbitrary limitations on persons with criminal records being employed in the industry.
- Restore, Reinvest, and Renew (R3) program: This bill dedicates 25% of the revenue generated to the R3 program that will issue grants for economic development, violence prevention, and other community investment in areas disproportionately impacted by cannabis prohibition. This act is expected to generate $500 million or more each year once fully implemented, so $125 million or more could be available for the R3 program
- Investment in mental health and substance use disorder (SUD) treatment: This bill allocates 20% of the revenue generated to mental health and SUD treatment. In part, this is to address any concerns about increased cannabis use and resulting mental health challenges, but will also be available to improve and better this system generally.
Overall, this bill will start to address some of the wrongs that have occurred due to the over-policing of communities of color and puts forward a strong effort to make sure those communities benefit from this effort. This bill will help Heartland Alliance and those we serve and will advance equity in our state.
SJRCA1 – Fair Tax & SB687 – Income Tax Rates Bill: SJRCA1 was adopted by both houses which means that voters will get the chance to decide whether we keep our current tax system or choose an incometax where people with higher incomes pay higher tax rates and people with lower incomes pay lower tax rates. If passed,97 percent of Illinois filers will pay the same or less in taxes and would raise more than $3 billion a year for human services, schools, and other important priorities.