Springfield has "fallen behind" when it comes to reducing extreme poverty across Illinois. That's one of the conclusions the Illinois Commission on the Elimination of Poverty reached in a briefing it distributed yesterday at a public hearing in Chicago.
"Faced with difficult decisions about state budget cuts and policy priorities, policymakers failed to prioritize funding for programs and services and [to] advance substantive bills that would meet the needs of the most vulnerable," the briefing says.
For example, funding for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families welfare program diminished during this last budget cycle, the briefing says, with $1.9 million cut from TANF and an additional $44 million in federal TANF dollars redirected elsewhere.
The commission's legislative policy recommendations did not fare much better. The briefing notes no vote was taken in either the House or the Senate about legislation that would have quadrupled the state's Earned Income Tax Credit amount; a bill bumping up the minimum wage failed to move; and the Illinois Healthy Workplace Act, which would allow employees to accrue sick days if he or she does not get them as a benefit, also did not come for a vote in either chamber.
Wendy Pollack, a poverty elimination commission member and director of the Women's Law and Policy Project at the Shriver Center on Poverty Law, said millions of Illinonisians are seeing "crumbling economic stability" in a "very tough year" at the commission's hearing in Englewood last night.
More than 12 percent of all individuals in Illinois live below the federal poverty level, 2009 data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows. An analysis The Chicago Reporter published earlier this year found that 21.6 of Chicagoans live in poverty, with the African Americans and Hispanics suffering the highest rates.
The Commission on the Elimination of Poverty was formed in by the Illinois General Assembly in 2008 and set a goal of reducing the number of people in extreme poverty--those whose earnings amount to less than 50 percent of the federal poverty level, about $11,000 annually for a family of four--by 2015. Around 760,000 people in the state fall into this category.
Besides budgetary and legislative challenges, the vexing economic conditions wrought by the Great Recession and stagnant recovery could make reaching that target difficult.
At the commission's public hearing last night in Englewood, however, a range of suggestions for battling poverty were suggested.
A homeless youth recommended more public bathrooms for people without shelter. Michael Toney, from the Illinois Committee for Black Concerns in Higher Education, said the commission should focus on expanding educational opportunities and moving the state away from relying on property taxes to fund local schools. An ex-offender said former prisoners needed a way to access housing.
"I'm constantly looking, doing what I can, but I'm steady running into a brick wall," he told the commission. "The people who own these buildings don't want to rent to anyone with a background."
Other speakers emphasized the need for entrepreneurship and community development in low-income communities.
"The elimination of poverty and the financial recovery of our communities go hand-in-hand," said Josephine McEntee, an Englewood resident who said she lost a $60,000 per-year technology job in 2009. "I believe individual empowerment would be a key factor in achieving this goal. "
A full commission report on Illinois' poverty policies is due September.
Photo courtesy of Flickr user Aaaarrrrgggghhhh!
© Community Renewal Society 2011