Thursday, December 09, 2010

Commission wants to cut poverty by 2015

By Jamey Dunn

Illinois can help to raise some of its most vulnerable residents out of crushing poverty by 2015, according to a new plan released today.

The Illinois Commission on the Elimination of Poverty released recommendations for the state to cut the number of those living in extreme poverty — those earning up to half or the federal poverty level — in half by 2015.

According to the group's report, about 1.6 million Illinoisans live below the poverty line, which is an income of $22,050 or less for a family of four, and almost 760,000 fit the category of extreme poverty, an income of $11,025 or less for a family of four. About half of those living in extreme poverty belong to groups that are unable to work, such as children, the elderly and the disabled. The report says the number of impoverished Illinois residents has been slowly growing over the last decade:
Our support system is failing those who need it most, and as a result, the number of individuals and families living in poverty in Illinois continues to rise.

The commission operated under the principle that “the absence of human rights is the cause of poverty.”

The commission was charged with finding ways to help people in need find affordable housing, health care and childcare. They also addressed accessibility to nutritious foods, reliable transportation and adequate education and training.

Here of some of several suggestions the group made in its report:

  • A statewide transitional jobs program that would help up to 40,000 people return to the workforce each year.
  • Eliminating categories of workers not covered by minimum wage — such as restaurant servers, who receive tips.
  • Educational programs to make sure those eligible for federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, commonly referred to as welfare, are receiving benefits. This group also recommends increased TANF benefits because it is possible to receive TANF funds and still be below the extreme poverty line.
  • Legislation to prohibit the state from asking job applicants about their criminal histories, as well as encouraging private employers to hire people with criminal backgrounds.
  • Increased scholarships to community colleges for low-income students.
  • Tripling the earned income tax credit, which is meant to reward employment and assist low-income families
  • Increased rental subsidies for individuals living in poverty.
  • Simplifying the application process for Medicaid and food stamps, allowing residents to sign up for all aid programs they are eligible for with one application.
The commission acknowledged that the state’s budget crisis will make some of the changes difficult:

With the state’s current fiscal situation, the commission recognizes that its recommendations need to be sensitive to the state’s current revenue constraints and spending obligations. Initial changes should not add to the state’s budget difficulties. As the commission advocates for the incremental adoption of its recommendations until 2015, it will make adjustments in the implementation of this plan that reflect the changes and opportunities that will be encountered during that time.

Maywood Democratic Rep. Karen Yarbrough, who sponsored the legislation that created the commission, said the state can no longer ignore its growing poverty numbers. “While there will be a cost to provide this help, the cost of doing nothing is so expensive that it could bankrupt society as we know it,” she said at a Chicago news conference.

Yarbrough said the report should be a starting point for action on the issue from the General Assembly. “This puts a real face on who we’re trying to help. But we must not lose sight of the fact that by helping them, we are helping everyone in Illinois. This plan is an important step toward addressing the needs of the most vulnerable in Illinois. Because it’s such a large step forward, no longer can we say that this issue must have more study. We’ve done the study.”

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