Currently in Archives. Click here to return to the new CU-CitizenAccess.Org website at any time.

State group releases plan to reduce poverty

By Fawn Clark/ For CU-CitizenAccess '”The Illinois Commission on the Elimination of Poverty has released Building a Pathway to Dignity and Work, a report with 42 legislative recommendations for cutting extreme poverty in Illinois in half by 2015.

About 760,000 people live in extreme poverty in Illinois, which is defined as a family that earns less than half of the poverty level. In Illinois, a family of four that makes $11,025 a year or less is considered to be in extreme poverty.

Commission member Doug Schenkelberg, Associate Director of Policy and Advocacy at Heartland Alliance for Human Needs and Human Rights, says now is the time for the real work to begin. The Commission on the Elimination of Poverty has been working on its plan since fall of 2009. 

The commission expects to:

  • Create a strong safety net to ensure that the basic needs of households and individuals are met and that their dignity is protected;
  • Establish support and a pathway to work for people who are out of the work force;
  • Ensure that a person who is working does not live in extreme poverty.

The commission's recommendations are separated into three stages. Stage one recommendations are those than can be done in the first couple of years, stage two recommendations will take three to four years, and stage three recommendations will take the entire five years.

"Reaching our goal will require the use of an incremental process, because some of our ideas will take more time to be implemented than others,' Schenkelberg said.

Stage one recommendations include: 

  • Targeted outreach to families who are eligible for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program but do not use it;
  •  Prohibiting state job applications from asking if the applicant has a criminal background;
  •  Permanently eliminating co-pays for Child Care Assistance for families that are in extreme poverty.

Jim Hires, Executive Director at Eastern Illinois Foodbank and a commission member, said that the poverty elimination strategy could make a world of difference in Champaign county.

 "Champaign-Urbana and Rantoul are among the highest poverty areas in the state,' said Hires. "Our community will certainly be helped once these changes are made.'

The Heartland Alliance reports that Champaign County has a 17.7 percent poverty rate.

Schenkelberg said one of the Commission's main goals is to provide individuals without work skills the opportunity to go to school through scholarship assistance. This stage two recommendation will increase comprehensive scholarships to low-income community college students, giving more people the education they need to be competitive in the work force.

Other stage two recommendations would establish a statewide transitional jobs program and triple the state earned income tax credit amount.

Schenkeberg said that the transitional jobs program is one of the most crucial in the strategy report.

"There is a huge chunk of people that can work, but are unable to because of various barriers preventing them from finding and maintaining employment,' he said.

The statewide transitional jobs program will provide 40,000 people with jobs each year. While employed, these individuals will receive personalized case management that will help them to overcome obstacles to working and gain permanent employment.

"Although there may be jobs out there, those who are in extreme poverty usually don't have the skills that are necessary to get those jobs,' Hires said.

"The most important thing is just creating jobs for these people,' he said. "They just need opportunities.'

Schenkelberg said the Commission has received positive feedback since the report was released on Dec. 9.

"Everyone is really excited about how realistic the plan seems, and although we have to work around the current fiscal situation in the state, our goals are very reasonable,' Schenkelberg said. "People are wondering how they can become involved and what they can do to help.'  

¨ Copyright 2011 CU-CitizenAccess.