Reduce Poverty and Help Families through Landmark Illinois Poverty Summit

12/16/2008

As part of ongoing statewide efforts to reduce poverty throughout the state and protect Illinoisans from economic hardship and the impacts of the national recession, the Illinois Department of Human Services convened the unprecedented two-day Illinois Poverty Summit this week to develop recommendations to bring about a substantive decrease in the number of Illinoisans living in extreme poverty. The Illinois Poverty Summit was cosponsored with the Heartland Alliance for Human Needs & Human Rights and hosted with Northwestern University's Institute for Policy Research.

The State of Illinois' poverty summit - Opportunities for Change: Taking Action to End Extreme Poverty in Illinois - brought together over 200 leaders and advocates to discuss viable recommendation in key issue areas of income supports, employment, healthcare access, and housing. The Summit was a significant step toward reaching the goal of the Illinois Commission on the Elimination of Poverty to reduce poverty by at least 50 percent by 2015. In an effort to continue these valuable conversations, the Poverty Summit website, www.illinois.gov/povertysummit, will be updated with Summit materials and the recommendations developed. In addition, anyone interested in submitting follow-up comments can do so on the website.

At the Summit, Illinois Department of Human Services Secretary Carol L. Adams, Ph.D., announced the State of Illinois' elimination of assets tests- the criteria used to determine a person's eligibility for state assistance programs such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Food Stamps and Family General Assistance.

The elimination of the assets test is historic for the State of Illinois. When a person is applying for State funded income supports, assets tests are used to determine a person's eligibility for these state programs. For example, a household applying for food stamps would be penalized for having a savings account since it would count towards the family's eligibility. As a strong, pro-active poverty reduction initiative, the elimination of the assets test will no longer discourage low-income people into establishing savings and building a safety net while it will encourage poor families to engage in the positive behavior of saving. Furthermore, youths in these households could be encouraged to save for college and other endeavors as their savings would no longer be counted in determining eligibility.

"The success of the Illinois Poverty Summit is just the beginning of some of the major steps we are taking to break down the barriers that lead to poverty here in Illinois," said Dr. Adams. "Many families throughout the state live paycheck to paycheck and that is why I am extremely excited that we are able to help thousands more families by eliminating the assets test and provide additional funding for our Food for Families initiative."

In October, the State announced an additional $500,000 increase for Food for Families program to help thousands of struggling families to put food on the table. Through this initiative state funds are used to help food banks purchase food and help supplement limited federal support, for the first time in Illinois history.

Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of the Children's Defense Fund and an advocate for disadvantaged Americans for over 30 years, served as the keynote speaker in the opening plenary session. Other participants in the Summit included the Heartland Alliance for Human Needs & Human Rights, Woodstock Institute, Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, Illinois Education Foundation, Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities, Safer Foundation, Action for Children, Voices for Illinois Children, Chicago Metropolis 2020, Greater Chicago Food Depository, Chicago Coalition on the Homeless, Farm Resource Center, Rural Assistance Illinois, Illinois Coalition for Community Services, Illinois Housing Development Authority and other local county and city agencies.

Earlier this year, House Bill 4369, sponsored by Representative Karen Yarbrough (D-Broadview) and Senator Michael Frerichs (D-Champaign), was signed to create the Commission on the Elimination of Poverty. The legislation tasked the Commission to develop a strategic plan to reduce extreme poverty in Illinois by 50 percent or more by 2015 by focusing on, at a minimum, eight basic areas: affordable housing, adequate food and nutrition, affordable and quality health care, equal access to quality education, dependable and affordable transportation, quality and affordable child care, opportunities to engage in sustainable work that pays a living wage, and availability of adequate income supports.

Extreme poverty is defined as living on an annual income of less than half the poverty line. For example, a family of four in extreme poverty would have a family income of less than $11,000 a year. An estimated 686,000 Illinoisans live in extreme poverty -- nearly half are children, seniors or people with disabilities.

For Illinoisans living in poverty, The Illinois Department of Human Services offer assistance including: TANF, child care assistance programs, education, job training, transportation, food stamps, medical, immigration and refugee services, literacy, vocational training, vocational rehabilitation and other services to help Illinoisans work toward self-sufficiency.