11/22/21 - Happy Thanksgiving from Secretary Hou

Dear colleagues,

This Thanksgiving, and every day, let's give thanks for the thousands of IDHS staff and community partners who have worked tirelessly to provide Illinoisans with housing and utilities assistance, services and supports for people with disabilities, substance use treatment, employment services and training, youth development and intervention opportunities, childcare, food, aid to immigrant and refugee families, and so much more.

We know that the COVID pandemic exacerbated already-existing inequities, and so we prioritized our efforts and strategies to those who most needed it. We will continue to operate with an equity lens as we strive to create systemic change.

Before the pandemic, 1.6 million Illinoisans lived in poverty, with 739,000 living in deep poverty. Of those, 32% were children, 28% were Black, and 23% were Latinx. Post-pandemic, it is estimated that 1 in 3 Black and Hispanic individuals are projected to live in poverty as a result of COVID-19. Given this, we know that ending poverty and hunger in Illinois will require that we boldly address the root causes of poverty and racial inequity.

I am proud that in the coming year we will continue to confront longstanding systemic barriers that stand in the way of Illinoisans achieving equitable economic outcomes. IDHS is the convener of two very important statewide commissions dedicated to advancing strategies to reduce poverty: the Illinois Commission on Poverty Elimination and Economic Security (Poverty Commission) and the Illinois Commission to End Hunger (Hunger Commission).

Both groups have worked over the last year to listen deeply to communities to inform action plans to address the systems that contribute to hunger and poverty. Eight listening sessions were convened by the Poverty Commission, reaching hundreds of Illinois residents in partnership with dozens of partners and legislators across the state to understand the specific needs of our communities. The goals are to reduce deep poverty by 50% in six years, eliminate child poverty in eleven years, and eliminate all poverty in 15. While ambitious, these goals are achievable if there is a strong, enduring commitment to equity, innovation, and collaboration.

I invite you to learn more about the work of the Hunger Commission and the Poverty Commission. IDHS staff will continue to update you in the new year as these groups work to implement policies and programs that break the cycle of poverty.

Related to this work, staff from IDHS and the Illinois Housing Development Authority (IHDA) worked closely together with a network of community partners to carry out the Federal Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERA). This program exists to assist low-income households negatively impacted by COVID-19, through job losses, health problems, or lack of childcare. Via community-based providers, IDHS can cover payments for rent arrears and prospective rents for up to 15 months.

Utility assistance and free legal aid are also available. Applications are accepted across the state on a rolling basis. For households facing evictions due to non-payment of rent, a Court-Based Rental Assistance Program launched, as the eviction moratorium ended, to help tenants and landlords reach agreements and avert evictions.

3,633 households have received more than $16 million in rent and utility relief in the first six months of the ERA program. Including the support from the Homeless Prevention Fund, Emergency Solution Grant (ESG) and State funds, our team has helped to keep over 13,300 households from facing eviction or homelessness. I am really encouraged by the efforts made to serve others.

This is all possible because of your commitment. I know that many of you will be working throughout this season, but I do hope that you can find some time to spend with friends or family. Wishing you all a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday.


Grace B. Hou