IDHS ALL IN! Stakeholder Newsletter Issue 1

June 2019

Message from the Secretary

Secretary Grace B. HouHello. It is my pleasure to introduce our first monthly newsletter and heartily welcome your feedback on what you would like us to include in future issues. As I have shared in various meetings and communiques, I truly believe that the strength and vibrancy of our community partners is our shared success; I truly believe that the strength and vibrancy of our community partners is directly connected to the health and wellness of the residents of Illinois. In this regard, I hope that this newsletter is one medium by which we can enhance communication and transparency so that we may strengthen our partnership.

It has been a roller coaster ride these past 11 weeks since returning to this agency as Secretary. While the challenges are great, so are the opportunities; and I continue to feel deeply privileged to serve in this capacity and honored to be a part of Governor Pritzker's cabinet. The Governor's leadership and commitment to the mission and the people of the Illinois Department of Human Services is authentic and strong.

As you know, the legislative session concluded on June 2nd. While we are still reviewing the budget, we recognize that there are exciting areas of growth and expansion. We welcome the opportunity to serve as the administering agency for the state's Census 2020 efforts and look forward to working closely with the Governor's Office and members of the General Assembly to ensure an accurate and complete count. Further, the passage of the Recreational Cannabis bill, enables the state to advance towards equity, address the over-criminalization of communities of color, and provide additional resources for mental health and substance use services and prevention.

In this issue, we introduce you to one of our new leaders, highlight a success story, share with you our plans to address the Medicaid backlog and SNAP timeliness issues, amongst other updates. I hope you find this helpful and informative.

In closing, I would like to borrow Rahnee's quote from "In the Spotlight:" You are important. You are not alone. We see and value you.


Grace B. Hou

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Rebuilding Illinois: Budget Highlights

Governor JB Pritzker signed a balanced budget for $40.1 billion in operating expenses on June 5, 2019. Not only is the bipartisan budget balanced, but it will also generate $150 million in surplus that will be targeted to pay down a portion of the state's remaining bill backlog.

IDHS Budget highlights include:

  • Expanded child care assistance eligibility through the Child Care Assistance Program, providing quality care to an additional 10,000 children. The threshold increases from 185 percent to 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL), starting in October 2019. Once in the program, families will be allowed to remain eligible up to 225 percent FPL.
  • $107 million to ensure rates for Developmental Disability, Child Care, Home Services and other community-based service providers are increased
  • $29 million to ensure full participation in the census count, including grants to community providers.
  • FY19 supplemental appropriations to cover the costs associated with the IDHS Home Services Program, as well as costs associated with unpaid union contract obligations dating back to FY16.
  • FY20 Budget reflects the movement of the Colbert Consent Decree implementation to IDHS from the Department of Aging during the fiscal year.
  • Continued support to transition individuals from institutional level of care to community placements and new placements for individuals currently waiting for community-based services.

In the upcoming weeks, we'll be working to develop implementation strategies for the different areas of expansion in the budget. Expect further updates in our future newsletters!

IDHS Customer Success Story

DRS Customer Darion SimmonsHard work, dedication to service, and quality support; our Division of Rehabilitation Services (DRS) is highlighted this month for the tremendous work done in support of a customer with disabilities, and in need of DRS counseling assistance. A true success story for the student, Darion Simmons, who not only had dreams of going to college, but to also play professional football!

With the support of DRS, Darion was able to reach his life goals. Click to read more about Darion's Success Story.

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It's Noteworthy

In late March of this year, an evaluation of our Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) - Education Program, and administration of the Nutrition Education and Obesity Prevention Grant was completed by the US Department of Agriculture. We are proud to report that our IDHS Division of Family and Community Resources team successfully passed all reviews and was recognized for three noteworthy programs that were highlighted in the final report.

The three programs highlighted were:

  1. Illinois Jr. Chefs. The program is a curriculum targeting 8 to 13 year-old youths through a hands-on culinary and nutrition education program.
  2. The Nutrition Environment Food Pantry Assessment Tool (NEFPAT). This tool was developed as an observational assessment tool for trained assessors to make recommendations that improve food pantry environment.
  3. The Growing Illinois Food Access Allocation (GIFAA) project. A collaboration between SNAP-Ed, and other extension programs, specifically Master Gardeners, that increased fresh produce at local pantries by harvesting from strategically placed community gardens.

Please join us in extending a heartfelt congratulations to our staff, as well as the stakeholders who were part of this wonderful program!

Mental Health Awareness Month

Chicago skyscrapers lit green for Mental Health Awareness MonthDuring the month of May, IDHS partnered with providers and cities across the state to raise awareness for mental health.

Events were held throughout the month and IDHS worked with several cities and towns to light their buildings and structures green for awareness. In Chicago, the Willis Tower, 875 North Michigan Avenue, and Prudential Plaza were lit green.

The Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois was lit green and displayed "Mental Health Month" in their windows. The Tate & Lyle building in Decatur and the Bayview Bridge in Quincy were also lit green.

IDHS leadership and employees across the state also wore green on Thursday, May 9th in honor of Children's Mental Health Awareness Day. Our Clinton Building in Chicago handed out green ribbons in the lobby for staff to wear and had the Mental Health Awareness Month proclamation from Governor Pritzker on display. Thank you to all of our amazing providers and community partners who helped us commemorate this important month!

IDHS leadership wearing green for Mental Health Awareness Month

Carolyn Kopel, Tamatha Blair, Secretary Hou, Ryan Croke, Linda Saterfield,
Kelsie Vose, and Lori Stouffe

Saline County staff wearing green for Mental Health Awareness Month

Saline County Local IDHS Office

IDHS Legislative Updates

This year's IDHS agency initiative, HB 3437, has passed both chambers unanimously and is proceeding to the Governor to be signed into law. The initiative authorizes a Developmental Disabilities Awareness decal for the Universal License Plate offered through the Illinois Secretary of State. The proceeds from the plate will defray legal expenses incurred in the process of becoming the guardian of an individual with a developmental disability.

Governor Pritzker has already signed HB 0345 into law as Public Act 101-0002. DHS supported the measure, which raises the age for buying tobacco and alternative nicotine products to twenty-one.

IDHS also supported the following bills, which have all successfully passed both chambers and await the Governor's signature:

  • SB 1321: The Medicaid Omnibus bill provides for several systematic improvements to the Medicaid process. It resulted from extensive meetings and discussions by a Medicaid Working Group consisting of IDHS, our sister agencies, the Governor's office, and legislators.
  • HB 0907: Creating an online resource for students, parents, and teachers to address school violence and bullying issues.
  • HB 2118: Extending the sunset for providing state benefits to foreign-born victims of human trafficking, torture, or other serious crimes.
  • HB 2152: Establishing the Mental Health Early Action on Campus Act for every public college and university in the state.
  • HB 2154: Increasing insurance coverage for early treatment of serious mental illness in children and young adults.
  • HB 2247: Creating a community mental health awareness, education, and access pilot program.
  • HB 3069: Requiring community integrated living arrangements ("CILA"s) to notify IDHS whenever an emergency call is made from the residence.
  • SB 1641: Increasing awareness of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program ("SNAP") among college students.
  • SB 1702: Expanding the use of teleconferencing for mental health services.
  • SB 1828: Increasing research, education, and linkages to substance use disorder services and expanding needle exchange programs.
  • SB 2087: Creating a Customized Employment Pilot Program for individuals with disabilities.

We're committed to doing better

We know that these past few years have not been easy on the system. There are many challenges we face, but we are prepared to fix them. A large Medicaid backlog and SNAP application timeliness issues stand out as major issues. We began addressing these issues immediately and plan to communicate our plans and progress with you frequently.

Medicaid Backlog

At the Direction of Governor JB Pritzker, three state agencies are leading the most aggressive cross-agency effort in Illinois history to expand healthcare access by eliminating the Medicaid application backlog. With a seven-part strategy and a related, bipartisan bill to improve the eligibility system, we will eliminate the backlog and get Illinoisans the healthcare access they deserve.

Read about our Cross-Agency Efforts to Eliminate Medicaid Backlog.

SNAP Timeliness

Under the previous administration, IDHS failed to meet certain requirements for SNAP processing set by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). The new administration is working quickly to rectify this issue.

We submitted a corrective action plan that was approved by the USDA and we have already started implementing our improvements. We take our responsibility to ensure Illinoisans have access to reliable food assistance very seriously and we will look for any and all opportunities to provide better service to our customers as we move forward.

Our strategies for reaching the benchmarks are as follows:

  • An immediate focus on the high need areas of the state, using the functionality in IES to move work from offices with the highest volume of applications to other offices with greater capacity for processing the work.
  • A longer-term solution requires addressing staffing issues, establishing processing offices and call centers downstate to help with the volume of application in Cook County.
  • Using recently developed case progression and compliance reports to monitor the SNAP application timeliness to ensure processing timeframes are met.
  • An IES enhancement is scheduled to go into the production system in June 2019 that will address SNAP applications not being routed correctly, causing processing delays.
  • IDHS is in the process of establishing an Office of IES Support, which will provide the Division of Family & Community Services with dedicated support staff for IES and allow caseworkers, managers and trainers who have been detailed to these roles to return to their duties within the local field offices.
  • IDHS will work with USDA to identify best practices from other states around application processing timeliness.
  • Lastly, IDHS will develop and deliver a more robust training plan for front-line staff and managers.

We are hiring!

We are hiring!Efforts are currently underway to increase our staff to improve services and meet the needs of our customers. There are various opportunities within IDHS. The search is on for finding great people to fill these roles!

Click the links below for open positions at IDHS and please send them to anyone who may be interested.

Find other IDHS job listings on the State of Illinois Jobs website!

Grant Agreement Changes

There have been some changes to the FY20 Uniform Grant Agreement (UGA). To see the changes, read through the Redline FY19 UGA to FY20 UGA document. For more information about UGA's, visit our Contracts webpage. If you have questions about how the contract changes may affect you, email

We want your input! You can volunteer to participate in a Grant Accountability and Transparency Act (GATA) workgroup. Complete the Subcommittee Volunteer Participation Request Form and send it to

In the Spotlight DRS Director Rahnee Patrick

For our first newsletter, we would like to share a candid interview with one of the newest members of our executive leadership team: Director for the Division of Rehabilitation Services, Rahnee Patrick.

What drew you to work for IDHS? The opportunity to serve people with disabilities across Illinois and apply my experience as a disabled person in that service.

What motivates you? People with disabilities! We are a vibrant, strong and beautiful community that deserves all the world can give.

The DRS Director role is a fast paced, busy, and demanding position. How do you create space for yourself and attempt to establish a good work-life-balance? I write plays, short stories and poems and am an adult coloring book fan. I like to post photos on my Instagram account and love fashion. I also watch re-runs of Star Trek Next Generation. My spouse and I also camp in wheelchair-accessible cabins.

What are you most passionate about? The full inclusion of people with disabilities.

What would you say are the top three traits to leadership? Humility, compassionate, responsible

Is there a phrase that you over use? Uh-oh.

What's your favorite movie quote of all time? Clarence: [to George] Strange, isn't it? Each man's life touches so many other lives. When he isn't around he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?

In five words or less, what advice would you give to Rahnee when she was back in college? Go out for coffee more.

What message would you like to share with our stakeholders? You are important. You are not alone. We see and value you.