IDHS ALL IN! Stakeholder Newsletter Issue 8

Message from the Secretary

Dear Stakeholders,

As 2020 comes to a close, we look towards 2021 with optimism that the pandemic will subside and that we can begin the work of repairing and rebuilding. In the rearview mirror, I see many dark clouds, but I also see many silver linings. It is these silver linings that gave me hope and strength during these past many months. I have always had faith in the leaders, staff, and volunteers that power our human services system. Throughout this pandemic, we have seen this power proven as our system - against all odds -completely transformed critical supports and programs in days and weeks to ensure those we serve were served and cared for. You, we, IDHS, together are the silver linings.

Much has been said about how the pandemic has exposed structural racism, economic inequity, and health disparities; this is all true. The pandemic also exposed our strengths, our helping nature, and our humanity. Fighting the pandemic brought our IDHS team closer together. This fight revealed IDHS' relentless compassion, ability to accomplish the impossible, and fierce dedication to public service. Perhaps like your teams, we shared moments filled with tears, laughter, fear, relief, sadness, and frustration. It has been the greatest challenge of our lifetimes, and I am grateful to be traveling this path with them and under the bold and compassionate leadership of Governor JB Pritzker.

Throughout the past nine months, we have shared Bright Spots, highlights of human services champions in the community and in our system. Thank you for showering us with stories of kindness and acts of courage; they sustained us.

We see a light at the end of this tunnel, but we must remain vigilant in our compliance with face coverings, social distancing, and limits to in-person gatherings. We have created a webpage with up to date information about vaccine distribution and invite you to visit it periodically as more information will be included in the weeks ahead. The webpage is: dhs.illinois.gov/covidvaccine.

While our work never stops, I do hope that you will find some peace and joy during this holiday season. As always, I am buoyed by our work and the lives that we touch every day. I can think of no greater mission than working to ensure that the lives of people are healthier, fuller, happier, and safer.

Thank you so very much.

Grace


In the Spotlight

It is our pleasure to shine a light on two strong and passionate leaders who we work closely with in the office of Governor JB Pritzker. They share our goals and vision for an equitable human services systems and have helped guide and support IDHS during the past two years.

Please meet Deputy Governor for Health and Human Services Sol Flores and First Assistant Lizzy Whitehorn.

Sol Flores, Deputy Governor, Health and Human Services

Sol Flores

Sol Flores serves as Deputy Governor in the Pritzker administration overseeing Health and Human Services. Flores is the founding Executive Director of La Casa Norte, a non-profit organization established in 2002 that has served more than 30,000 youth and families confronting homelessness. Flores built La Casa Norte from two employees to an 80+ employee, multi-million-dollar organization that delivers inspiration, hope and critical services to the lives of youth and families experiencing homelessness. She has served on numerous working groups, commissions and local nonprofit boards as a tireless advocate. Flores was raised by a single mother who came to Chicago from Puerto Rico and has been recognized as a national Champion of Change for her work by the Obama White House.

What inspired you to work for the State of Illinois?

I grew up in a family of service that demonstrated for me what it means to be a part of a community and the greatest expression of love and care for others. My grandparents were foster care and adoptive parents in IL; my aunt worked at IDHS for 30 years and my mother has been with IDES for 43 years. As I was growing up, I would go to their offices, learn about their work, and see their passion for working on programs that helped people with practical needs in their every day lives. I co-founded and worked at La Casa Norte, a nonprofit for almost 18 years and it was the greatest honor to work alongside so many young people and families as they worked to be their best selves. Along my journey, I learned to verbalize what was in my heart all along, that I wanted my life to be used up for good, that I wanted to use all of my god given life and talent and all of the support, love and energy that my family poured into me to contribute to others. The day Governor Pritzker called to offer me this role, he said that he wanted every little boy and girl in Illinois to see someone that looked like them working in his administration. It swells my heart and humbles me tremendously to work for the State of Illinois and to work alongside my state colleagues who are so committed and focused.

What's something you want to do in the next year that you've never done before?

I know this sounds corny, but I really want to take on the habit of daily journaling. I've heard about how it helps you to relieve stress, focus on what's important and be present to what's happening right now.

What's the greatest advice you've ever received?

There are two key pieces that I've used as guiding lights:

The Universe Responds to Action - to me, this means that you must take the first step and then the second and so on to get out of your head. Tell someone your plan and work together to create accountability and you will see progress.

Be less scared faster - to me, this means get out of your own way, shrug off the temporary fear, so you can focus and work on overcoming the challenge and task at hand and then you realize and are astounded that you were even scared to begin with!

What's your favorite quote from a TV show, movie or musical?

My favorite quote is from Hamilton - "I am not throwin away my shot, I'm young, scrappy and hungry…".

What message would you like to share with our stakeholders?

I've been hearing about IDHS nearly my entire life! I used to visit local offices when I was a kid and eventually worked professionally as a grantee partner when I was in the private sector. I have always been and continue to be amazed and inspired by the mission of IDHS and all of the work that each staff member accomplishes every day. I know that your jobs are not easy and that the public doesn't know about all of the work that you do, so I want to thank you again and again for being on this team with us and for committing your professional life to public service. Our state, cities, towns, neighborhoods and families are better because of you!

Lizzy Whitehorn, First Assistant Deputy Governor

Lizzy Whitehorn

Lizzy Whitehorn is a committed public servant who has worked at the intersection of politics, policy and law her entire career. She currently serves as First Assistant Deputy Governor in Governor JB Pritzker's administration, managing the healthcare and human services agencies, boards and commissions and associated initiatives. Before joining the Governor's Office, Lizzy served as a senior policy advisor on Governor Pritzker's campaign. She previously worked in Governor Quinn's administration as an Associate General Counsel and Deputy Director for Personnel in the Department of Central Management Services.

In addition to her service in state government, Lizzy has worked on several campaigns, including Dan Hynes for Governor and Sol Flores for Congress; and served as an Associate Attorney at Jenner & Block LLP and a Staff Law Clerk for the Federal Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. From 2001 to 2004, Lizzy was Special Assistant to the Chief of Staff at the Chicago Public Schools and a policy coordinator working on No Child Left Behind.

Lizzy serves on the Board of Directors of Christopher House. She holds a JD from Northwestern Law School and a BA from Georgetown, where she graduated Phi Beta Kappa and cum laude. Lizzy lives in Lakeview with her husband and two children.

What inspired you to work for the State of Illinois?

From a young age, I was drawn to work in public service and wanted to use my skills and knowledge to benefit others. In my previous experiences working for city and state government, I found solving complex problems that don't have easy answers exhilarating and inspiring. However, this time around, after having had two children and learning firsthand the challenges of balancing work and child care demands even with the resources I'm privileged to have, I was excited to return to the state to focus on healthcare and human services, to be able to work for the benefit of so many families across the state who are facing enormous challenges on a daily basis.

What's something you want to do in the next year that you've never done before?

I'm excited to share new experiences with my kids, who are 5 years old and 2 years old, especially things we didn't get to do this year because of the pandemic - like taking a road trip to a new place!

What's the greatest advice you've ever received?

During my first job after college working at the Chicago Public Schools, the then CEO Arne Duncan said that he never would have imagined that he would work for CPS because he had been running a non-profit that challenged the status quo at CPS. But when he was given the opportunity to work for CPS, he decided to take it because he realized that he could make more change on the inside. I have thought about this often as I've moved in and out of positions in government and as I have advised others on whether to work for government.

What's your favorite quote from a TV show, movie or musical?

"It's not the battles we lose that bother me, it's the ones we don't suit up for." - Toby Ziegler, The West Wing.

What message would you like to share with our IDHS stakeholders?

I would like to share gratitude for the partnership and grace that our human services stakeholders have showed us during this enormously challenging time. We are working through issues and questions none of us ever thought we would be dealing with when this administration took office. Yet we strive to make decisions with our most vulnerable populations in mind to continue the work we set out to do to rebuild the human services infrastructure in the state.


IDHS in the News

Healing Illinois

Healing Illinois

On December 15, IDHS announced the recipients of $4.5 million in funding for community-based activities to advance racial healing.

Healing Illinois, an initiative to engage residents of communities across the state that have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 in meaningful dialogue, has selected 179 organizations to receive awards. The organizations will use the funding to create community-centric, inclusive spaces to talk, learn and grow, supporting the initiative's overarching goals: to build and advance knowledge and understanding of racial healing and racial equity in communities across the state; increase trust and relationship building among the residents of Illinois; and provide opportunities for communities and individuals to begin to heal from the harms caused by racism.

"Systemic racism affects all Illinois residents, and COVID-19 has made addressing it more urgent than ever before. I am so pleased to see the work, dedication and commitment by hundreds of community leaders to join Healing Illinois in tackling racism and the need to heal from its effects," said Grace Hou, Secretary, IDHS. "With all 179 organizations on board, we will make tremendous progress in developing more compassion, racial understanding and equity across the state."

Read the full Healing Illinois press release

COVID-19 Outreach Campaign

On December 3, Governor JB Pritzker and IDHS re-affirmed our commitment to stopping the spread of COVID-19 in Latinx and immigrant communities facing disproportionately high COVID-19 positivity rates and launched a statewide outreach campaign. The campaign communicates in Spanish and 16 other languages through a variety of ways to help empower community members to protect their health and that of their family members.

"As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, we are seeing that our Latinx and immigrant communities are disproportionately suffering, and it's a priority for my administration to make sure we're doing everything we can to share the most accurate and updated information so individuals can protect themselves, their families and their communities," said Governor JB Pritzker.

"We operate with an equity lens. This means that we need to build and design prevention and intervention efforts that are most effective for those communities most impacted by the pandemic," said Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) Secretary Grace Hou. "I am proud to be on a diverse team dedicated to serving all of its residents."

The Latinx community has a positivity rate of more than 20%, nearly double the positivity rate among all other races and ethnicities, and accounts for 21% of positive cases in the state.

The campaign will:

  • Empower employees to protect their health in the workplace so they can protect their families' health at home
  • Combat the stigma around the virus in immigrant and refugee communities
  • Remind community members to limit holiday gatherings and ceremonies

Read the full COVID-19 Outreach Campaign press release


Bright Spot: Bureau of Hearings Team

Each of us at IDHS strive to ensure that our most vulnerable neighbors receive services to ensure that every resident in Illinois can achieve self-sufficiency, independence, and health to the maximum extent possible. There are times when, despite our best efforts, some of our customers feel that they have not received the help or services that they need, or they feel as though their needs are not being met or heard. In those instances, these individuals turn to the Bureau of Hearings for a fair hearing regarding any issue that they have with their benefits or applications.

For this month's Bright Spot, we would like to highlight the tremendous work being done by the team at the Bureau of Hearings (BOH). With fewer than 35 staff members, BOH provides due process through fair hearings for IDHS applicants and recipients, statewide. Due process requires proper notice and a meaningful opportunity to be heard, and the team at BOH takes that requirement to heart. They work with the understanding that each appeal filing is more than another number: it is a fellow Illinoisan, it is a member of our community, it is a neighbor asking for help. This is why BOH staff takes each appeal one at a time, and it is why appeals, appropriately, take time from the other work that we have to do. While every situation is different and unique, fair hearings are a Constitutional requirement which allows the most vulnerable members of our population a meaningful chance to be heard regarding the services that we provide them.

Historically, the Bureau received around 2,000 appeal filings per month; however, since 2018, that number has more than doubled, and BOH now receives over 4,200 appeal filings each month. Over 80% of these filings are regarding issues related to SNAP and Medical benefits. Staying on top of this work was difficult before the pandemic. To compound the existing challenges for the Bureau, at the onset of the pandemic, BOH received over 7,000 appeal filings in one month. Despite this and the new challenges of an all-telephonic hearing process due to the pandemic, the team at BOH continues to ensure that every appellant has the opportunity to be heard in a meaningful manner, and with the invaluable help of the staff at local offices and of management across IDHS's Divisions, BOH has been able to close out a significant number of these appeals.

Thank you to the entire team at BOH, and to staff from throughout IDHS that continue to work with BOH to ensure that every appellant is given a meaningful opportunity to be heard.


Work for IDHS in 2021!

Join our team

Become a Human Services Caseworker - Here's How!

  1. Go to the Work4Illinois website. This page will provide information on the hiring process in the State. Click on "Job Postings." This will take you to a page where you can search any job in Illinois. There are several search criteria that you can select. The number next to each item shows the current number of jobs posted in those categories.
  2. For caseworker positions, the position titles to select are "Human Services Caseworker (HSC)" or "Social Services Career Trainee (SSCT)." SSCT is merely the trainee title for HSCs. One note - Anything that says "Opt SS" at the end of the position title means that the position requires the candidate to speak Spanish.
  3. Once you select a record, it will take you to the job description and tell you how to apply.
  4. To be a DHS caseworker, the applicant will need to take a test and get a grade. The instructions for taking the test can be found online.
  5. Each applicant will need to fill out a CMS100 form. Information on how to fill out the CMS100 can be found on the Work4Illinois website.

Other New Job Openings

Below are a couple of additional positions we have open, but you can also visit the Illinois state jobs' website for other IDHS positions.