Poverty Commission December 9- Meeting Minutes

Commission on Poverty Elimination and Economic Security December 9, 2021


WebEx Video Conference


Commission Members in Attendance: Senator Kimberly A. Lightford, Member of General Assembly; Representative Jeff Keicher, Member of General Assembly; Evelyn Diaz, Representative of an anti-poverty organization focusing on urban and suburban poverty; Channyn Lynne Parker, Individual who has experienced deep poverty; Audra Wilson, Representative of an organization that advocates for children and youth; Dr. Mark Eichenlaub, Representative of an organization that advocates for equity and equality in education; Kate Maehr, Representative of a statewide anti-hunger organization; Dr. Charles A. Montorio, Representative of an organization that advocates for individuals with disabilities; Juan Manuel Calderon, Representative of a an organization that advocates for immigrants; Pastor Jason McKinnies, Representative of a statewide faith-based organization that provides direct social services in Illinois; Jennifer Groce, Representative of an organization that advocates for economic security for women; Kenneth D. Grunke, Representative of an organization that advocates for older adults; Al Llorens, Representative of school districts in this State; Pam Davidson, Representative of county governments in this State.

Administrators in Attendance: Grace B. Hou, Secretary, Illinois Department of Human Services; Dana Kelly, Senior Public Service Administrator, Illinois Department of Human Services

Guests: N/A

Introductions/Opening Remarks

* Co-chair Evelyn Diaz welcomed the commission members and guests, announcing that we will be focusing on the content and completion of the Poverty Commission's strategic plan, which is now due March 31, 2022, per the deadline extension passed by the Illinois General Assembly this veto session. We will also look back at the work that we have done to gather stakeholder feedback as a part of our 8 community listening sessions that were held over the summer and fall.

  • Co-chair Diaz outline the desired outcomes of the meeting:
    1. Introduce University Partnership
    2. Inform Commission on the Results of our Listening Sessions
    3. Share our Initial Strategic Plan Outline
    4. Gather Input on Strategic Planning Elements and Other Stakeholder Feedback that will be needed
    5. Set Next Steps for the development of the Strategic Plan

Administrator Kelly took roll call.

Administrator Kelly reminded commission members that the required trainings must be completed by December 31st, 2021. If you need assistance, you should reach out to Administrator Kelly as soon as possible.

Approval of June 7, 2021 Meeting Minutes

Roll call vote: Yes, approved

Consideration of Potential Rules Governing Public Comment

Roll Call Vote: Motion to approve rules; Passed

Co-chair Brown opened the floor for public comment; none received. No written comment received in advance.

Poverty Commission Listening Session Report Out

Co-chair Brown introduced Secretary Grace B. Hou, Illinois Department of Human Services to provide a report of the listening session series held over the Summer and Fall.

Secretary Hou thanked and expressed gratitude Commission members for the work of everyone who was involved in these events. Secretary Hou acknowledged that there are always more voices that we can and should hear from. We will continue listening in less formal ways and seek input from the community every chance we get. It is critical that we follow up with those we have engaged to let them know what we heard and what we will do with that information. Therefore, we are currently in the process of synthesizing the feedback we have received into a more comprehensive report that will be included with our strategic plan. Once that report is finished, we will share that with participants and sponsors first. As we move forward, stakeholder engagement will always be a critical component of our work.

Secretary Hou introduced Administrator Kelly to give a detailed overview of the listening sessions.

Administrator Kelly announced that nearly 775 individuals across the state engaged in the listening sessions. Over 30 partners were involved in these events as well which was hugely influential to the listening sessions. There were many issues discussed that have several components.

The top 5 issues across the state are 1) lack of economic development and investment, 2) employment issues, 3) benefits access, 4) education and 5) mental health.

The top issues by region are- Westside Chicago: Lack of economic development; Southside Chicago: Lake of economic development; Northwest IL: Education; Southern IL: Employment; DeKalb: Affordable housing; Champaign: Mental health

Additional stakeholder feedback- 1) Additional listening opportunities; 2) Interagency working group on poverty survey; 3) Business roundtable- DCEO/IDFPR; 4) GOMB engagement

Introduction of Commission University Partner - Illinois Institute of Government and Public Affairs (IGPA)

The Illinois Department of Human Services will be entering into a partnership with the Illinois Institute of Government and Public Affairs (IGPA) to provide project support, data analysis, and research expertise to the Poverty Commission as well as other commissions that IDHS currently oversees. This partnership will be crucial as we design and draft our strategic plan and I could not be more pleased that we will have their help.

Co-chair Diaz introduced Robin Fretwell Wilson, IGPA Director to go over some to the key elements of what they have been charged to do.

Director Wilson shared that the goal of this partnership is for IGPA to support the Poverty Elimination Commission. There should be through line between these different commissions: how can we best bring that information forward to support critical work that is being done? The team will be a set of scholars that will be meeting twice monthly with Dana and other commission staff/members to help curate questions (questions that are a through line across commissions). Another goal is to establish an imbedded support person who will ideally be someone in IDHS that can support the different commissions.

Lending Expertise:

Data Curation: 7 faculty meeting 2x monthly

Work & Pathways: 4 faculty

Housing: 4 faculty

Human Infrastructure: 4 faculty

Data Consulting: 10 faculty

Strategic Plan Outline

Co-chair Diaz provided a broad overview of what we know will go into the strategic plan. In 2020 we conducted in depth background data research to set the stage for what poverty looks like in Illinois and the challenges and opportunities we face. We compiled that information into a comprehensive report that was issued by the Interagency Working Group on Poverty in November 2020.

We also have also participated in an extensive stakeholder engagement process to understand the needs of those in poverty in the State. This has included the listening sessions outlined, one on one stakeholder conversations, and updates with stakeholder groups like philanthropy and private sector businesses. We will continue to gather remaining stakeholder feedback in the coming weeks.

However, while we know there is always additional data and research that can be included and additional stakeholder feedback to incorporate - now is the time to move forward with finalizing the goals, mission, and strategic pillars we would like to incorporate in our plan.

Our commission was created under the Intergenerational Poverty Act, which outlines a wide array of requirements for what our strategic plan should address. The Act gives broad guidelines for how we should approach the plan.

For example, employing a two generational approach to ending poverty, relying heavily on data and performance measurement, and ensuring cross sector collaboration.

At the heart of the legislation is our primary commission charge and, in this case, what we can consider our mission.

  • Reducing deep poverty in this State by 50% by 2026
  • Eliminate child poverty in this State by 2031
  • Eliminate all poverty in this State by 2036

These goals can be considered our North star and how we should motivate and organize ourselves moving forward. Looking at where we are today, we have a fast approaching and very pertinent goal of reducing deep poverty in this state within just five years, so that is what we propose that our initial strategic plan focus on.

Underlying these very ambitious goals is our overall vision, which is:

o End the intergenerational transmission of poverty by addressing root causes economic insecurity, racial disparities, and other contributing social, economic, and cultural factors.

Examining root causes of poverty and breaking down barriers that impact family's ability to grow wealth and pass it down intergenerationally is the only way we will ever really be able to accomplish these goals. Therefore, our strategic plan must be focused on this sort of systemic change.

As of 2020 there were roughly 1.42m Illinoisans living in poverty, meaning their household income falls below 100% FPL. Of those, 630,000 (44%) live in deep poverty- meaning their income is less than 50% FPL. There are approximately 436,000 children living in poverty of which 175,000 live in deep poverty (40%). Seniors make up 170,000 of those in poverty and 57,000 of those in deep poverty. Figures also highlight the significant racial disparities, with black individuals making up nearly 30% of all Illinoisans in poverty and Latinx individuals making up 22%.

2020 Federal Poverty Thresholds listed by household size and income. An average family of 3 in the United States living in extreme poverty has an annual income of $20,500 or less. According to MIT's living wage calculated it is estimated that it requires $65,547 annually for a family of 3 (adult and two children) to be economically secure in Illinois.

In thinking about what it will cost to reach our goal of reducing those living in deep poverty by 50% in 5 years, we underwent a very informal back of the envelope exercise:

* If average household size is 2.57 people and we need to lift 315,006 people (122,570 households) out of deep poverty, we can estimate the cost to be $1.26B - $2.52B

While a significant investment, if Illinois can allocate resources wisely and invest in critical systems that bring people out of poverty the investment is more than worthwhile. We know that we currently have policy interventions at our fingertips that - if we make further investments in and refine- have the potential to lift even more families out of poverty.

Co-chair Diaz introduced Administrator Kelly to go over how we propose to incorporate this focus with what we have heard during the last year through stakeholder engagement and other research.

What are the essential things we must invest in to achieve our goal?

  1. Improve on Current Systems
    • Foundational systems that must be improved
  2. Scale What Works
    • Prioritize effective and evidence-based models
  3. New and Bold Policy
    • Opportunities to innovate

Strategic Planning Themes:

  1. Continuation of COVID childcare expansions
  2. Continuation of universal free and reduced school lunch
  3. Increase Access to Direct Cash Assistance through UBI pilot programs and existing cash benefit expansions

Address Current and Historical Trauma:

  1. Address housing affordability and historical housing segregation- Housing trust funds, etc.
  2. Increase trauma informed mental health resources and address violence- RPSA

Reduce Barriers to Comprehensive Anti-Poverty Supporters:

  1. Coordination and streamlining of benefits enrollment
  2. Increasing access/uptake/value of benefits- EITC, TANF
  3. Mitigate benefit cliffs
  4. Develop new forms of assistance
  5. Cultural competence and language access

Invest in our Current and Future Workforce:

  1. Invest in human service workforce- daycare, teachers, case managers, etc.- Subsidized Employment Programs
  2. Ensuring opportunity for returning citizens
  3. Increase access to technology and transportation

Break Out Discussions - Strategic Plan Outline Feedback

Foundational Improvements

  • Senator Kimberly Lightford
    • Priority: need for greater focus on the older childhood/young adult age group (~16-24, soon 24-29)
    • If we are trying to eliminate deep poverty by 2026 need to focus on unemployment in older youth, especially those who dropped out
  • This age group brings the next generation into poverty - no jobs or skillsets
    • Push for this age group to go to college, but not realistic for many and no alternatives
  • Used to be more work programs
  • Part of Distributed Education Clubs of America
  • Print shop, sewing, learn to cook
  • Teach additional skillsets for personal gain
  • Address trades and unions not hiring Black and Brown youth
  • When creating pipelines, need to consider pipelines for this age group
  • Many have no degree or job experience
  • Focus on pipelines in human services
  • Need to increase number of paths that people can follow to support a decent life beyond just pushing becoming doctors, nurses, etc.
    • Need improved mental health care in this group
  • We don't encourage them to check their mental health
    • When they do go to therapy, often do not stay due to feeling of disconnect from their therapists because not from same walk of life as them
  • Recommends greater emphasis on early childhood poverty and K-20
    • Less likely to trigger those future indicators of poverty
    • Audra Wilson
  • Talk a lot about poverty, but need to clearly articulate differences in poverty and deep poverty
    • Important to invest early on to counteract impacts of deep poverty
  • Age group that Sen. Lightford talked about may be having kids by mid-20s, so their unemployment perpetuates intergenerational poverty
  • Living in deep poverty will have physical manifestations, especially on youth
    • Need to invest in services, treatments, etc. to counteract effects
  • Dana Kelly:
    • 175 thousand children living in deep poverty - gravity of how many people need these services
    • Potential to intervene before permanent damage
    • Jeremy Noam Rosen
  • Most basic question: how do we increase family incomes? Answer: 2 ways:
    • Employment
    • Government assistance
    • Think about how different programs support providing cash assistance more directly to families
    • Will be getting a lot of money through infrastructure bill and hopefully more through Build Back Better bill
    • Chance for growth in jobs
  • Need to make sure we do better at connecting those with the skills to do these jobs
  • People of color often not connected to these jobs
  • Need to target more direct cash assistance to a lot of families - streamline programs so money is really going to families
    • Kim Drew, Heartland Alliance
  • Need to mitigate harm and meet basic needs of those experiencing deep poverty
  • Restrictions and barriers faced by those with criminal-legal system involvement
    • Heartland is working on campaign called Fully Free
    • Broad, ambitious goal of eliminating "collateral consequences"/ "permanent punishments"
  • Hundreds of IL state laws that create (often hidden) barriers to employment, education, etc. for those with previous criminal records
  • Dana Kelly - asked about existing policies and barriers for people who do not feel supported in employment to get transportation or childcare, especially for shift workers
    • Jobs available to those in deep poverty are unattainable because of costs of these working
    • Evelyn Diaz - question if we are focusing on deep poverty, this challenge is less relevant because many are unemployed
  • Dana Kelly - But are they unemployed because of these barriers?
  • Kim Drew
  • Large number of people working but still experiencing deep poverty
  • Ever changing schedules
  • Undocumented and less job security
  • Only working part of year
  • Being paid below minimum wage
  • Audra Wilson
  • ~50% of people living in deep poverty are below the age of 25
  • Shows importance of youth intervention and education in addition to cash assistance for those in deep poverty
  • Senator Kimberly Lightford
  • Adds that addiction treatment is also essential on this level - drug testing and employment
  • Ties back to mental health and trauma
  • Had bill that could not get passed that would increase the $ amount going to the actual family from DCFS
    • Families receive small amount ($30 ish) and tried to push to $100
    • Bills that would put more money back into the families' pockets would get rejected because state wanted to hold on to those resources
    • Congressman Davis and she have been working with DCFS for wards of the state on aging out of foster care - giving extra money/resources that now go back to the state to instead go back to young person to provide cushion or fund for when children age out of the system
  • Dana Kelly
    • Sen. Lightford makes good point about unearthing template legislative action that did not pass and re-examining it now
  • Dana Kelly - Raised question about seniors
    • Many seniors/grandparents raising babies and living on SSI income
  • Insufficient income for raising kids
    • Target this group to help them
    • Evelyn Diaz
  • Recommends unconditional cash transfer - most efficient way to move someone out of poverty
  • Just give them the money and don't wrap it up in a million bureaucratic programs and rules
  • Different strategies for addressing poverty depending on where we are in life cycle
  • Seniors
    • Cash assistance deployed more strategically in seniors then working back
    • Most likely to benefit from cash assistance - seniors need more cash
  • Midlife
    • Benefit from both cash assistance and gov. programs
  • Children
    • Investments in education and shifting the way we think about the purpose of education
    • For some, equity means their education/their day needs to include skill building and to address trauma they experience in their daily lives each day
    • Need to define age group more clearly we are talking about with childhood in the strategic plan
  • Dana Kelly - asked about universal PreK passed in some states, including Florida
    • Does that get at deep poverty? Is it a long-term approach to get at poverty?
    • Sen Lightford
  • Worked on legislation on universal preschool in 2006
  • Recommends mandatory universal full day kindergarten
  • Illiteracy is biggest challenge
    • Many kids cannot read by 3rd grade
    • Leads to middle school children feeling lost because they cannot read and are embarrassed to tell you
    • Get to high school and still struggling
    • Huge high school dropout rate
  • All stemming from issues in early childhood education - not addressing trauma in kids, low literacy
  • Drop out of high school and we encourage just getting GED instead of returning to education, leaving them with no skillsets to find employment
  • IL has highest unemployment rate in age group (16-24)
    • Talk about midlife, but in order to get there we have already lived in poverty for many years and at midlife a person has no idea how to combat poverty - has lived in it for generations and is all they know
  • Thrust of poverty elimination starts at childhood and up to ~age 24
    • Seniors do need help, but they have their grandkids because it is their kids who are incarcerated or addicted to drugs or lacking skillsets and leaving their parents to raise their kids without support
  • State needs to give supports to the grandparents - keeping them out of foster care

Scale What Works

  • Senator Kimberly Lightford
    • Increase work programs and pipelines to address unemployment in youth aged (~16-24, soon 24-29)
    • Increase assistance that goes directly to families from DCFS - help keep kids in the home
    • Addiction assistance
  • Audra Wilson
    • Early investments are important
  • Jeremy Noam Rosen
    • Expand TANF/cash assistance
  • Streamline programs so money is really going to families
    • Chart that looks at existing programs is illustrative
  • Have programs that we know work well and those that do not
    • Expanding earned income credit and TANF
  • Kim Drew, Heartland Alliance
    • Expand unrestricted cash assistance
  • Families know best what they need
  • Evelyn Diaz
    • Unconditional cash transfer like we saw with COVID stimulus and talk of universal basic income
  • Especially important for seniors

New and Bold Policy

  • Senator Kimberly Lightford
    • Focus on mental health treatment in youth and incorporating it into education
    • Addiction treatment
    • Trauma-informed education
    • Universal Pre-K and Kindergarten
  • Improve literacy and prevent future dropout
  • Encourage return to education or skill-building, not just getting GED
  • Audra Wilson
    • Early intervention programs
  • Kim Drew, Heartland Alliance
    • Reduce barriers to accessing employment and education for those with previous criminal-legal involvement
  • Evelyn Diaz
    • Invest in education and shift the way we think about the purpose of education
  • Trauma-informed education
    • Different strategies for addressing poverty depending on where we are in life cycle (described above)
  • Dana Kelly
    • Universal Pre-K

Note: While we did have the tool up during our discussion, our group went a bit freer form with the conversation. These notes appear in chronological order.

  • Kate Maehr:
    • Love the focus on the deep poverty goal and avoid "boiling the ocean"
    • Laser focus is helpful and strategic
    • Seeing so much overlap with the hunger commission's efforts to consider how do we leverage the tools that already exist? TANF, school breakfast and lunch, WIC Snap, etc.
  • Jennifer Groce:
    • Echoes Kate's statements
    • State level support structure for shared case management
    • The expense and policy hurdles for sharing information across agencies put providers at a disadvantage and the cost of creating such a system exceeds what they could manage independently
    • Impact of policies on those facing reentry and are so limited on employment and other resources
    • State level support for shared case management. Our local agencies discussed a great deal about the desire for a tool like this, but the policy and cost barriers.
  • Jason McKinnies:
    • It would help for them to know where to position people to help them
    • They had a person they were assisting who became homeless
    • Trying to find things to meet that one individual's needs from different providers and agencies was a challenge
    • It caused a 3 to 4-hour delay just to find the right resources before they could even connect him
    • Having a tool that helps find the resources more efficiently would really help
  • Jennifer Groce:
    • When unhoused people move around the state, all that background info/work that has been to understand their case and connect them to resources gets lost would be helpful to find a way to have info stay with the person
    • There is a successful Pilot on this in Minneapolis that was funded by a federal and private grant for shared case management system
    • This could also allow for addressing a family unit more holistically, for instance a child intersects with a program because they are presenting as hungry at schools, shared case management can "take off the blinders" and look at the family as a whole
  • Albert Llorens:
    • Benefits cliffs: Could there be coordination to make sure people are held harmless if they receive help, so that help doesn't mean they lose something else?
    • The goal of this commission is a very heavy lift. We should track the small success that we have. Let's track some benchmarks along the way.
  • Mark Eichenlaub:
    • Tracking and coordinating benefits is a huge dilemma because people in poverty often move.
    • We must form meaningful relationships with families from birth of children on.
    • This is going to require partnerships with hospitals to identify them at the hospital
    • How do you find families for prenatal care and making sure we are bringing healthy kids into the world?
    • Trust is a big issue and fear of success is a huge barrier to overcome.
    • People in poverty are often afraid to step outside of their comfort zone.
    • Might fear that they appear to be leaving community or fear being ostracized
  • Pam Davidson:
    • People feel stereotypes because they are homeless, or they have a criminal history. We need to break those stereotypes.
    • Talk to high school students about the trades
  • Jason McKinnies:
    • Try to break down the mindset that good paying jobs are all white collar
    • They have truck driving jobs coming in with the port project in Cairo that will be $75 k to $100 k
    • Break-in down stereotypes around that job and getting people into the pipeline starting in high school
    • Blue collar jobs are needed
    • Break the stereotype down
  • Kenneth Grunke:
    • Human services workforce is a huge concern.
    • Not just respect and pay perspective, but the issues that people are facing are so complex and there must be more collaboration among human services providers.
    • Would like to see a big push to really start supporting workforce in the human services sector and that it be something that the state is willing to back
  • Kate Maehr:
    • Part of a group of human service providers. It has been sobering to see the strain on them, especially providers that offer mental health or services to children
    • The struggles that they have had with workforce are overwhelming
    • If you don't have frontline people who can provide the support, this all falls apart
    • How do we meet people where they are at through a trusted partner? People may not feel comfortable, particularly if they have mixed immigration status.They may not want to walk into DHS office, but are comfortable talking to a faith leader or a community org
    • Want to encourage us not to give up on a coordinated effort and coordinated case management.
    • Right now, somebody in my household order something from Amazon almost every day. The item comes in 8 hours and then she starts getting target ads.
    • The private sector has learned how to use different data system and coordinate. She knows it is expensive, but it can be done.
    • I would so much rather try to work on how we get human services delivered efficiently than have Amazon have that win. And I think we can do this. She has hope.
  • Juan Calderon:
    • Look at the investment in community nonprofits the human service and public health center
    • Being international because we know our providers
    • How do we take form current legislation and invest strategically? I know there are great things that have passed in state legislature that we know can deposit things into. See SB 1833
    • What input will we have to be data driven and relevant to what is happening the legislature and the state of Illinois?
    • Explore all different subpopulations, you can find 5th generation Latino families in Illinois and new immigrants. They have different perspectives and needs. It looks different in every Latino community and every community of color.
    • We must be intentional.
  • Coleen Burns:
    • The hunger commission is looking at our very effective federal nutrition program and drilling down on the populations who have lower uptake and then figuring out how to connect them to those very effective programs.
    • Making sure we are cross promoting programs so that when somebody is accessing SNAP, we are also connecting them to Medicaid
    • When somebody does approach the state for benefits our agencies can talk to each other about what they are eligible for. It's not something we have done well historically, but it is getting better. And I think there is more work to be done.
  • Ruth Lopez-McCarthy:
    • This work will inform and compliment the work of the Illinois Immigrant Impact Task Force
    • Why this work is exciting and why working with IGPA is exiting because the info you are providing will inform the work of other task force's, too.

Strategic Planning Work Group and February Meeting

Administrator Kelly announced a plan to convene a small group of Commission members to meet bi-weekly in the new year to provide continuous advice on the strategic plan. Currently that group is made up of Co-chair Diaz, Administrator Kelly, Amy Susan Brown, Kate Maehr, Dr. Charles Montorio-Archer, Al Llorens, and Audra Wilson.

If any other commission members have an interest in participating, please reach out to Dana Kelly.

As a part of this focused work, we do believe that we will need to plan another Commission meeting- before approval of the strategic plan, to ensure our plan reflects your expertise and guidance. We normally have 2 meetings per year, so this would add in a third.

We are proposing to add a meeting for February 9 - from 1:30-3:30pm.

Announcements: Other Key Initiatives

  • Hunger Commission
  • Reimagine Public Safety Act
  • GATA Equity Initiative
  • Illinois Housing Help
  • Other

Next Steps and Adjournment

Co-chair Diaz asked for a motion from the commission to adjourn. Pam Davidson motioned and Senator Lightford seconded that motion.

The meeting was adjourned at 4:55pm.