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Illinois’ Commission on the Elimination of Poverty Set to Meet on October 28

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One of the major accomplishments of the From Poverty to Opportunity Campaign in 2008 was the creation of the Commission on the Elimination of Poverty. As you may recall, this Commission was created to give the state the blueprint it needs to end poverty in a manner consistent with international human rights standards. The initial task of the Commission is to create a substantive, measurable plan that cuts extreme poverty in half by 2015.

Since the bill was signed into law back in the summer of 2008, we have waited. And waited. Appointments needed to be made that did not happen. Making things more complicated, a governor was arrested, a new governor sworn in, and a massive budget crisis (which has not gone way) jumped in front of many other issues.
Through all these roadblocks, the campaign's members have continued to push for the Commission to meet and begin its work. In September, the final appointments to the Commission were made by the leaders in the Senate. Since then, the Campaign has been working closely with the Governor's office to prepare for the Commission's first meeting, October 28 in Springfield.

This first meeting is not small accomplishment. With all the roadblocks mentioned and the fact that dozens, if not hundreds, of commissions and boards established via legislation never get off the ground, the progress on the Commission on the Elimination of Poverty is a sign of both the commitment to this issue of the thousands of individuals and organizations across the state and the importance of the issues the Commission must tackle.

As we have pointed out before, a lot has changed since we launched the Campaign in 2006, but one thing, unfortunately, remains the same. Too many people are experiencing extreme poverty in Illinois. (pdf)

Now is the time for action.

There will be numerous opportunities for people throughout the state to make their voice heard about what is needed to realize the human rights of those experiencing this extreme level of hardship. If you have not endorsed the Campaign, do it now to stay informed, show your commitment to the Campaign's goals, and help hold the Commission accountable.

Written by Doug Schenkelberg

October 16th, 2009 at 1:19 pm

Poverty is up in Illinois & How we bring it down.

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It is official. The number of people living in poverty in Illinois has grown. 12.2% of the population are now officially in poverty, translating to 1,532,238 million people.

Given the lag in official poverty statistics, this increase comes as no surprise. The recession has pushed more and more people below the poverty line. (Keep in mind, the current measure is in desperate need of updating.)

When we look at a sample of the different villages, cities, and counties throughout our state, we see a wide range of poverty rates:

Peoria - 21.4%
Arlington Heights - 3.4%
Rockford - 23.3%
Decatur - 16.3%
Vermilion County - 12.3%
Schaumburg - 6.1%
Elgin - 14.8%
Sagamon County - 11.3%

These numbers demonstrate one consistent fact - poverty is everywhere. Higher concentrations in some areas than others for sure, but no place is immune to poverty. No place is free of hardship.

So, what does this mean? A couple of things.

1) Now, more than ever, we need to focus on poverty.

When this Campaign was launched back on Human Rights Day in 2006, our world looked different. Rod Blagojevich was governor. George W. Bush was president. The economy was roaring. Unemployment was incredibly low. Poverty rates were holding steady, with some jumps and some declines.

Now, in 2009, we have a different Governor and a different President. Our economy has screeched to a halt. The state's budget woes are the worst they have been in years. Unemployment is the highest it has been in decades. And poverty is up.

As a result, our work to directly address poverty is all the more important. More people are facing lives without opportunity. Long-term solutions, that strengthen the infratructure for protecting families and human rights, are critical. People that were experiencing poverty before the recession hit are that much further from self-sufficiency, and the compliment of human services they turn to in tough times has been undermined.

There has been a curious shift during the recession. Before the recession, we commonly heard that those experiencing poverty had no one to blame but themselves. Despite mountains of evidence to the contrary, too many people felt poverty was simply the result of an individual making bad choices.

There has been a shift - some of it good, some of it bad. Many are now ready to acknowledge that larger forces and systems push families into poverty. This realization has opened the door to new thinking about what as a society can do. On the flip side, there are those that say we cannot focus on poverty now. We need to focus on recovery. Well, the people that were living in poverty before the recession hit were waiting for recovery back then. If we are going to get our economy back in shape, we cannot set one group of people to the side and say we will worry about them later. It is all hands on deck. Everyone that is given true opportunity to move towards self-sufficiency helps themselves and society as a whole.

2) There are concrete things we can and are doing about poverty.

We can make a real difference in our communities and our state. Simple acts and innovative programs can go a long way to ensuring individuals and families have real opportunity. The pieces of the stimulus funding that has focused on supports has had a real impact, and we can and should continue those policies beyond the recovery act.

Here in Illinois, the most important thing we can do is fix our structural deficit. As we documented many, many, many times over the past few months, inadequate revenue has caused the programs and services that help the most vulnerable in Illinois to be threatened.

It is not an easy thing to do, but it is the right thing. There are other policies that need to be put in place, other changes that should be done, but until we fix our state's budget, we are tinkering around the edges.

3) We cannot be discouraged.

When you are working towards the goal of ending poverty, and you see the number of people in poverty increasing instead of decreasing, you may want to throw your hands up in the air and give up. That is, on some level, a rational response.

But here's the thing - we just can't.

Too many people are counting on us to keep trying. Too much good work has been done to date to stop now. Think about how much larger the number of people in poverty would be today were it not for the hard work and perseverance of dedicated people who refused to give up in the face of adversity.

No one said it would be easy. We cannot stop simply because some numbers are reminding us of this point.

We will make progress. We will work together to give families real opportunity. We will end poverty.

Written by Doug Schenkelberg

September 29th, 2009 at 2:35 pm

What Health Reform Will Actually Achieve

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We here at the From Poverty To Opportunity Campaign believe that accessible affordable health care is a human right that should be afforded to every man, woman, and child. This country is at a crucial turning point in which, with the proper health care reform, this needed human right can finally be achieved. Pulling from extensive knowledge of providing health care services throughout Chicago, Heartland Alliance has developed 11 key principles that need to be included in any health care reform for it to have an actual, meaningful effect on the people of this country.

Given the expansive scope of health reform, 1,000 page reform bills and media focus on specific aspects of health care reform, it can be immensely difficult to determine what health care reform will actually accomplish.

Thankfully, the good folks over at the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation have analyzed all of the major health care reform proposals and provided a side-by-side comparison of each one. Below is an analysis of the House Tri-Committee Proposed Plan, The Senate Finance Committee's Proposed Plan and the Senate HELP Committee's Proposed Plan as compared to three of our key principals. Those three principles: health coverage for everyone, prevention and wellness services and expanded primary care are key components in realizing health care as a human right.

Coverage For Everybody

All three of the bills propose to expand health care coverage by lowering eligibility requirements for Medicaid and offering health care subsidies for individuals and families who otherwise could not afford coverage.

The Senate HELP Committee's plan expands Medicaid to families who make up to 150% of the Federal Poverty Line (FPL), The House Tri-Committee's plan expands it to 133% and the Senate Finance Committee increases coverage to families up to 115% of the FPL.

This initiative is important because Medicaid does not currently cover everybody. According to Families USA 43 states do not provide Medicaid for low-income childless individuals, and only 16 states provide the program to individuals who live up to 100% of the FPL. Simply decreasing eligibility requirements could provide coverage to 17 million more citizens.

Each of the three bills would provide subsidies for individuals and families who make below 400% of the FPL. Currently, families who are ineligible for either Medicare or Medicaid receive no assistance from the government to purchase health insurance. This reform would aid this very population.

Prevention and Wellness

Each of the three bills plan to bolster prevention and wellness by providing incentives for health care providers to administer more preventative services while also increasing the amount of professionals who provide these services.

Primary care providers are the most effective at administering preventative treatments. Unfortunately, payment for Medicaid services is usually slow in coming, overly-complicated, and does not match the cost of services provided. This, combined with a lack of regulations forcing doctors to treat Medicare patients has created massive disincentives to treating Medicare clients. The House Tri-Committee's plan would fix this by increasing Medicaid payment rates to 100% of Medicare rates and providing bonuses for primary care practitioners.

The Senate Finance Committee's plan is more patient-based, with a focus on providing incentives to individuals, business' and states to provide and participate in prevention and wellness programs. Medicaid and Medicare recipients would receive "rewards" for completing behavior modification programs. Small businesses would receive grants for implementing wellness programs, while states would get grants to implement innovative wellness programs

The Senate HELP Committee's bill requires hospitals to report preventable readmission rates; hospitals with high re-admission rates will be required to work with local patient safety organizations to improve their rates. It also requires health insurers to provide financial incentives to providers to better coordinate care through chronic disease management.

Primary Care/Primary Care Workforce Development

Due to the increasing pay rates of specialty care, the USA is on the verge of a Primary Care Provider Shortage, that is only going to get worse. Primary care providers play a key role in providing holistic services that prevent chronic sickness and disease; therefore it is important to increase this dwindling population. Each of the health reform bills has specific language that addresses this shortage.

The Tri-House Committee and the Senate HELP Committee propose to reform the sustainable growth rate for physicians, with incentive payments for primary care services and for services in efficient areas while also reforming Graduate Medical Education to increase training of primary care providers by redistributing residency positions and promote training in outpatient settings and support the development of primary care training programs.

The Senate Finance Committee's proposal would provide bonus payments to certain primary care providers and providing reimbursements for certain care management activities for patients with hospital stays related to a major chronic condition.

Where We Go From Here

Although these health reform bills are on the table, consensus on what this health reform will actually look like is far from definitive. If these three bills are any indication, the reformation of this countries health care system would increasingly coincide with Heartland Alliance's principles for realizing health care as a human right. However, until the Senate, Congress and President agree upon reform and sign it into law, nothing is certain and nothing is guaranteed. It is important to continue the fight for health care as a human right. If you believe that health care needs to be reformed, let your voice be heard!

Written by Tim Klein

September 9th, 2009 at 4:26 pm

Advancing Human Rights: School-Based Health Centers

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Editor's Note: This post is the first in a new monthly feature - "Advancing Human Rights" - that is dedicated to highlighting programs that have been instrumental in advancing human rights through reducing poverty and affirming dignity. If you know of a program that deserves recognition, please feel free to contact us.

August is quickly turning into September, and school is beginning for students all across Illinois. While students are surely worrying about new clothes, new books, preseason sports, and socializing with fellow classmates, there is one thing that many kids won't have to worry about: staying healthy.

Thanks to School-Based Health Centers, Illinois students across the state have access to 46 high-quality diverse health resources that are located right on their school grounds. These centers provide an array of different services, such as primary care, medication distribution, mental health, health education and preventive services.

These centers need to be promoted for three reasons: Filling Service Gaps, Providing Dignified Services and Opportunity for Expansion.

Filling Services Gaps

Given that 16.6% of all Illinois children liven in poverty, School Health Center's play a vital role in ensuring that the state's youth are adequately prepared to succeed in school.

According to the Illinois Coalition for School Health Centers, last year Illinois School Health Centers provided services to 25,825 different children, totaling 117,985 visits. Of those youth, 6,793 of them did not have health insurance. That is almost 7,000 children who got treated for things like depression, respiratory diseases, post-traumatic stress disorder and physical injury who otherwise would have gone without treatment.

For example, imagine a child who has undiagnosed attention-deficit disorder who is also suffering from symptoms of depression as a result of bullying. Or picture a child who has severe asthma, but does not have the means to purchase an inhaler. Is it realistic to think that either of these children is mentally or physically prepared to reach his or her full academic potential while battling these untreated ailments?

Advocates for School Health Centers don't think so, and they have done the research and have also found evidence to prove it. The 2007 Illinois Kids Count shows that:
  • Only half of Illinois children have a “medical home,” or access to a primary care provider from whom they receive comprehensive medical care.
  • 38 counties have no pediatricians, 84 counties have no pediatric dentists, and 39 counties have no psychologists or psychiatrists
The Illinois Coalition for School Health Centers also cited a 2003 report done by the Illinois Children's Mental Heal Task Force that found that:
Nearly one-quarter of Illinois adolescents and one-third of Chicago adolescents self-reported signs of depression for two or more weeks in a row. Untreated mental health problems impact students’ ability to learn and increase their propensity for violence, alcohol and substance abuse and other risky behaviors that are costly to treat.
Illinois School Health Centers directly combat these barriers to academic success that a large number of this state's youth face. Youth are not the only benefactors of these programs, however, as teacher's and their families benefit as well.

Providing Dignified Services

School Health Centers provide teachers and parents alike with vital wraparound services. If a teacher suspects that a child is ill, either physically or emotionally, the proximity of available services makes it more likely that these teachers will make sure their students access said services.

The location of these health centers reinforce a person-centered approach to providing services.
Often families without medical homes have to travel long distances to below-average facilities for the most rudimentary of care. If the services they are seeking are mental health related, this carries along with it a stigma which can perpetuate disincentives to seeking services. This entire process can strip these families of their pride and dignity, which just adds to an already long list of barriers to accessing services.

By making services readily available on a daily basis
, School Health Centers effectively encourage children and families to seek help in ways that other health care providers simply cannot. As we have said before, access to health care is a human right. Illinois School Health Centers have proven to be instrumental in realizing this right for the youth, and therefore the future, of Illinois.

Opportunities For Expansion

The effectiveness of services, along with evidence of cost-effectiveness made School Health Center implementation a national priority. The Senate HELP Committee, which has penned one of three major national health care reform bills, has specific language in their health reform legislation about investing in School Health Centers by:
Improving access to care by providing additional funding to increase the number of community health centers and school-based health centers.
Congress is also working to ensure that School Health Centers are eligible to be reimbursed by Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program. Considering that 55% of all Illinois children who accessed these services had Medicaid as their primary health insurance, this legislation would be immensely valuable. Expanding payment options would increase revenue streams for the program, which could expand and improve services. This trickle down affect would in turn, aid the youth of Illinois in reaching their full academic potential.

Locally, the Illinois Coalition for School Health Centers are organizing a "Health is Academic" campaign that is designed to promote these programs throughout the state. You can find all pertinent material to help their advocacy efforts here.

Written by Tim Klein

August 27th, 2009 at 3:30 pm

New Law Gives those Experiencing Homelessness Access to ID’s and Dignity

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Yesterday Governor Quinn signed House Bill 897 into law. This amendment to Illinois Identification Card Act waives the fee persons who are experiencing homelessness have to pay to acquire an identification card. While this may seem like a relatively minor change in the law, the effect it will have on at-risk populations will be tremendous.

Proper identification is a key component to participate in society. For people experiencing homelessness, identification is regularly required to obtain both emergency and basic services, including:
  • Federal and state aid, such as food stamps, medical assistance, unemployment benefits, and cash grants
  • Job training and education programs
  • Substance abuse recovery and other medical services
  • Overnight Shelter and emergency housing assistance
  • Longer-term, transitional housing
    In 2005, the cost for an adult to purchase a new identification card was tripled, increasing to 20 dollars. While that may not sound like much, to a person who is experiencing homelessness and barely sustaining on a day-to-day basis, that is 20 dollars they just do not have to spend on an ID. This is evident in the numbers: approximately 30% of homeless individuals do not have an identification card. The waiving of this fee will eliminate the barrier to attaining an ID card, which in turn will help in reducing the barriers that this population experience in climbing out of poverty.

    For a person to have this fee waived, they must be "verified" as homeless. For this verification to occur, they must be vouched for by any one of the following:
    • State, county, or municipal funding to provide those services;
    • An attorney licensed to practice in the State of Illinois;
    • A human services provider funded by the State of Illinois to serve homeless or runaway youth, individuals with mental illness, or individuals with addictions.
    • A public school homeless liaison or school social worker;
    Kudos goes out to the governor, the legislatures, the senators and advocates who helped get this bill passed.

    Now we must all do our part to help make sure this bill is effective. This law will take effect July 1st, 2010, but now is the time to let lawyers, social service agencies and school officials know about it and what impact it can have on populations they serve.

    Written by Tim Klein

    August 12th, 2009 at 4:50 pm

    Affordable Housing: Chicago-Style

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    The Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, in partnership with organizations across the Chicago region, has launched Sweet Home Chicago, a newly formed coalition that released a report today detailing how a policy that was intended to create affordable housing has actually done the exact opposite. Under current city policy, 20 percent of all Tax Increment Financing (TIF) funds for subsidizing housing must be used to create affordable housing. This measure was implemented to try and offset the negative affects of gentrification. This has not happened, as the report details

    The data shows that in a quarter of all wards where TIF-subsidized affordable housing was constructed, for-sale units were priced for households earning as much as 2.5 times the community’s median income. In another quarter of those wards, TIF-funded rental housing cost as much $582 more per month than the average apartment in the neighborhood.

    The analysis shows that for-sale housing subsidized by TIF was priced for families of four earning $75,000, despite the fact that in seven of the 28 wards where those units were created, the median household income ranged from $58,550 to as little as $29,027.

    So at a moment in time when the threat of foreclosure and homelessness is on the rise the city of Chicago has turned a cold shoulder to its citizens who are already living in poverty, or are dangerously close to doing so. Sweet Home Chicago's report found that:
    The study estimates that 243,000 Chicago households earn annual incomes of less than $20,000. More than 213,000, or 88 percent, of those households pay more than 30 percent of their income on rent, a measure of financial distress known as “cost burdened.” Yet only 27% of the units created with TIF funds target this income level. By contrast, only 14 percent of households earning $75,000 a year – the income standard for for-sale housing funded by TIF – are cost burdened.
    As we have stated before, housing is a right, not a privilege. The City of Chicago would go along way to realizing that right (and actually helping the 2016 Olympic bid) by following Sweet Home Chicago's recommendations:
    • Designate 20 percent of TIF funding generated each year for affordable housing. The foreclosure epidemic and the resulting collapse of the mortgage market have only compounded the city’s preexisting scarcity of affordable housing. The report recommends that the city taps TIF accounts, which have diverted tax revenues from other public services, to help expand its desperately needed inventory of affordable housing.
    • Revise affordability standards to serve households with the greatest need. To eliminate the gap between TIF-funded affordable housing and the incomes of those who need it most, the campaign calls for the targeted 20% of funds to have new income limits:
    • Standards for Rental Housing - Units should be affordable to households earning no more than $37,700 for a family of four (50 percent of Area Median Income), with 40 percent of those apartments priced for similar-sized households earning $22,600 (30 percent of Area Median Income).
    • Standards for For-Sale Housing - Homes should be affordable to households earning less than $60,300 for a family of four (80 percent of Area Median Income).
    Watch the blog for updates on this effort as it moves forward and ways to get involved. It is just one more way to help realize human rights in Illinois.

    Written by Tim Klein

    July 30th, 2009 at 3:02 pm

    Health Care is A Human Right, But What About Access To It?

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    This past weekend marked the tenth anniversary of Remote Area Medical (RAM) turning a fairground in Wise, Virginia into a mobile hospital, with volunteer doctors and nurses providing free medical services to as many people as they possibly could within a 48 window. The turnout for the event was staggering: 2,715 people were provided services, estimated at over $1.5 million dollars worth of care. Much praise is due to RAM. They have worked tirelessly to provide a service that, judging by the number of people served, is sorely needed. So, one more time for emphasis: Three cheers to RAM. Your work is appreciated and admired.

    However, in the wake of tipping our collective caps to all the volunteers and staff at RAM and calling it a day, a crucial question emerges from this story:


    Why has an organization that was initially formed to help indigenous people in the depths of the Amazon shifted its focus to providing aid to Americans? An important caveat to this question: of the 2,715 people served this past weekend in Wise, Virginia, 49 percent of them had health insurance.

    So why did over 1,000 people decide travel from over 16 states to wait for what was in some cases over two days, to be treated by volunteers in a run down fairground? RAM's answer to this question comes in the form of the demand for services. The recipients of RAM's services surely turn to the lack of supply when justifying their answers.

    It appears families in Illinois can attest to that lack of supply.

    A recent report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation found that the percentage of children in Illinois living in poverty increased 13 percent between 2000 and 2007, from 15 percent in 2000 to 17 percent in 2007. This research, coupled with a recent report by the University of Chicago which discovered that kids born into poverty, due to medical reasons, are four times less likely to be prepared for school as their better off peers, serves as a reminder the importance of health care.

    As more and more Illinois children fall into poverty they become more likely to lose their health care benefits. Illinois already has a population of over 250,000 children without health coverage. Not even the ambitious effort's of RAM would suffice in properly treating the children of Illinois who face the everyday dangers that the absence of health care presents.

    The very existence of RAM and the current state of the uninsured in Illinois is an all-too-real graphic representation of the United States failure to adequately provide its citizens a crucial human right: health care. Although some may argue that health care is not a human right, United States law would disagree with them, so its a moot point.

    Yes, you read correctly. Even though the United States may not view housing as a human right, current law acknowledges that health care is.

    This acknowledgment comes in the form of the
    Emergency Medical Treatment & Labor Act (EMTALA).

    The EMTALA was enacted to:
    ensure public access to emergency services regardless of ability to pay. Section 1867 of the Social Security Act imposes specific obligations on Medicare-participating hospitals that offer emergency services to provide a medical screening examination (MSE) when a request is made for examination or treatment for an emergency medical condition (EMC), including active labor, regardless of an individual's ability to pay. Hospitals are then required to provide stabilizing treatment for patients with EMCs. If a hospital is unable to stabilize a patient within its capability, or if the patient requests, an appropriate transfer should be implemented.
    If a person goes into a hospital seeking aid, the hospital is required by law to provide basic services to that person regardless of gender, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status.

    This sort of language sounds similar to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Especially Article 25 passage:
    Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
    The advent of Medicaid and Medicare also bolster the argument that health care in the United States is a human right. If health care is a right afforded to every American, than why did all those people travel for RAM's services? The people who traveled far and wide and waited for hours on end did not go to Wise, Virginia because they were denied health care. They went because they were denied, in one form or another, access to health care. Where the United States has failed its citizens is not necessarily in recognizing the right to health care, but in the actual realization of the various aspects of that right.

    Take for instance the 40 million (a modest estimate) uninsured people in this country, including the 250,000 children of Illinois. What happens if they catch the flu? Sprain their ankle? Get food poisoning? Since they do not have any formal access to care, they will use the emergency room as their one stop shop for medicine. Unfortunately, this is a massively expensive one-stop shop.

    Malcom Gladwell
    documented these expenses for three homeless residents in Reno, Nevada:
    "We tracked those three individuals through just one of our two hospitals. One of the guys had been in jail previously, so he'd only been on the streets for six months. In those six months, he had accumulated a bill of a hundred thousand dollars—and that's at the smaller of the two hospitals near downtown Reno. It's pretty reasonable to assume that the other hospital had an even larger bill. Another individual came from Portland and had been in Reno for three months. In those three months, he had accumulated a bill for sixty-five thousand dollars. The third individual actually had some periods of being sober, and had accumulated a bill of fifty thousand."
    The emergency room is supposed to be for just that: emergencies. But if there is no alternative for the uninsured and under-insured to go, of course they will go to the ER, even for the smallest of problems. Unfortunately this scenario only compounds a rapidly growing problem: Emergency room visits are not only massively expensive, but they provide a quality of service that is much lower than other medical providers.
    Heartland Alliance's recent study of residents in supportive housing demonstrates both the cost-savings and beneficial effects of a more human system.

    When arguing and advocating for health care reform in this country it is important to remember that health care is already a human right. How that right is fully realized is the issue. Will we maintain the status quo in the form of a system that provides minimal care to the under-represented at a great financial burden to taxpayers? Or will this country recognize that without access to quality health care, the right of health care itself is just rhetoric?

    Either way, this country will continue to provide health care to all its citizens. Whether it is done in a financially and systemically efficient way that increases access for all remains to be seen.

    Written by Tim Klein

    July 28th, 2009 at 6:15 pm

    Video: A Painful Reminder On Why We Need a Fair Budget

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    With a hattip to Progress Illinois, we wanted to share this video produced by the Neuman Association which pointantly drives home why we need to fight for a fair budget in Illinois.

    One quote from the video echoes what we have been writing about since the crisis began:

    I really do believe that if the people in this state and the legislators really knew the people that we work with and really could see the support that they need just to have a decent, dignified life that they would vote for the tax increase.

    Progress Illinois' count of people impacted is now over 16,000. How many more need to be hurt before we have a permanent solution? Call your legislator now.

    Written by Doug Schenkelberg

    July 14th, 2009 at 4:38 pm

    Amnesty International: Tasers kill

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    An Amnesty International study of deaths in U.S. from police use of Tasers — which reviewed the autopsy of one of the four Chicagoans who have died after being shocked by police — says the weapon should not be classified as “non-lethal,” and its use should be suspended or limited to life-threatening situations. The study found [...]

    Written by archive

    December 17th, 2008 at 9:24 pm

    From Southern Africa to Southern Illinois, poverty needs to be stopped

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    A community organizer in Southern Illinois recently spoke to me about the people they work for living in homes with dirt floors, with no running water, no sewer systems. Living in clothes handed down from others- family or strangers. They tell me there are no jobs. They tell me of children not going to school because it isn’t safe.

    They said to me, “You’ve never seen poverty like this.”

    Yes, I have.

    The people I lived and worked with in rural sub-Saharan Africa lived in that kind of poverty.

    They would say things to me like, “You don’t have places like this in America.”

    I would tell them about Skid Row in Los Angeles. I would tell them about poor families and homeless people.

    They couldn’t believe we have homeless people. They couldn’t believe that we have poverty.

    “Even here, everyone has a home,” they would say with sad amazement.

    I would tell them about the homeless people I worked with before who said to me, “Man, when you get back you won’t have any sympathy for us.”

    And here were these villagers in Swaziland showing sincere sympathy for the plight of the American poor.

    We would talk about soup kitchens in the United States and food distribution points in Swaziland.

    We would talk about working families who couldn’t afford food for their children, or utilities, or rent. We would talk about people trading sex for food or shelter or money.

    We would talk about people dying from the symptoms of poverty.

    We would talk about people struggling.

    And we would talk about people showing the most incredible strength in support of each other.

    We would talk about people taking each other in. We would talk about people giving clothes or food or blankets. Or love.

    We would talk of parents and older siblings going without so that children get to eat.

    We would talk of people in poverty showing intense love and appreciation for their families and friends.

    We would talk about the incredible frailty and the incredible resiliency of people.

    We would talk about how these things happen in both of our countries.

    And if you think that this is a comparison of poverty in the United States and poverty in sub-Saharan Africa then you are missing the point.

    Fighting poverty isn’t about comparisons. It isn’t about one group or one person with less than or more than others. Fighting poverty is about people looking out for each other. It is about our responsibility to each other.

    Fighting poverty is about human rights, which are an absolute standard. Fighting poverty is about respecting and protecting each other. It is about ensuring that the human rights of all people are fulfilled.

    I have this dream every once in a while.

    Two people from different parts of the world.

    Both have known struggle their entire lives. Both have known poverty and hunger and pain. Both have known what it feels like to be ignored.

    They come together and see themselves in each other.

    And they tell me that it all needs to stop.

    Today is the International Day for the Eradication of Extreme Poverty. It is a day when we all need to look at ourselves and our countries and remember that we have not only the ability and resources AND THE RESPONSIBILITY to eliminate extreme poverty and the physical, emotional, and psychological pain that comes with it.

    The United Nations has laid out the Millennium Development Goals as guides and measurements for the global eradication of poverty. The Issues the Millennium Development Goals were designed to address are the same issues that we are dealing with in Illinois. It is easy to read over the Millennium Development Goals and think that they are only the concerns of third-world countries, but if we think about what the goals mean rather than the specific language and then look at the realities of Illinois it becomes impossible to ignore that the Millennium Development Goals are for us, too. These are just some of the goals:

    • Reduce by half the proportion of people living on less than a dollar a day.

    The definition of extreme poverty for developing countries is living on less than $1 a day. In the United States and other developed countries that definition changes. The official definition of extreme poverty in the United States is less than 50% of the Federal Poverty Line and using this definition there are almost 700,000 Illinoisans living in extreme poverty.

    But lets leave that aside for the moment and understand the real definition of extreme poverty: can’t afford food, can’t afford adequate housing, can’t afford warm clothing, can’t afford health care, struggling to get by.

    That is the important definition. And by this definition the number of people living in extreme poverty is even higher than 700,000.

    • Achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all, including women and young people.

    Unemployment is on the rise in Illinois. The number of working poor families in Illinois is on the rise. Women are still paid less than men for comparable work, have lower lifetime earnings, and have higher poverty rates. “If women were paid the same as comparable men, even if only for the hours women currently work, a recent study shows that poverty rates would fall by half for both single mothers and married women”- 2008 Illinois Poverty Report.

    • Reduce by half the proportion of people who suffer from hunger.

    The number of people accessing food pantries has increased across the state. Food banks are running out of food to give out. Food prices are increasing. Hunger is getting worse all over the state.

    • Ensure that all boys and girls complete a full course of primary schooling

    Think about the inequality between schools in Illinois. Think about the children who don’t go to school because it isn’t safe. Think about the children who don’t go to school because they have to work to support their families.

    • Reduce by half the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water.

    If you think that this isn’t something that we need to be concerned about in Illinois then talk to some of the people living in southern Illinois. Talk to some of the people in housing projects. This is something that we need to be concerned about.

    • Achieve significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers by 2020.

    Homeless people. Run down housing projects. Concentrated poverty in the cities and the suburbs and towns.

    The Illinois Commission on the Elimination of Poverty takes these international goals and applies them to the Illinois poverty situation by addressing:

    • Access to safe, decent and affordable housing.
    • Access to adequate food and nutrition.
    • Access to affordable and quality health care.
    • Equal access to quality education and training.
    • Dependable and affordable transportation.
    • Access to quality and affordable child care.
    • Opportunities to engage in meaningful and sustainable work that pays a living wage.
    • The availability of adequate income supports.

    Today is the International Day for the Eradication of Extreme Poverty and “international” does not mean “everywhere other than here”. It means “everywhere including here”. It means “everyone including us”.

    To eliminate poverty in Illinois we will need more than a commission and policies and funding and legislation. It will also need compassion and respect and will.

    Extreme poverty exists in Illinois and the Illinois Commission on the Elimination of Poverty is part of the solution.

    And so are you. And so am I.

    Written by archive

    October 17th, 2008 at 6:14 pm