By Niya K. Kelly, Director of State Legislative Policy, Equity and Transformation
The Illinois General Assembly wrapped up its spring session this past Friday evening/Saturday morning (depending on if you think of the glass half full or empty). Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH) worked on several legislative initiatives to best support people experiencing homelessness. With fiscal concerns fueled by an unexpected drop in projected revenue, the budgeteers were a bit more cautious in allocating funding to new and additional services.
Increased funding for housing and homelessness
This year Chicago Coalition for the Homeless asked for additional funding for four line-items. These line-items directly address housing security including homelessness prevention, homeless youth, permanent supportive housing, and emergency and transitional housing. Service providers struggle with the hard decisions around making cuts to services and turning people and families away when there isn’t enough space or funding to provide them with help. In addition, CCH asked for an increase in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) grant program.
The Public Housing Access Bill (PHAB) created standards for Illinois Public Housing Authorities (PHAs) to use in the criminal background screening process, improving equity and access to affordable housing for individuals with criminal records. The bill shortened look-back periods and provides applicants with an opportunity to present mitigating circumstances before being denied due to their background.
The current legislation will clarify data collection and the programs covered by PHAB.
Sponsors: Sen. Belt, Sen. Peters, and Sen. Simmons
The recently completed state plan required by Governor Pritzker’s executive order, Home Illinois, creates a framework for achieving functional zero homelessness. The shortage of affordable housing compounded by losing employment, chronic physical and/or mental health problems, domestic violence, or a family turning away a child are just some of the circumstances that result in homelessness.
State-funded programs to prevent and end homelessness receive deeply inadequate funding to achieve the goals of the plan. Providers have continuously stepped up to serve more people in crisis during the pandemic. Providers continue to struggle with:
Increasing rents in the private market, making it harder to help people maintain or find a home.
Agencies unable to pay competitive wages to retain and recruit qualified staff.
Shelters losing donated spaces and volunteers due to COVID-19 concerns.
This legislation will increase the housing and homeless service line items. These funds will help support the development of new housing opportunities, keep people on the brink of homelessness to maintain their housing, provide supportive services and make sure that staff in these programs are provided with a living wage.
In 1996, Congress changed public benefits providing states with block grants to assist people living in extreme poverty. States are permitted to use the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant in the way they see fit, though the main purpose of the grant is to provide cash assistance to families. Of the billion dollars Illinois has in TANF funds, we use 4% on cash assistance. The monthly grant for a family of 3, a parent and their two children, living in Illinois is $549. Parents share that the grant is not enough to meet their basic needs, including rent, utilities, clothing, personal hygiene products, diapers, transportation, etc.
This legislation will increase monthly TANF grants to 50% of the FPL. Increasing the cash grant amount to at least 50% of FPL would lift a quarter of Illinois children living in extreme poverty out of extreme poverty, which would lead to improved economic, health, and educational outcomes.
For students experiencing housing insecurity, school is often the only place where things are stable and provide some form of normalcy. Maintaining their presence and consistent attendance is critical for their futures. Experiencing homelessness as an adult can be traumatic but can be more so for young children and teens.
This legislation will provide training to teachers and staff to assist and support students experiencing homelessness.
By Doug Schenkelberg, Executive Director, February 15th 2023
Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH) appreciates Governor Pritzker’s focus on addressing homelessness, housing, and poverty in his budget address and proposed Fiscal Year 2024 State of Illinois Budget. As the Governor stated in his address, “…we will have failed everyone in Illinois if we don’t place a higher priority on tackling poverty…” This proposed budget is a step in the right direction.
The Home Illinois initiative puts needed focus on addressing the needs of those experiencing homelessness and poverty. As the Governor noted, “In Illinois, Black people are eight times more likely to experience homelessness than white people…” and underlined tackling homelessness is fundamental to advancing racial equity. Moreover, he included people living doubled-up in his description of homelessness, which aligns with CCH’s annual estimate of homelessness for Illinois.
We are encouraged by the proposed investment in new funding to tackle homelessness. We look forward to working with the legislature and governor’s office to ensure the final budget includes increased funding for Emergency and Transitional Housing, Youth Homelessness, and Supportive Housing services. These funds can be used to make sure every person living in Illinois has a safe place to call their own along with supportive services to allow them to live independently. Homeless and housing providers have weathered the pandemic, changing their model to keep their clients, who are likely to be high-risk, safer. They have lost staff due to COVID as well as their inability to pay competitive wages.
The Governor’s proposal to increase the TANF monthly grant amount to 40% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) is a step in the right direction toward ending familial poverty in Illinois. The need is growing for Illinoisan families with the cost of living and prices soaring on basic but necessary items, and with the end of the emergency SNAP allotment families are looking for relief, especially those living in deep poverty. We encourage the legislature to work with the Governor’s office to include an increase in TANF to 50% of FPL to provide additional funds to pay off debt, to save, and to make the necessary purchases for their families.
The Governor and the General Assembly have shown through their actions over the past few years they want to invest in the needs of those that are too often pushed to the margins. We look forward to working with them this year to enact a 2024 budget that continues this work.