Notes from the Field...


United Way Pushes for Key Public Policy Initiatives During Annual Lobby Day

More than 20 United Way staff members and volunteers gathered in Springfield on April 11 to advocate for key bills and to educate policy makers about United Way of Illinois’ work in the community.

Advocates representing more than a dozen local United Ways met with Gov. Quinn, Senate President John Cullerton, Senate and House party leaders, and several other legislators during United Way of Illinois’ Annual Lobby Day.

The group asked decision makers to:

  • Adopt a state budget that requires shared sacrifice among state agencies and across functions of state government
  • Honor existing contracts with human service providers by providing timely reimbursement payments for services provided to our most vulnerable residents
  • Consider United Way’s Statement on Transparency when reviewing all relevant bills
  • Support SB 26 to expand Medicaid to poor adults who currently are ineligible

Legislators were receptive to United Way’s messages and expressed appreciation for our work to advance the common good. In response to our concerns about the state budget, several legislators pointed to the state’s pension system as squeezing out funding for human services. The General Assembly has been unable to come up with a solution to the state’s $100 billion pension crisis.

Legislators were, however, deeply concerned about debt owed to human service providers. Several expressed support for a pending debt restructuring bill, HB 374, to repay unpaid bills as part of a package including pension reform.

United Way advocates told policy makers throughout the Capitol of the value of human services. As many as 2 million Illinois residents depend on state funding for basic services such as child care, after-school programs, help finding jobs and counseling for victims of domestic violence. Another 400,000 Illinoisans work in the human services sector.

What’s more, studies show that every dollar the public invests in community services returns $6-$8 to the taxpayer in savings in reduced emergency room visits, lower crime and unemployment, and higher standardized test scores and graduation rates.

United Way is the largest non-governmental funder of human services in Illinois. Last year, our organization invested over $100 million in more than 1,000 human service programs across the state.

Overall, our annual Lobby Day allowed staff members and volunteers to engage legislators and Executive Office policy makers in the work of United Way of Illinois and to advocate for policies that help advance our work in local communities. At the same time, we strengthened relationships with legislators throughout Illinois, which will be valuable for future advocacy efforts.

Medicaid Expansion Bill Passes Senate, Advocacy Now Focused on the House

A bill that would provide health coverage to 350,000 newly eligible uninsured poor adults and boost local economies passed the Illinois Senate in late February. Now, advocates are urging state House members to approve the measure before the end of the Spring legislative session.

SB 26 would make adults ages 19-64 eligible for Medicaid if their incomes are below 138% of the federal poverty level, which is about $15,400 a year for an individual and $20,000 for a couple. These adults currently are ineligible because they do not have dependent children. United Way supports SB 26.

Medicaid expansion was envisioned by the Affordable Care Act but left up to states in the Supreme Court’s ruling on health care reform last year. Health reform identifies the federal government as the main payer for expansion, a significant benefit for the states. The federal government would cover the full cost for the first three years and federal funding would not fall below 90% thereafter.

After months of work on the bill, advocates hope that momentum behind SB 26 will continue. There are several benefits to expansion. It would:

Those supporting SB 26 make up a broad network of organizations, including nonprofit advocacy groups, business organizations such as the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, hospitals and health care associations. The bill requires Senate and House approval before Gov. Quinn can sign it into law.

United Way Asks Legislators to Consider ‘Statement on Transparency’

United Way of Illinois has issued a statement of principles to guide legislators presented with bills that create undue burdens on nonprofit organizations that contract with the state.

Our Statement on Transparency outlines United Way of Illinois’ commitment to improving openness in government. Our organization seeks to work with government to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, accountability and collaboration.

Several bills in the General Assembly this session seek to shed light on nonprofit organizations that partner with the state through grants or contracts to deliver essential human services: HB 2, HB 943, HB 1040, HB 2869, SB 1352, SB 2381. While we support the goal of these proposals, we want to avoid any unforeseen consequences that adversely impact service providers.

Our organizations already are required to file a number of annual reports with the Internal Revenue Service, the Illinois Attorney General and Illinois Secretary of State – in addition to documents included in government contracts, grant proposals or audits.

As noted in our statement to legislators, Illinois has made great strides in recent years to streamline its business processes, reduce redundancy and improve efficiencies in the reports and audits required of its nonprofit partners. State budget cuts to health and human service agencies have created significant stress for nonprofit organizations that contract with the state. Streamlined reporting and auditing processes allow nonprofits to focus more attention on providing desperately needed services in communities across Illinois.

Much of the information sought under the bills listed above already is available through reporting required at the state and federal levels. We are prepared to work with the legislative sponsors and those departments charged with implementation of the proposals to make sure that these bills do not result in redundant or undue burden on providers.

2-1-1 Illinois Expansion Continues with McHenry County

McHenry County residents now can call 2-1-1 for community information or to get connected to human service programs. In early April, the county became the 19th in Illinois to gain access to the 24-hour referral line.

United Way of Greater McHenry County has been working to bring the phone line to residents in the far northern county for almost a decade. Its work is part of an overall state effort to make 2-1-1 available for all Illinois residents.

2-1-1 operators connect callers with human services such as emergency shelter, counseling and mental health services, and employment support. The service launched in Illinois with a pilot program in 2009, the same year Gov. Quinn signed into law the 2-1-1 Service Act.

The referral line proved invaluable in Winnebago County during the flooding on April 18. Operators in Bloomington/Normal worked with United Way of Rock River Valley, American Red Cross and the Winnebago government agencies to provide a coordinated and seamless response to those impacted by the floods.

In 16 hours, 2-1-1 answered 169 calls from Winnebago County residents. Most callers were looking for help with flooded homes, funds for hotel rooms and financial aid.

Expanding 2-1-1 to McHenry County is “something that's really going to be a bonus to the community,” Dave Barber, retired executive director of the United Way of Greater McHenry County, told the Northwester Herald.

Between 2009 and 2011, the pilot sites logged almost 66,000 calls covering 14 Illinois counties. Three United Ways were part of the pilot: United Way of McClean County, United Way of Greater St. Louis and United Way of the Quad Cities Area.

PATH, one of the three pilot sites, was one of the call centers selected for Illinois’ 2-1-1 expansion. PATH and 36 United Ways across Illinois are working together to find funding to cover 83 counties targeted for the 2-1-1 expansion.

Last summer, United Way of Rock River Valley became the first to join 2-1-1 since the pilot sites. Demand for 2-1-1 surged in 2012 with operators handling almost 46,000 calls. This summer, 29 more counties are expected to gain access to 2-1-1.

Contact Your Reps to Protect Charitable Giving

Join the advocacy efforts of United Way Worldwide by urging Congress to protect charitable giving in the U.S. tax code, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit (CTC). Recent actions in the House and Senate indicate that Congress is taking steps toward a major restricting of the tax code. See United Way’s public comment to the House Ways & Means Committee on charitable giving, the EITC and CTC.

Take two minutes to contact your representatives to:

Recent Research


Center for Law and Social Policy, Supporting Growth and Development of Babies in Child Care: What Does the Research Say?

National Association of Elementary School Principals, The Path to Lifelong Success Begins P-3

ReadyNation, Tomorrow’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Workforce Begins with Early Education


U.S. Census Bureau, Who’s Minding the Kids? Child Care Arrangements: Spring 2011

Urban Institute, Unemployment from a Child’s Perspective

ZERO TO THREE Policy Center, Building a Secure & Healthy Start: Family Leave in the Early Years


The Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured, Key Considerations in Evaluating the ACA Medicaid Expansion for States

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Why Do Household Surveys Undercount Medicaid Enrollment?

The Commonwealth Fund, Current Trends in Health Coverage and the Effects of Implementing the Affordable Care Act