Notes from the Field...


Bill in Illinois Senate Would Expand Medicaid Coverage to Thousands

When the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act, it left it up to states to opt into Medicaid expansion envisioned in the law. In Illinois, work among advocates and legislators has resulted in SB 26, a bill that would authorize health coverage for up to 600,000 poor adults currently left out of Medicaid. United Way supports this measure.


The bill would make adults ages 19-64 eligible for Medicaid if their incomes are below 138% of the federal poverty level, which is about $16,000 a year. These adults are ineligible now primarily because they do not have dependent children.

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 in the first three years and federal funding would not fall below 90% thereafter.

In addition, Illinois would spend approximately $953 million less on uncompensated care between 2013 and 2022, according to The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Hospitals, physicians and pharmacies would be paid for services they currently provide yet receive little or no payment. Newly covered adults would gain access to affordable health care without having to turn to hospital emergency departments, where care for common ailments is costly.

The state Department of Health & Family Services estimates the expansion would bring $5.7 billion to Illinois in Medicaid provider payments for the newly eligible adults, with no net state costs for their healthcare.

County and local governments, human services agencies, hospitals, homeless shelters, mental health clinics, drug treatment centers, township organizations and others currently cover health care costs for poor adults without insurance. Expanding Medicaid would free up funds in these organizations.

The state economy would benefit, too. The Illinois Chamber of Commerce, which supports SB 26, cites a University of Missouri study showing Medicaid expansion in Missouri generated an estimated 24,000 new and sustainable jobs through 2020. The same a positive economic impact is likely in other states, including Illinois.

A broad network of organizations, including nonprofit advocacy groups, business organizations, hospitals and health care associations, is backing SB 26. The bill is currently in the Senate and will require Senate and House approval before it can be signed into law by Gov. Quinn.

United Way CEOs Advocate for Human Services on Capitol Hill

Chief Executive Officers from United Ways across the country – including Illinois – descended on Capitol Hill on Feb. 13-14 to testify before Congress and to meet with legislators and their staff.

United Way Worldwide CEO Brian Gallagher, along with 13 state and local United Way CEOs, testified at a U.S. House Ways and Means Committee hearing on tax reform and charitable deductions. The CEOs told of the role that charitable giving plays in strengthening communities.

United Way opposes a proposed change to the federal tax code that would limit deductions for donations made to nonprofits and other charities. Advocacy against these proposals have been occurring throughout the United Way system and culminated in the testimony before Congress.

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While United Way recognizes the urgent need for measures to reduce the federal deficit, a proposed cap on itemized deductions at 28% will do more harm than good. Any limit on charitable deductions would reduce donations, particularly among wealthier Americans.

These donations are the lifeblood of human services organizations, which strive to meet community needs and strengthen communities in the process.

CEOs from three United Ways in Illinois took this message to legislators in one-on-one meetings before the Feb. 14 hearing. Wendy DuBoe, CEO of United Way of Metropolitan Chicago, met with U.S. Rep. Danny Davis and staff members for Rep. Mike Quigley, Sen. Mark Kirk and Sen. Dick Durbin. DuBoe said United Way’s position on charitable deductions was made clear in legislative meetings and in Congressional testimony.

Similarly, Sue Grey, CEO of United Way of Champaign County, and Nick Allen, CEO of United Way of Kankakee, met with legislative staff of Sens. Kirk and Durbin, Rep. Davis and Rep. Adam Kinzinger. Each legislative staff member gave Grey and Allen ample time to share their thoughts, Grey said. Staff members were receptive and willing to consider United Way’s perspective on protecting charitable deductions and human services programs from drastic budget cuts.

CALL TO ACTION: Our Voice in the Budget Debate

With massive budget cuts looming at the federal level, now is the time to respond with a united voice to ensure key programs are funded. The Senate Budget Committee has made it easy to offer input.

Its new MyBudget tool allows members of the public to share their stories, budget priorities and ideas. Join us in submitting comments to the Senate Budget Committee before March 1. United Way Worldwide has developed a two-page document outlining United Way’s position on the federal budget and programs we have prioritized.

Share your story and copy the list of budget priorities into the MyBudget form so we send a strong and consistent message to Congress to protect critical investments in our nation’s future.

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Earned Income Tax Credit Lets Working Families Keep More of Their Pay

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Illinois’ Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is increasing for the second year, thanks to legislation passed in December 2011 that boosts tax savings for low-income workers. This important change means more money in the pockets of workers and, ultimately, in local economies.

With tax season underway, United Way is asking its members across Illinois to spread the word about this money-saving policy and about free tax preparation offered to low-income workers.

This year, Illinois’ EITC rises to 10% of the federal EITC after having increased from 5% to 7.5% of the federal EITC in 2012. The two-step increase is expected to save working families $105 million per year and represents the largest increase in Illinois’ EITC since its inception.

Local economies benefit from this policy because workers have more money to spend on goods and services. Each additional dollar from increasing the EITC translates into $1.58 in local economic activity, according to a 2006 Brookings Institute study.

More than 2.5 million Illinoisans benefited from the EITC at last count in 2010. Only 80% to 90% of those eligible claim the tax credit, meaning more must be done to educate and encourage workers to claim the EITC on their tax returns.

Free tax preparation is available for low- and moderate-income workers at locations throughout the state. United Way has partnered with MyFreeTaxes, which offers free online filing at and at VITA sites in Illinois. Individuals earning less than $57,000 a year are eligible for the free services.

The Center for Economic Progress (CEP) offers free tax preparation for families earning less than $50,000 and individuals earning less than $25,000. CEP has 15 sites offering free tax preparation: 8 are in Chicago and 1 each are in Chicago Heights, Evanston, Waukegan, Aurora, Elgin, Joliet and Springfield.

Similarly, Ladder Up offers free tax preparation for families earning up to $45,000 and individuals earning up to $20,000. Of its 19 sites, 13 are in Chicago and the others are in Aurora, Cicero, Downers Grove, Melrose Park, Plainfield and Waukegan.


Checks for Federal Benefits Switch to Electronic Payments in March

In just a few days, recipients of federal benefits such as Social Security and Supplemental Security Income must switch to electronic payments. Starting March 1, the federal government will no longer issue paper checks for benefit programs.

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Recipients will have two options: direct deposit to a bank or credit union or payment through a Direct Express Debit MasterCard. If neither option is chosen, recipients will receive the Direct Express prepaid debit card.

Benefits covered are: Social Security, Supplemental Security Income, Veterans Affairs, Railroad Retirement Board, Office of Personnel Management and Department of Labor (Black Lung).

By eliminating paper checks, the government will save $120 million. Electronic payments also are considered safer, easier and more convenient for benefit recipients.

To help recipients make the switch, the government’s Go Direct campaign website offers information about making the switch and walks recipients through the process of doing so.

Currently, about 83% of recipients use direct deposit to receive their federal benefits. Social Security and SSI recipients without bank accounts are encouraged to sign up for a Direct Express card.

Visit the Go Direct campaign website for frequently asked questions and more information about electronic payments.


Core Coalition Illinois Launches Website about New Learning Standards

With new learning standards introduced in classrooms this fall, the Core Coalition has launched a website dedicated to informing and engaging families and educators.

In Illinois, Common Core State Standards are being incorporated in English Language Arts and math classrooms this school year. The new standards replace those last updated in 1997 and are intended to better prepare students for college and the workforce. Common Core standards will be implemented in all Illinois classrooms by fall of 2013.

The Core Coalition is focused on spreading the word about the new learning standards. Its website includes video testimonials from parents, teachers, a student and an employer. It also has resources for families and educators and the option to sign up for email with news and resources.


United Way is a member of the Core Coalition, along with Advance Illinois, Illinois Business RoundTable, Latino Policy Forum and others.


Recent Research


Political Economy Research Institute, Early Childhood Education as an Essential Component of Economic Development

National Human Services Assembly, Keeping Kids on Track in the Middle School Years


Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Key Dimensions and Processes in the U.S. Credit Reporting System

Corporation for Enterprise Development, Assets & Opportunity Scorecard. A snapshot of Illinois and customizable reports and graphics are available.

HCM Strategists, The American Dream 2.0: How Financial Aid Can Help Improve College Access, Affordability and Completion. Also see the fact sheet summarizing the report’s findings.


The National Academies, U.S. Health in International Perspective: Shorter Lives, Poorer Health

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Researching the Triggers for Obesity and Diabetes