Notes from the Field...


Looking Ahead to Legislative Sessions in Springfield and Washington D.C.

The Illinois General Assembly will be in session after the general election and before newly elected legislators are sworn in on Jan. 9, 2013. It may not seem like a lot of time, but a "lame duck" legislative session often provides opportunity to push through controversial bills and affectsignificant policy change.

United Way will be monitoring closely the Veto Session, during which pension reform is expected to be a major issue. During the recent Spring Legislative Session and again during the summer, legislators failed to address the state's $83 billion in unfunded pension liabilities.

That amount could reach $93 billion by next summer if nothing is done. From United Way's perspective, reform is critical because pension liabilities squeeze the entire state budget. The result is fewer dollars for state agencies, including the Department of Human Services, which funds community-based providers across Illinois.

Last month, Senate President John Cullerton told the Chicago Tribune editorial board that pension reform wouldn't get done until January. The General Assembly is currently scheduled to meet Nov. 27-29 and Dec. 4-6.

Legislators may be more willing to pass a bill after Election Day, when they'll know if they'll remain in office or will be "lame ducks" on their way out. Also, in January only a simple majority will be needed to pass legislation, not the extraordinary three-fifths majority now required for laws to take immediate effect.

In Washington, D.C., action in the U.S. Congress likewise has stalled. One issue looms large: the "fiscal cliff," when on Dec. 31 certain tax cuts for workers and businesses will expire and on Jan. 1 substantial automatic spending cuts will go into effect. The changes have serious repercussions for human services.

The federal government will collect $2.44 trillion in revenue in the current fiscal year but spend $3.56 trillion. To address this imbalance, legislators tried but failed to reach a compromise including spending cuts and tax increases. As a result, automatic spending cuts of $1.2 trillion over 9 years will be split between defense and domestic spending unless Congress takes further action.

In 2013, automatic spending cuts would reduce budgets by 8.4% for education, Head Start, Child Care Development Block Grants, Emergency Food and Shelter Program, workforce development/job training, and many affordable housing programs.

If no action is taken to avert spending cuts and tax increases, the Congressional Budget Office estimates unemployment will rise to about 9% next year. Election year politics has impeded progress, with legislators waiting until the next president is elected to act.

Congress met during the first week of October but won't reconvene until after Election Day. Legislators will meet for 16 days before the end of 2012. According to The Washington Post, a short-term solution may be a stopgap budget passed during the lame-duck session. Such a move would give legislators more time to come up with a solution.

Election Day: Make Your Voice Heard

Nov. 6 is right around the corner. With a host of candidates on the ballot, voting is an important way you can have a say in policies enacted at the local, state and federal level. Voting, too, is a form of advocacy.

United Way does not endorse candidates but we do endorse your participation in the democratic process. Politics and political campaigns can be frustrating for their negativity at times. We encourage you to look beyond politics and learn about the candidates and their positions so you can actively engage in this election.

Keep in mind that election activities as a private citizen differ from those as a staff member of a nonprofit organization. Nonprofit organizations cannot participate in political campaigns for or against any candidate for public office.

Organizational resources such as staff time, money, contact lists or facilities cannot be used on behalf of any political campaign. For more details, see Staying Nonpartisan: 501(c)(3) Guidelines.

2-1-1 Illinois Expansion Begins

United Way of Rock River Valley joined the 2-1-1 network this summer, becoming the first to do so since three pilot sites introduced the comprehensive information and referral line to Illinois in 2009.

United Way of Rock River Valley is partnering with PATH, one of the three pilot sites and the initial call center selected for Illinois' 2-1-1 expansion. United Way of McLean County partners with PATH, which covers McLean, Livingston and DeWitt counties.

The other two pilot sites are in Greater St. Louis and the Quad Cities. 2-1-1 through United Way of Greater St. Louis covers 9 counties in Illinois. Through United Way of the Quad Cities Area, 2-1-1 covers 2 counties.

2-1-1 is a 24-hour line that connects callers with essential community information and services. For example, callers can get referrals for shelter, counseling and mental health services, and employment support.

Paul Logli, president and CEO of United Way of Rock River Valley, told the Rock River Times: "With United Way 2-1-1, we’re breaking down the barriers between those who need help and those who can help them."

PATH and 36 United Ways across Illinois are working together to find funding for call centers in 83 counties targeted for the 2-1-1 expansion. With United Way of Rock River Valley now on board, residents in Ogle and Winnebago counties now have access to 2-1-1.

Since 2009, the three pilot sites have logged 65,776 calls, with a 23% increase in call volume between 2010 and 2011.

The 2-1-1 Illinois Board ultimately expects all Illinoisans to have access to the critical referral line.

Focus on HEALTH: Childhood Trauma Questions
Will Be Added to State Health Risks Survey

Advocates won an important victory in October when the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) approved adding questions about childhood trauma to the state's annual Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS).

The BRFSS is the world's largest, ongoing telephone health survey system. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention launched the survey in 1984 and currently all 50 states participate. Data collected monthly focuses on health risk behaviors, preventive health practices, and health care access primarily related to chronic disease and injury. The survey allows states to add questions addressing health issues of local concern.

Over the summer, a coalition of organizations urged IDPH to add 11 questions of the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACES), which since 1994 has measured the lifelong physical, mental and behavioral health effects of nine childhood experiences across the population.

Coalition members include United Way, Health and Medicine Policy Research Group, Adler Institute for Public Safety and Social Justice, the Illinois Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Civitas ChildLaw Center, Loyola University Chicago School of Law, Illinois Project LAUNCH, University of Illinois at Chicago's School of Public Health, and Wisdom Exchange.

The new survey questions address nine childhood experiences:

ACES are considered a causal agent for many health challenges. Studies show that those who experienced four or more categories of childhood exposure had increased risk for several behaviors, including alcoholism, drug abuse, depression, sexually transmitted disease and severe obesity.

In a letter to IDPH officials, the Illinois Childhood Trauma Coalition said, “By adding the ACES module to the Illinois BRFSS, we can gain insight about the adults in our own state and the possible causes of their health issues.”

IDPH approved adding the ACES questions to Illinois's 2013 BRFSS survey, which will be conducted next year.

Recent Research

New Journalism on Latino Children, Who Will Teach Our Children?

National Women's Law Center, Downward Slide: State Child Care Assistance Policies
The Urban Institute, Savings: The Poor Can Save, Too
Illinois Commission on the Elimination of Poverty, Annual Report
Social IMPACT Research Center, 2011 Poverty, Income, and Health Insurance Coverage Fact Sheets,
*Fact sheets are available for several counties throughout the state.

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America’s Future
Social IMPACT Research Center, 2011 Poverty, Income, and Health Insurance Coverage Fact Sheets,
*Fact sheets are available for several counties throughout the state.