Notes from the Field...

PUBLIC POLICY & ADVOCACY NEWSLETTER – OCTOBER 2013


Health Insurance Marketplaces, Medicaid Expansion Began Oct. 1

Since health insurance marketplaces launched nationwide, the Illinois website, GetCoveredIllinois.gov, has seen more than 1 million page views and more than 350,000 visitors since Oct. 1.

Health insurance marketplaces are the linchpin of health care reform passed in 2010. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) mandates that most Americans buy health insurance or pay a penalty on their income tax returns. The marketplaces are designed to offer an affordable option for uninsured individuals and small businesses that do not offer health insurance to their employees.

In advance of the Oct. 1 launch of the online marketplaces, the Illinois Department of Public Health awarded United Way of Metropolitan Chicago (UWMC) a $1.3 million grant for outreach and enrollment efforts related to the ACA. UWMC was one of 44 community-based organizations and the fourth largest state grantee to build awareness and facilitate enrollment in Illinois’s health insurance marketplace.

The marketplace offers consumers a choice of health plans, with lower-cost plans available based on an individual’s income. Consumers can compare options side-by-side and enroll online. Those with low and moderate incomes may be eligible for a tax credit, which can be used to reduce their monthly premiums.

Families with incomes between 100% and 400% of the federal poverty line (from about $23,000 to $94,000 a year for a family of four) are eligible for a tax credit to reduce the cost of coverage.

Because of website glitches after the launch, consumers will have until March 31 to sign up for insurance without paying a tax penalty in 2014.

Illinois’s online marketplace helps residents determine if they are eligible for private coverage in the marketplace or government coverage through Medicaid. During the Spring legislative session, the General Assembly passed legislation to expand Medicaid coverage to poor adults who do not have dependent children.

Medicaid expansion also was a key component of the ACA. The newly eligible must be between ages 19 and 64 and have incomes below 138% of the federal poverty level, or about $15,400 a year for an individual and $20,000 for a couple. Open enrollment began on Oct. 1 and coverage starts Jan. 1.

The state has certified more than 600 navigators to provide in-person assistance to Illinoisans trying to understand their health insurance options. Consumers can set up an appointment by entering their zip code at GetCoveredIllinois.gov.

 

United Way Urges Congress to End the Government Shutdown

United Way advocates from across the country joined forces with leaders from the AFL-CIO and U.S. Chamber of Commerce in early October to press Congressional leaders to end the government shutdown.

  

In addition, United Way advocates asked members of the Congress to restore funding for key education, income and health programs. They also asked for their support of important tax priorities such as the Earned Income Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit and charitable deduction.

During United Way Hill Day, advocates held more than 90 meetings with members of Congress and their staff. Jack Kaplan, Director of Public Policy and Advocacy for United Way of Illinois and United Way of Metropolitan Chicago, participated in this critical advocacy effort.

A joint letter from United Way, AFL-CIO and U.S. Chamber of Commerce was sent to President Obama and members of Congress to express shared concerns. It stated, “Our three disparate sectors share a common view – no one benefits from the current shut-down and everyone will be harmed if the government defaults.”

The 16-day government shut down ended on Oct. 16 after Congress approved a temporary funding bill, which President Obama signed immediately.

 

Human Services Commission 2.0 Holds First Meeting

The Illinois Human Services Commission held its first meeting of the year on Sept. 25, after being codified as a permanent commission last year. The commission has been working for almost four years to strengthen human services across the state by:

  • Determining a process for fair, adequate and timely reimbursement of providers
  • Ensuring the efficient management of publicly-funded programs and services
  • Making projections for future human services need in Illinois

The Commission includes 32 members representing human service leaders from the executive and legislative branches of state government, philanthropy, labor and community-based providers. It is chaired by Greg Wass, Senior Advisor, Governor’s Office of Management and Budget and Grace Hou, President, Woods Fund of Chicago.

Wendy DuBoe, President and CEO of United Way of Metropolitan Chicago, serves on the Commission. A steering committee which includes Jack Kaplan, Director of Public Policy and Advocacy of United Way of Illinois and United Way of Metropolitan Chicago, has established three work groups that will drive the initial efforts of the Commission:

Working Group 1: Group members will serve as the stakeholder advisory body for the state’s Illinois Framework group, which is leveraging multiple federal investments to adopt a more efficient and comprehensive approach to service delivery.

Working Group 2: The Commission’s Increasing Options & Opportunities Working Group is a stakeholder body providing input and guidance on the state's efforts to offer people with disabilities more options to live independently in their own communities.

Working Group 3: Group members will serve as the stakeholder body that will identify challenges and opportunities to improve the state's health and human services delivery system. The group will focus on increasing accessibility to human services.

The Commission has scheduled its remaining meetings for the fiscal year on Jan. 15, April 16 and June 18. A progress report is due June 30 2014.

 

Meeting with U.S. Rep. Davis Focuses on VITA Act

Advocates from United Way and other organizations met with U.S. Rep. Danny Davis in August to thank him for co-sponsoring the VITA Act, which would strengthen existing federal grants for free tax preparation services for low- and moderate-income workers.

The act is critical because VITA funding has been slashed in such states as Illinois and in many municipalities. The needs of working families are not shrinking but in too many communities, their VITA options are dwindling.

The Vita Act, HR 341, was introduced in the House of Representatives in January but did not come up for a vote. United Way will continue to advocate for the legislation, which would:

  • Codify the program’s longstanding federal grant program
  • Give local programs more flexibility to meet local needs
  • Establish a national technical assistance center to promote quality among VITA programs

VITA is a volunteer-based tax preparation program that offers low- and moderate-income taxpayers a safe, free way to file their tax returns. Tens of thousands of certified volunteers served nearly 1.7 million taxpayers at VITA sites across the U.S. in 2013.

Jack Kaplan, United Way of Illinois’s Director of Public Policy and Advocacy, told Rep. Davis that the VITA program is essential to simplifying our tax system.

“It is the vital link to help struggling, working families navigate the confusing tax code, understand and comply with their filing obligations, and learn if they are eligible for various tax credits like the Earned Income Tax Credit, the Child Tax Credit, and the American Opportunity Tax Credit,” Kaplan said at the meeting in Chicago.

Rep. Davis represents Illinois’s 7th district, which includes parts of Chicago and its western suburbs. He serves on the U.S. House Ways & Means Committee and recently helped lead its tax-reform working groups dedicated to education and family benefits.

In addition to the VITA Act, Rep. Davis is a co-sponsor of legislation to bolster the Earned Income Tax Credit (HR 2116), Child Tax Credit (HR 769) and American Opportunity Tax Credit (HR 1738).

Unfortunately, those bills have not come up for a vote in committee or the full House. Still, United Way advocates thanked Rep. Davis for co-sponsoring these bills, which demonstrates his support of public policies that strengthen working families.

Of the VITA Act, Rep. Davis said: "For low- and moderate-income families, tax preparation is not a level playing field. Wealthy taxpayers and large corporations have armies of accountants and attorneys to assist in preparing their returns. Working families often don't know where to turn for honest, expert, reliable and affordable help – and this program is one important way to address that inequity."

Free tax preparation is available for low- and moderate-income workers at locations throughout Illinois. United Way has partnered with MyFreeTaxes, which offers free filing online and at VITA sites in Illinois.

The Center for Economic Progress(CEP) offers free tax preparation across the state, as does Ladder Up. CEP hosted the meeting with Rep. Davis.

 

United Way Sponsors Informational Sessions on New State Learning Standards

The effort to educate more people about new learning standards in Illinois classrooms continued in September with United Way support. More than 100 people in both Chicago and Bloomington came to informational sessions to hear about the Common Core State Standards, designed to better prepare students for college and the workforce.

The new standards were introduced last school year in English Language Arts and math classes. With more complex content, the new standards also focus on real-world skills such as problem solving, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity.

The meetings last month explored how the new standards will bridge the skills gap in Illinois’ workforce and make our students more competitive globally. In attendance were leaders from the business community, philanthropic foundations and education advocacy groups, along with state legislators.

United Way of Metropolitan Chicago President and CEO Wendy DuBoe and Greg Cott, President and CEO of United Way of McLean County spoke at the Chicago and Bloomington events, respectively, highlighting United Way’s support of the Common Core since the effort began. United Way previously co-sponsored two informational sessions in April, which drew more than 500 people.

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

 

United Way Tells State Commission of Experience with Results-Based Budgeting

The Aug. 30 meeting of the state’s Budgeting for Results Commission featured Wendy DuBoe, President and CEO of United Way of Metropolitan Chicago (UWMC). The Commission is tasked with helping the state transition to a results-based budgeting process that prioritizes funding to programs that are effective.

DuBoe shared with the Commission the experience of UWMC as it refocused its funding strategy around organizations that have a measurable impact. UWMC previously funded all areas of human services across its six-county service area. It now invests in key strategies in Education, Income and Health in underserved communities.

UWMC has partnered with 185 service agencies in 41 suburban and 17 city communities that align with its three focus areas and can deliver measurable results. DuBoe described the transition at UWMC which occurred in stages over four years, and shared key lessons.

DuBoe’s presentation is available on the Commission’s website under August 30, 2013 - Meeting Materials.

Legislative Calendar
Fall Veto Session: The second week of the Illinois General Assembly's annual Veto Session at will be Nov. 5-7 at the Capitol in Springfield.

Upcoming Event
Don’t miss the 2013 Midwest Community Schools Forum on Nov. 14-15 in Chicago. This year’s theme is “Together We Can Go Farther: Transforming the Relationship Among Communities, Schools, & Families.” Learn more and register.

 

Recent Research

EDUCATION

Ounce of Prevention Fund, Considering a Multistate Approach to Early Learning Standards

The University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research, Preschool Attendance in Chicago Public Schools: Relationships with Learning Outcomes and Reasons for Absences

INCOME

Social IMPACT Research Center, Poverty Matters: It’s Now 50/50, Chicago region poverty growth is a suburban story

Center for Law and Social Policy, Better for Babies: A Study of State Infant and Toddler Child Care Policies

HEALTH

Health Affairs, New Strategies to Improve Food Marketing to Children

The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, The Coverage Gap: Uninsured Poor Adults in States that Do Not Expand Medicaid