Notes from the Field...


Gov. Rauner Outlines Budget with Deep Cuts to Key Programs

Budget Cuts

In his first budget proposal to the General Assembly, Gov. Bruce Rauner suggested that drastic cuts, including those to human service programs and Medicaid, would help Illinois get its fiscal “house in order.” United Way opposes this approach to rectifying the state’s finances. Slashing funding to human services and Medicaid places an undue and harmful burden on the backs of our most vulnerable residents.

While Gov. Rauner's FY '16 proposal is just that — the House and Senate will develop their own budgets in the coming months — we are concerned about the impact his “turnaround budget” will have on many programs. Consider the proposed cuts:

Medicaid was one of Gov. Rauner’s largest targets for spending cuts. In addition to the $1.5 billion overall cut, Gov. Rauner called for scrubbing eligibility rolls, reduce payments to hosptials and nursing homes, and shifting recipients to private insurance through the Affordable Care Act, and reducing or ending options adults services such as dental care and podiatry. In addition, hospitals serving Medicaid populations would see $735 million less in funding.

Overall, Gov. Rauner's proposed budget is $4.1 billion less than the current fiscal year, which ends June 30. The breadth of the cuts in Gov. Rauner’s spending plan is alarming. But we’ve been here before. Our job as advocates for strong human services programs is to impress upon legislators the importance of the work providers do for those in need and the community at large.

Our focus should now turn to our local representatives, who are required to pass a budget by May 31. If that does not happen, adopting a budget would require a two-thirds majority instead of a simple majority. Join us in urging legislators to protect human service programs and the vital role they plan in our communities.

Get to Know Members of Gov. Rauner’s Cabinet and Staff

Springfield IL

Since being sworn into office on Jan. 12, Gov. Bruce Rauner has been building his cabinet of department leaders and his administrative team. With some new and some familiar faces filling these top positions, we need to start learning names and planning to introduce ourselves as United Way advocates, especially as we prepare for our annual Lobby Day in Springfield on April 15.

Here’s a look at some of Gov. Raunder’s staff and department leaders:

Mike Zolnierowicz, Chief of Staff: He previously served as Deputy Chief of Staff for U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk and was deputy campaign manager for Gov. Rauner’s campaign.

Tim Nuding, Director of Governor's Office of Management and Budget: He has spent 25 years working in state government for the Illinois Senate Republican Staff and recently was Chief of Staff to Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno.

Aaron Winters, Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy: He was a senior adviser to Sen. Kirk and served as the Policy Director for Gov. Rauner’s campaign.

Jennifer Hammer, Special Counsel to the Governor and Policy Adviser for Healthcare and Human Services: She is an attorney and was the Executive Director of the Healthcare Council for the Illinois Chamber of Commerce.

Jason Turner, Director of the Department of Human Services: He was the top human services official in New York City as the Commissioner of the Human Resources Administration. He also previously served as the Executive Director of the Center for Self-Sufficiency in Milwaukee.

Felicia Norwood, Secretary of the Department of Healthcare and Family Services: She has served as Senior Policy Advisory on Health and Human Services to Gov. Jim Edgar and Policy Adviser on Human Services to Gov. Jim Thompson. She has spent most of her career working for Aetna.

Nirav Dinesh Shah, Director of the Department of Public Health: He holds both a medical degree and law degree. As an attorney at Sidley Austin in Chicago, he focuses on the administrative and legal aspects of public health.

Rev. James Meeks, Chairman of the State Board of Education: As a former Democratic state senator, he was an advocate for education. He is pastor of the 15,000-member Salem Baptist Church in Chicago.

Jeff Mays, Director of the Department of Employment Security: He served five terms in Illinois’ House of Representatives and was president of the Illinois Business Roundtable.

Hugo Chaviano, Director of the Department of Labor: He is an employment and contract lawyer and has more than 35 years of legal experience.

Rocco Claps, Director of the Department of Human Rights: He's served as director for the past 12 years.

Promote the Earned Income Tax Credit and Free Tax Preparation

Tax Credit

With tax season under way, it's important to spread the word about the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and free tax preparation, both to benefit working families and individuals. The EITC helps lift working families and individuals out of poverty and stimulates local economic activity.

Illinois’ EITC has risen gradually since 2012, when it went from 5% to 7.5% of the federal EITC. Then, in 2013, it was increased to 10% of the federal EITC. The state’s EITC put $160 million back into the pockets of more than 900,000 low-income workers in Illinois in 2013. And it helped lift 294,000 Illinoisans—including 146,000 children—out of poverty between 2009 and 2011.

But the EITC has the potential to do more. United Way supports increasing the state’s EITC from 10% of the federal EITC to 20% over five years. Doubling the state’s EITC would bring more families out of poverty. At the current 10% of the federal EITC, a low-income Illinois family gets an average of $300 more in annual income. At 20%, families would end up with an average of $600 more for the year.

Studies show that low-income families use their EITC money for basic necessities and child expenses. They spend the extra money at local businesses to buy groceries, pay for car repairs, or put their child in day care. The EITC boosts local economies, which is why the Illinois Retail Merchants Association has continued to support its expansion.

Annual economic activity from the state’s EITC is currently about $322 million. This amount would grow to about $645 million if the EITC were raised to 20% of the federal credit. Each additional dollar secured from increasing the EITC translates into $1.58 in local economic activity, according to a 2006 Brookings Institute study.

United Way of Illinois is one of 10 statewide organizations to receive a grant to increase access to EITC through free tax preparation and filing services. United Way has partnered with MyFreeTaxes, which offers free online filing at and at VITA sites in Illinois. Individuals or families earning $60,000 or less in 2014 are eligible for these services.

As a result of our advocacy work, the state Department of Revenue has added MyFreeTaxes as a direct link off the department's website. Having the link easily accessible will help connect those who are eligible for the EITC with the resources they need to complete their state and federal tax returns.

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: Seven are in Chicago and others are in West Chicago, Chicago Heights, Evanston, Waukegan, Aurora, Elgin, Joliet and Springfield.

Similarly, Ladder Up offers free tax preparation for families earning up to $50,000 and individuals earning up to $25,000. Of its 19 sites, 13 are in Chicago and the others are in Aurora, Cicero, Downers Grove, Melrose Park, Plainfield and Waukegan.

This tax season, we ask that you encourage the use of free tax preparation for low-income workers and urge your legislators to support legislation, SB676 and HB2458, to increase the state’s EITC to 20% in 2% increments over five years. Learn more about the impact of doubling the state’s EITC at

2015 Public Policy Agenda Adopted at Mid-Year Meeting

United Way of Illinois board members have approved our 2015 Public Policy Agenda, which will guide our advocacy work over the coming year. The agenda focuses on our four core areas: Education, Income, Health and Community Strengthening. Here is a summary of each:

Education: Illinois’ competitiveness in a global economy depends upon academic achievement. To succeed, students must enter school ready to learn and navigate the transitions to high school, post-secondary study and work.

Income: Financial stability has taken on greater importance for many Illinoisans as our economy struggles to rebound. Households that are financially stable and have sufficient income to support their families create a stronger community and economy.

Health: Access to affordable, quality health coverage is the key to ensuring Illinoisans can lead healthier lives. Receiving healthcare early in life and throughout adulthood is an important way to prevent obesity and chronic diseases that are becoming more prevalent today.

Community Strengthening: Much like roads, hospitals and schools, community services are part of our state’s vital public infrastructure that must be maintained and strengthened. In order to continue advancing the common good, we must make sure the state has a well-managed and highly coordinated network of community services.

See the entire agenda to learn how we will help advance these goals through our advocacy work and engagement strategies.

Upcoming Event

Save the date: Our annual Lobby Day in Springfield is scheduled for April 15. Throughout the day, we will impress upon members of the General Assembly and Executive Office the benefits of policies we’ve adopted in our Public Policy Agenda. Please plan to join us for this important event. More details to come!

Recent Research


A New Majority: Low Income Students Now a Majority In the Nation’s Public Schools, Southern Education Foundation

The Economics of Early Childhood Investments, President’s Council of Economic Advisers


Poor by Comparison: Report on Illinois Poverty, Social IMPACT Research Center at Heartland Alliance

Asset & Opportunity Scorecard: Illinois, Corporation for Enterprise Development


Mapping Marketplace Enrollment, The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation

Information for Action: School Policies to Prevent Childhood Obesity, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation