PI Original Angela Caputo Friday December 18th, 2009, 1:39pm

Number Of The Day: 1.5 Million

Illinois officials have put low-income families and seniors on dangerous ground this year by failing to fund basic human services, from senior centers and child welfare programs to care for the disabled. But there has been one saving grace for the state's neediest: federal ...

Illinois officials have put low-income families and seniors on dangerous ground this year by failing to fund basic human services, from senior centers and child welfare programs to care for the disabled. But there has been one saving grace for the state's neediest: federal stimulus funding.

This spring, Congress and the White House boosted spending on various safety net programs, such as food stamps, unemployment benefits, low-income tax credits, as well as one-time payments to low-income seniors, veterans, and the disabled.  If they hadn't done so, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) believes that six million more Americans would have fallen into poverty in 2009.  On the state level, an estimated 1.5 million Illinoisans living in poverty saw their incomes increase by more than $700 this year due to the federal stimulus.  Furthermore, 305,000 Illinoisans were pulled above the poverty line as a result, according to the census data analyzed by CBPP.

It should be noted that this report only examines the impact that one-quarter of all stimulus spending has had to date. It excludes spending on education, jobs, health care, and housing -- all proven programs for mitigating poverty. And on those fronts, new progress is being made. Just this week, Congress passed a $1 billion investment in the National Housing Trust Fund (NHTF) as part of a larger defense appropriations bill. Illinois will likely see an estimated $43 million in additional affordable housing dollars as a result. Also today, the state landed a $9.1 million bonus for expanding Medicaid coverage to more Illinois children this year.

As we noted earlier this week, it's now up to the Senate to advance the next piece of key legislation: the $154 billion economic aid and jobs package (H.R. 2847), of which $23 billion would go to schools. Kathy Ryg with Voices for Illinois' Children says if low-income families hit hardest by the financial crisis are going to pull through, there has to be leadership on Capitol Hill to get the legislation passed. From a statement:

The people of Illinois have suffered the effects of the worst recession in decades.  Since January of 2008, more than 400,000 Illinois jobs have disappeared and the state's unemployment rate is at the highest mark in 26 years [...]

To continue our efforts to aid families and help the economy recover, Congress and the [Obama] Administration must work with states to create jobs and counter the recession. Congress should extend key Recovery Act provisions such as its refundable tax credits and fiscal relief for states that help struggling Illinois children, families and communities weather the end of the recession and emerge in a stronger workforce.

We'll be sure to follow the Senate action closely. In the meantime, you can read CPBB's full report here.

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