Political polarization in Congress led to legislative inaction last year on many key measures important to people living in poverty, shows the annual poverty scorecard issued by the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law.
Although Congress as a whole averaged a "C" on the scorecard, the legislative body "remains highly polarized on poverty-related issues, with most members at either the top or the bottom of the grading scale," according to the report released earlier this month. The Illinois Congressional Delegation averaged a "B" grade, with only three members earning a perfect score.
"Government has a vital role to play in ensuring the quality of life and chances for upward mobility for those living in poverty," said Shriver Center President John Bouman. "As Congress remains gridlocked, our analysis highlights the growing opportunities for progress at the state level, where increasingly critical decisions affecting vulnerable communities are being made."
For its scorecard, the Shriver Center evaluated the voting records of U.S. congressmen during the previous calendar year. Scores were tabulated based on votes taken in the House and Senate on 39 legislative measures covering various topics including the budget, health care, education and employment.
Congress passed three significant anti-poverty measures in 2015, according to the report. Federal lawmakers reauthorized the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), made permanent key provisions in the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit (CTC) and "provided substantial relief from spending limits on programs that help low-income people," the report reads.
Still, Shriver Center officials say Congress should be working harder to help the more than 47 million Americans living in poverty.
"We believe much more can be done by lawmakers to adopt policies that address the needs facing low-income Americans," said Dan Lesser, director of the Shriver Center's Economic Justice Program. "The poverty scorecard arms the public with critical information and tools to hold their elected officials accountable in advancing policies that promote equity and opportunity for all."
Many bills and amendments pushed in 2015, backed mostly by Republicans, would have harmed people living in poverty, the Shriver Center found. Legislative proposals, for example, sought to undermine anti-discrimination laws, affordable health care and civil legal aid.
"Congress also missed opportunities to protect low-income people from harmful environmental risks, expand access to early childhood learning opportunities and promote equal pay for women," the Shriver Center added.
Most Illinois Congressional Delegation members earned a passing grade on the scorecard.
In the upper chamber, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) received an "A" on the scorecard, while U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) earned a "C."
Three Illinois congressmen, all Democrats, had a perfect "A+" voting record in 2015. They are U.S. Reps. Mike Quigley (D-IL,5), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL,8) and Cheri Bustos (D-IL,17).
Except for Congressman Dan Lipinski (D-IL,3), the remaining Democratic Illinois U.S. House members got an "A" on the scorecard, including Bobby Rush (1), Robin Kelly (2), Luis Gutierrez (4), Danny Davis (7), Jan Schakowsky (9) and Bill Foster (11). Lipinski, who earned a "B," had his score reduced partly because he voted in favor of legislation that would have defunded Planned Parenthood for a year and against a measure to make EITC and CTC provisions permanent.
On the Republican side, the highest score went to Rep. Bob Dold (R-IL,10), who earned a "B." Dold's votes against legislation to defund Planned Parenthood and repeal the Affordable Care Act were among those that boosted his score.
As for the other Illinois Republican congressmen, Reps. Mike Bost (12), Rodney Davis (13) and Adam Kinzinger (16) each scored a "D," while Peter Roskam (6), Randy Hultgren (14), John Shimkus (15) received an "F."
U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood (R-IL,18) had an incomplete score. That's because he wasn't sworn into Congress until September 2015, after he won the special election for ex-Congressman Aaron Schock's former House seat.
Click through to see how each Illinois congressman voted on poverty issues.