Protesters gathered outside the Capitol May 16 to press for legislation to reform home care and child care services across Illinois. Organized by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Healthcare Illinois and Indiana, home care workers, child care providers, seniors and lawmakers took part in the rally.
A joint bill introduced in the House and Senate, the Universal Long-Term Services and Supports Trust Act, pledges to help families with long-term care costs, while assisting seniors without burdening public assistance programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.
According to SEIU, the state population over the age of 65 will increase by a third, to 2.5 million, by 2025. “There are seniors in Illinois who can’t get the health care they need to age with dignity, and it isn’t right,” said Greg Kelley, president of SEIU Healthcare Illinois and Indiana. “However, this joint legislation in the House and Senate would create an affordable long-term care system that will make sure none of our aging population falls into the gap that currently exists.”
Sen. Daniel Biss, D-Skokie, one of the sponsors of the joint bill, criticized the current structure of senior care in the state. “There are tens of thousands of people in the state of Illinois who do not have access to home care. There are tens of thousands of families that do not know where their aging parent will be able to live, or scared that their aging grandparent will have to be pushed into a nursing home because we as a state have failed to fulfill our moral responsibility and provide for our seniors,” Biss said to the crowd. “It is time for us to fix that problem. It is time for us to finally provide universal access to home care for our older adults.”
Adam Ballard, director for Access Living, a Chicago-based organization that provides care for the disabled, condemned Gov. Bruce Rauner for shaping policies that he feels have negatively impacted the disabled community. “The services that are provided to me allow me to work, help my family and live the life I want to live,” he said. “This governor wants to take that away by infringing on workers’ rights so that I don’t have a talented pool of workers to choose from.”
Ballard subsequently stressed the significance of having adequate home care aides to assist his living. “I need unionized workers; I need trained workers who are ready to help me in giving me the best possible service so that I can provide for my family and community,” he said. “However, this governor doesn’t want that, and that’s not right.”
Additionally, a measure introduced in the Senate by Sen. Mattie Hunter, D-Chicago, would increase wages for over 35,000 home care workers through the Community Care Program, a social services organization that cares for Illinoisan seniors. The bill, which would increase the hourly wage from $10.98 to $14.98 over the next four years, passed in the Senate 33-20, and is currently awaiting House consideration.
A House bill filed by Rep Litesa E. Wallace, D-Rockford, aims to reinforce child care services by extending eligibility for families under the Child Care Assistance Program to 12 months. If passed into law, Illinois would finally meet federal guidelines.
Wallace offered a personal testimony to the crowd, reiterating the urgency to reform the state’s child care system. “Fourteen years ago, I found myself a young, single mother who had to make the decision whether to work full time or part time, because I could not afford the $800 a month it cost at the time to send my child to child care,” she said. “And I remembered if you didn’t have every single document at the appointment that it may have taken four weeks to get, you would’ve lost your eligibility. It was insane, and it’s insane the way we still treat individuals who are trying to better their lives.”
The proposal passed through the House 101-3, and is awaiting a vote in the Senate. “For years, the state of Illinois has applied for waivers to get around that 12-month eligibility that the federal government says that we should have,” Wallace said. “Allowing our parents to drop off that cliff is something we should never ever force parents to have to do.”
Alex Camp is a master’s degree graduate in Public Affairs Reporting from University of Illinois Springfield. He is currently a freelance journalist. Contact him at email@example.com.