2017 brought a wave of changes, challenges, and new goals in the movement for equity and opportunity for Research & Policy at Heartland Alliance. As advocates, policy wonks, educators, and researchers, we mobilized, analyzed, focused, and activated in new, urgent ways.
Heartland Alliance’s Research & Policy Division engages in research on social issues and solutions, policy and systems change, and field building nationwide, and is home to the Social IMPACT Research Center, Heartland Alliance’s Policy & Advocacy team Heartland Alliance’s National Initiatives on Economic Opportunity.
Your partnership and support allowed us to create nine research reports to help raise awareness and bring change, sweeping legislative wins that will improve the lives of millions of Illinoisans, and helped us reach over 6,000 groups nationwide with tools to ensure that a greater number of communities can create equity and opportunity for more individuals, and so much more.
Protecting Health Care and Expanding Well-Being
This year, Heartland Alliance went into battle for a better health system. We’ve become a go-to voice on the importance of Medicaid for low-income Illinoisans. We also helped form the Protect Our Care-Illinois coalition and together we fought to prevent the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and threats to strip people in poverty of their Medicaid coverage. The coalition—115 organizations strong—is devoted to protecting Medicaid and good health policy and is poised to continue its fight for affordable care in the new year.
We also helped ensure hundreds of thousands of Illinoisans can get food assistance in 2018. Under the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) (“food stamps”), many childless adults are only able to receive SNAP for three months. This year, Heartland Alliance helped document the need for a waiver of this antiquated rule and lead advocacy efforts that resulted in the Governor requesting a federal waiver, so that these Illinoisans won’t go hungry in 2018.
Promoting Equity and Opportunity for All
We fought to pass sweeping legislation that increases opportunity in employment, housing, and education for people with criminal records. This year, Heartland Alliance with the Restoring Rights and Opportunities Coalition of Illinois successfully passed one of the strongest reentry bills in the country (HB2373), which will allow thousands more Illinoisans the opportunity to seal their record so that they can better find jobs, housing, and go to school. For the 4.1 million Illinois adults with a criminal record in Illinois, this legislation could signal a fundamental shift in their opportunities.
Heartland Alliance also kindled innovative solutions to address poverty and inequity throughout the country. We supported five communities as they undertook systems-level collaboration to create innovative new systems that meet their unique needs and address homelessness and improve job opportunity. In addition, we equipped and educated over 10,000 stakeholders nationally on a range of issues related to local policy development and implementation, best and promising practices in employment services and programming, and policy and systems change.
In August, we launched the Upper Midwest Children’s Savings Account Consortium, a regional project aimed at helping to create children’s savings account programs throughout the Midwest. This 30-month project brings together leaders from cities and states throughout the region and experts in the field to promote peer-learning, troubleshooting among colleagues, and increased knowledge of the Children’s Savings Account design and implementation.
In Illinois, research on Children’s Savings Accounts showed which Illinoisans are—and aren’t—accessing savings for higher ed and made recommendations to improve equitable access and pave the way for a universal program in Illinois.
In November, we released Equitable Access to Secure Choice: Addressing the Barriers to Retirement Savings for Illinois Workers. A few years ago, Heartland Alliance was among the lead advocates that worked to pass Illinois’s Secure Choice Savings Program, which will mean access to employer-based retirement savings to more than 1 million Illinois workers. The program will launch in 2018. Through this report and our continued advocacy and partnership with Illinois State Treasurer, we have been working to ensure that this program is implemented in a way that benefits workers from impacted communities.
Addressing Violence and Trauma
Our 2017 poverty report, Cycle of Risk: The Intersection of Poverty, Violence, and Trauma, furthered Heartland Alliance as an authoritative voice on the connection between poverty and violence. The report made a strong case for the need for new initiatives that tackle poverty, violence, and trauma, as well as for investing in tried and true solutions that address root causes of poverty and violence. The report also helped pave the way for the introduction of bicameral federal legislation, the Creating Pathways for Youth Employment Act focused on supporting economic opportunity for youth who are most likely to experience violence, poverty, trauma, and discrimination.
In addition, our Domestic Violence Needs Assessment of Chicago documented needs and gaps for survivors of domestic violence and showed a dearth of services in communities of color and low-income communities, despite increasing need. Effectively addressing domestic violence in Chicago must include a commitment to ensuring equitable access to services for survivors, adequately funding programs, and continuing to support the city’s existing response system.
While these are important steps, and in some cases game-changing, our work is far from over. We are ready to tackle threats to people experiencing poverty or discrimination in 2018 and have already begun working to create new solutions to keep us moving forward. We hope that you will join us! It is because of our passionate supporters that we are able to continue our work.