1. The Affordable Care Act was the first big event of the 2014 because it provided health insurance effective Jan. 1, 2014.
By this year, more than a million Illinoisans who had been uninsured would receive health care coverage, according to the state of Illinois website (www2.illinois.gov). Between 200,000 and 300,000 were expected to select coverage by commercial insurers on a sliding scale and some households were eligible for federally subsidized tax credits. Another 500,000 to 800,000 would be covered under restructured Medicaid at little or no cost to them.
Looking at the 4th, 5th and 7th congressional districts, there were a little more than 8,000 young adults in each who now had health insurance under their parents’ plan, according to a Democratic staff report to various House Committees, available on the Campaign for Better Health Care website.
There were 209,000 individuals in the 4th district who had preexisting health conditions and because of specific provisions in the ACA, were now able to receive insurance; the number was 94,000 in the 4th district and 116,000 in the 7th district. Lifetime limits on their coverage were eliminated for 284,000 individuals in the 5th district; 192,000 in the 7th district and 156,000 in the 4th district; annual limits on coverage were also discontinued this year.
2. President Obama on November 20 took executive action to enable undocumented immigrants with U.S. citizen or legal immigrant children to apply for a three-year protection from deportation along with the authorization to work legally in the U.S. if they have been here at least five years. This provision would allow 4.4 million people to remain here temporarily without threat of deportation, but would not allow them to vote or receive insurance under health care reform, according to Reuters.com.
Obama’s announcement also expands to three years a program for undocumented children who came here before Jan. 1, 2010, no matter how old they are now; the previous age limit was June 15, 1981 according to the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Right’s special website, ilisready.org.
The President’s plan has three priorities, according to Politico.com: “boosting border security, focusing deportation resources on felons and other threats over families; and giving millions of people the ability to apply for deferred action status, granting them three years of protection.”
Obama said that his action followed the failure of the Congress to pass comprehensive legislation. Immigration reform passed the House but stalled in the Senate, both of which adjourn this month.
3. On December 2, the Chicago City Council agreed to increase the minimum wage to $13 an hour by 2019. Backed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the wage hike passed by a 44-5 vote. The wage will rise incrementally: from $8.25 to $10 an hour starting on July 1, 2015. Tipped workers will also see an increase from $4.95 to $5.95 an hour over the next two years, according to money.cnn.com.
Business interests such as the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, Illinois Hotel and Lodging Association and the Illinois Restaurant Association had opposed the ordinance on the grounds that it would make Chicago less competitive with neighboring suburbs and even neighboring states. They urged the City Council to await action by the Illinois General Assembly on the statewide minimum wage during the fall veto session.
But StreetWise received plenty of positive input about the minimum wage. Prior to the November election, advocates such as the Jane Addams Senior Caucus demonstrated in favor of a $15 minimum wage at Daley Plaza. Chicago Women Take Action emailed DNAInfo.com coverage of the November City Council hearing in which its member Caroline Gibbons also called for a $15 minimum, saying, “We need an agenda for shared prosperity.” Gibbons and Jane Ramsey, president of Just Ventures, said that women and single mothers are most affected by minimum wage and tip wages.
Wendy Pollack, director of the Women’s Law & Policy Project at the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, wrote an essay for the October 27 StreetWise in which she said that if the minimum wage had been indexed for inflation, it would be $10.86 an hour today. Yet at the Illinois minimum wage of $8.25 an hour, a worker would earn only $17,000 a year, which is below the poverty line for a family of three, Pollack wrote.
A free market only works for corporate CEOs and superstars like Michael Jordan who have bargaining power with their employers, wrote Tom Suhrbur, a former teachers, retired organizer with the Illinois Education Association and Illinois Labor History Society vice president in the same issue of StreetWise. “In an unregulated labor market, employers have the power to keep wages low.”
4. ONE Northside started working on an ordinance to preserve Single Room Occupancy (SRO) hotels last year, after 2,200 units of SRO housing had been lost to market-rate conversion between 2011 and 2014. ONE Northside organized the Chicago for All coalition of community groups from across the city, which convinced two aldermen to become lead sponsors: Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th ward) and Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th ward).
The Chicago for All Coalition met with the Emanuel Administration in May; stakeholders, including the Coalition, SRO owners, and aldermen, spent the next six months negotiating a balanced policy. The SRO Preservation Ordinance passed on November 12, and it does three big things:
* Regulates the sale of SROs.
* Dedicates new resources for the preservation and improvement of SROs.
* Provides new protections and rights for SRO tenants.
Robert Rohdenburg, an active member of ONE Northside and Chicago for All, stated, “After my Chateau Hotel eviction in June 2013, I was homeless for about nine months. In late February, I moved into Buffett Place, the rehabbed former Diplomat SRO Hotel, owned by Thresholds and Brinshore. Very few of the displaced SRO tenants are as fortunate as me. But with this Ordinance, more SRO owners and developers will have the opportunity to offer quality affordable housing to low-income people like me.”
ONE Northside hosted its own inaugural convention May 4 with over 1,000 members and allies. Organizing Neighborhoods for Equality: Northside resulted from the July 2013 merger of Lakeview Action Coalition and Organization of the Northeast. Multi-ethnic and mixed income, its constituency extends from North Avenue to Howard Street and the lakefront to Western Avenue.
5. Sweet Home Chicago, managed by the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, prodded the city of Chicago to increase funding for its TIF (Tax Increment Finance) Purchase-Rehab program. After months of advocacy by the 10-group Sweet Home Chicago coalition, the Chicago City Council committed $35 million in the new five-year housing plan adopted in February. It was seven times what the city first proposed for the low-income rental housing rehab program, created through Sweet Home advocacy. City officials dedicated the program’s first building in October, restoring 26 apartments in the North Lawndale neighborhood.
6. Chicago Coalition for the Homeless authored and advocated a change in state law so that unaccompanied minors can consent to their own non-emergency medical care from school and neighborhood clinics. Passed unanimously by the General Assembly, it became effective October 1 and is expected to help 7,000 Illinois youths a year. CCH proposed it after Chicago Public Schools and clinic officials told a youth attorney of being required to turn away minors younger than 18 – for easily treated needs such as strep throat – because the teens lacked a parent/guardian to sign a consent form.
7. The Reentry Project at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless persuaded Chicago and Cook County housing authorities to adopt a pilot program it designed, allowing select ex-offenders to access housing. Cook County OK’d its program in August and the CHA Board adopted the pilot in November, following Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s endorsement last March. The pilots authorize several reentry providers, including St. Leonard’s Ministries, to certify up to 50 successful clients to rejoin their family in public or voucher housing in the next three years. Otherwise, local rules require ex-offenders to wait at least five years.
8. Chicago Public Schools identified a record homeless enrollment of 22,144 students in the 2013-14 school year, up 18.6 percent from the year before. Eighty-eight percent of these students live doubled-up, usually in overcrowded conditions in the homes of others due to hardship; 98.2 percent of them were children of color and 20 percent were diagnosed with disabilities. They included 2,647 unaccompanied youths, teens who lack a parent or guardian. Statewide, public schools identified 59,112 homeless students in Illinois, up 7.7 percent and more than double the number of these students five years earlier.
9. StreetWise is more than a magazine. The mission of the StreetWise Transitional Jobs Program (TJP) is to empower individuals to obtain sustainable employment by providing job skills training, employment opportunities and ongoing employment and social services support. Included in the job skills training is a 40-hour classroom curriculum that includes soft skill training (communication, positive attitude, work ethic) and resume and interview preparation.
In 2014, the TJP accomplished the following:
• 60 participants completed the 40-hour classroom session
• 23 participants were employed
10. StreetWise received a Community Partners Award from Access Living on December 10 for its years of coverage of the Disability Pride Parade each July and “for the commitment StreetWise has made to the underserved and marginalized,” said Public Affairs Manager Gary Arnold.
In presenting the award to Suzanne Hanney, editor of StreetWise, Arnold described the front-page story in 2008 with the headline that read, “Disability: source of pride, not shame” and a photo of the Access Living parade float moving down Dearborn Street. Coverage in subsequent years has included a husband and wife who were long-time volunteers on the parade, as well as the 20th anniversary of major civil rights legislation such as the Americans with Disabilities Act, and Medicaid reform.
“It’s gotten to the point that each year, before I contact them, Suzanne Hanney will reach out to us. She’ll say, “These are my ideas for this year’s parade issue,” or she’ll ask about key issues that need to be covered,” Arnold said. The magazine has provided space for others in the disability community to voice issues in their own words, he said.
Arnold said that evolving media resources create a challenge for non-profits that wish to be heard.
“With that in mind, each time I reach out to the media, I am thankful for the role that StreetWise plays in Chicago,” Arnold said.
More than 20 years since its founding, StreetWise maintains its original mission of helping people who are homeless or at-risk transition to personal stability, he said. “They also give voice to other marginalized and underserved communities in Chicago, including the disability community.” He said he was also grateful for the magazine’s annual Non-profit Guide, which gives agencies across Chicago a chance to highlight their work.
In accepting the award, Hanney said that she was happy to check in regularly with a good source of news, so she was also grateful to Arnold for always being on top of his subject.
Hanney spoke also of her aunt, Jennie Mosio (1921-1986), who had been physically and learning disabled. She and her mother had worked to make Jennie’s life better, Hanney said, but Jennie didn’t bloom until she took over the dog walking job Hanney held as an adolescent.
That’s why Hanney said she had simplified her definition of disability pride: “it’s the ability to execute your vision for your own life.”