What did Illinois legislators accomplish for young adults this year?
Illinois state legislators convened online and in Springfield from January through May to set new laws and the state budget. During these past few months, YI’s staff and young advocates across the state have been working with legislators to champion reforms from our 2021 Policy Agenda. (Legislators are continuing to vote on a few items this summer and will do so again in the fall during Veto Session, but for this article, we’re looking back at the spring session only.)
So what did our legislators do for young adults? Thanks to young adult advocacy and our work behind the scenes, here are some notable wins:
Lakrista is both a student and a parent, and she spoke with us about the challenges of juggling both lives. But with barely any data on student parents in Illinois, we don’t know much about them. YI collaborated with Women Employed, Partnership for College Completion, Ready Nation, and Illinois Action for Children to connect with student parents and elevate their voices, draft the bill, gather feedback from stakeholders, and coordinate with legislators. The resulting legislation, the Student Parent Data Collection Act, passed the Illinois General Assembly! The bill requires public community colleges and universities in Illinois to collect data about students who are also parents. This data will help us understand the population, better target resources to them, identify programs that do work, and help institutions better support their students. We are grateful to State Representative Will Guzzardi and State Senator Celina Villanueva for their leadership on this issue.
Financial Education for Young Adults
Based on feedback from young adults, the YI team partnered with young adults and financial education advocates to draft and advocate for legislation to improve the financial capability of young adults. The resulting advocacy led to the adoption of the Financial Literacy for Students House Resolution, which calls on the Illinois Comptroller’s Bank On Commission to develop recommendations for improving the financial capability of students enrolled in Illinois’ public postsecondary institutions. Implementation with the Bank On Commission has already begun, but if you would like to share how a lack of financial awareness and knowledge has impacted you, share your story here. We thank State Representative Maura Hirschauer and State Senator Celina Villanueva for championing financial literacy.
Job Barrier Reduction Fund
To make the recovery from the pandemic truly equitable, workers of all ages will need support to overcome long standing systemic barriers, like unaffordable childcare and transportation costs, that make securing and retaining employment difficult. YI is pleased that the General Assembly acknowledged this reality by creating an employment barrier reduction fund. Based on the advocacy of a statewide coalition of workforce development advocates that included YI, the Barrier Reduction Fund will provide support such as transportation assistance and child care for residents, including 16-24 year-olds in workforce programs. As Samantha from Chicago shared with us, young adults are struggling to find stable, family-supporting incomes. This Barrier Reduction Fund is a strong start towards change.
Equity in Public Universities
Public disinvestment and racial and socioeconomic gaps in access have forced Illinois’ Black and Latinx students and students from low-income families to pay some of the highest college costs in the nation. The lack of a funding formula of taxpayer dollars for public universities in Illinois may only make matters worse. YI strongly supported partners in the work to pass SB 815, the Commission on Higher Education Funding Act. This bill will create a commission of legislators, advocates, students, and public university representatives to recommend what a public university funding formula should look like, ensuring students of all backgrounds can afford college. We are grateful to Senate Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford and State Representative Carol Ammons for their leadership on this bill.
Despite these wins, there’s still unfinished work. Legislators failed to progress on these items:
Improving the Tax Code for Young Adults
Legislators failed to make the tax code work for young adults. YI is a partner in the Make EIC Work Coalition to push for the inclusion of young adult workers, ITIN tax filers, caretakers and other people who are excluded from the state’s Earned Income Credit benefits. Despite bipartisan support, legislators did not expand eligibility for the EIC during this legislative session, leaving over one million hardworking Illinoisians without the financial support to help improve their households’ economic outlooks. We will continue to push legislators for this vital legislation. Join our network to stay tuned for updates and know about opportunities to speak out.
Supporting Campus Mental Health Services
We’re extremely disappointed that legislators didn’t fund campus mental health services. In 2019, Young Invincbles worked with NAMI Chicago on the unanimous passage of the Mental Health Early Action on Campus Act. If fully funded, this law would improve and expand mental health services at public colleges and universities. The impact could be monumental and assist students all across the state struggling with mental health issues, which the pandemic undoubtedly exacerbated. YI fought for the full $19 million for Illinois public universities and colleges. Cree, a member of our Youth Advisory Board, shared her harrowing experience with inadequate mental health services at her school. She’s not the only one. We’ll continue fighting for full funding. Make sure to stay updated by signing up for updates.
Providing Sufficient Financial Aid
Legislators didn’t do enough for students. The Monetary Award Program (MAP) is a need-based state grant for thousands of financially vulnerable students, many of whom are Black, Latinx, and first-generation students. YI advocated for an additional $50 million for MAP this year, which would have served an additional 15,000 students in Illinois. Sadly, legislators approved only a $28 million increase for MAP. While we acknowledge this increase, it’s not enough. Help us keep up the momentum to make college affordable. Tell us why we need full student financial aid now.
We’ll keep working everyday to make sure young adults are thriving in Illinois. But, we will be successful only if you join us. Share your story, sign up to take action, follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Let’s make change happen!