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Illinois, one of the wealthiest states in the country, contains one of the highest rates of poverty in the Midwest. In 2006, 1,400,000 Illinois residents lived below the $20,620 poverty-level for a family of four. More than 687,000 lived in extreme poverty.
As shocking are statistics just released that illustrate that poverty is not just a Chicago problem. In the last quarter-century up to 2006, the collar counties of McHenry, Lake, DuPage and Will now account for more than 40 percent of the area's poor population; Chicago contains 21 percent of the poverty total.
Because of this growing and spreading crisis, the Mid-America Institute on Poverty at the Heartland Alliance for Human Needs and Human Rights organized a statewide series of forums that explored this disturbing increase of poverty in Illinois. Out of these insightful and provocative forums emerged House Bill 4369, which created the Commission on the Elimination of Poverty. As the chief sponsor of this critical legislative initiative, I was proud that legislators in both the House of Representatives and the Senate passed the bill unanimously.
The bill seeks as its primary objective a reduction of poverty by 50 percent in Illinois by 2015. To achieve this difficult task, commissioners chosen to serve must address access to safe, decent and affordable housing as well as adequate food and nutrition. Additionally, there must be equal access to quality education and training as well as accessible and affordable health care. Also a priority is quality and affordable child care, the opportunity to work in a meaningful job that pays a living wage, and the availability of adequate income supports.
I applaud Illinois' legislators for standing together in bi-partisan unanimous support in this battle to end poverty. Although some might cynically say that ending poverty is an idealistic dream, I say that not ending poverty will lead to an America that will never realize its lofty goals of fairness and justice for all.
I urge Gov. Rod Blagojevich to expeditiously sign House Bill 4369.
I also ask the governor to sign Senate Bill 2387, of which I was the chief sponsor in the House. That bill amends the school code by mandating that financial literacy tools be part of the consumer education curriculum in our schools. Those invaluable resources, which our young people desperately need, include the basics of homeownership, including concepts involved in purchasing a home.
At a time where poverty is on the increase and foreclosures are escalating out of control, these two important pieces of legislation can help many residents of Illinois. Please encourage Governor Blagojevich to sign both bills.