POWER-PAC began the Stepping Out of Poverty Campaign in 2009 after the Great Recession hit their families particularly hard. Parents in the campaign partnered with other champions and advocates, such as Financial Inclusion for All Illinois and Economic Security Illinois. Parents hosted workshops and community conversations on ways to decrease the racial wealth gap and find asset building solutions, winning major legislative and administrative changes along the way.
The goal of the Stepping Out of Poverty Campaign is to decrease the racial wealth gap by reducing/eliminating harmful fees and fines that disproportionately mire low-income communities in debt, as well advocating for and implementing policies that put cash in families’ pockets.
Recently, the Utilities Affordability sub-campaign has gained significant traction over the last few years (especially in light of the COVID pandemic) with parents fighting unfair and exorbitant utility bill fines that overburden low-income families of color.
Major highlights and victories
2021: Five POWER-PAC IL mother leaders are named as the inaugural fellows of the Closing the Women’s Wealth Gap Community Leader Fellowship, focused on amplifying and centering the voices of women of color at national tables. Parents win the signing of Senate Bill 265 into law, which expands access to and improves the Percentage of Income Payment Program (PIPP), making utility bills more affordable for hundreds of thousands of Illinois families.
2020: After years of organizing, POWER-PAC IL parents win a historic agreement to make utilities more affordable in Illinois, one of the most comprehensive utility-focused COVID-19 relief plans in the country. The plan ensures key protections for low-income families, including reconnection of previously disconnected families, reducing or eliminating down payments for deferred payment agreements, and new debt forgiveness and financial assistance opportunities.
2019: Parents win historic reforms to Chicago’s fines and fees system, including ending driver’s license suspension over unpaid parking tickets, reducing down payment requirements to pay ticket debt, and stopping doubling fines for city sticker violations.
2018: POWER-PAC IL leaders release the report “Stopping the Debt Spiral,” a powerful and compelling in-depth look at debt and how it keeps low-income families trapped in impossible situations. With City Clerk Anna Valencia, POWER-PAC leaders co-convene the Chicago Fines, Fees, and Access Collaborative, which also includes other city officials, advocates, and researchers.
2017: POWER-PAC IL partners with local organizations in Evanston to pilot a Children’s Savings Accounts program. Parent leaders help win the Illinois Student Bill of Rights to address predatory policies of the student loan industry.
2010: Parents win the creation of a Legislative Task Force to explore Children’s Savings Accounts (CSA) in Illinois.
2022: Parents celebrate several landmark hard-fought victories. They win funding for Children’s Savings Accounts for all children born or adopted in Illinois starting in January 2023. Chicago launches a Guaranteed Income Pilot, which distributes $500 monthly payments to 5,000 families. The Illinois Earned Income Credit is expanded, granting much needed tax relief to 4.5 million+ low-income residents, including immigrants who file taxes.
Fees and fines keep us trapped:
- Implement a Financial Justice Scan at all levels of government in Illinois to ensure that public fees and fines do NOT have a disparate impact on our state’s low-income residents and residents of color.
- Legislate governments, including the court systems, so that they cannot impose unwieldy fees or debt collection procedures in order to fund their budgets on the backs of families least able to pay.
- Limit Driver License suspensions to actual traffic violations only.
- Protect savings from debt collection, particularly college and retirement savings accounts.
- Strengthen laws prohibiting the use of credit reports/scores in hiring.
- Nationally, fortify the deferral Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and closely regulate all predatory lending.
Utility debt that keeps us in the cold:
- Implement Lifeline Rates for utility costs, based on a family’s actual income, so that they’re charged electric and gas rates based on their ability to pay.
- Spread the word about available debt reduction, utility assistance and shut-off prevention programs for low-income consumers.
- Regulate scam artists and predatory companies that run rampant in this market.
- Implement Community Solar in Illinois with low-income families at the table and ensure that cost savings go to families that most need them.
Medical debt weighs our families down:
- Expand Illinois’ Charity Care and ensure that all patients at nonprofit hospitals and medical centers are told of their rights to assistance and how to access it.
- Ensure that access to the program is available in Spanish, family-friendly, transparent, and unimposing.
- Expand other free and low cost options for the uninsured and undocumented.
- Nationally, maintain the Affordable Care Act and fund CHIP (the federal Children’s Health Insurance Program).
Cash in the hands of those who need it:
- Expand and increase funding for programs and initiatives that increase cash for struggling families, including the Earned Income Tax Credit, the Child Tax Credit, and Guaranteed Income programs
Publications and recent news
- “Meet Chicagoans who plan to apply for the city’s guaranteed income pilot” – WBEZ Chicago (April 2022)
- “Gas bills hit Chicagoans hard” – Chicago Sun-Times (April 2022)
- “What the child tax credit meant for Illinois families” – The 21st Show, Illinois Public Media (February 2022)
- “How this Englewood Resident Became an Advocate for Utility Assistance” – City Bureau (February 2022)
- “Another blow to working people during the pandemic: states snatching back tax refunds” – The Center for Public Integrity (July 2021)
- POWER-PAC IL Report: “Stopping the Debt Spiral” (2018)
I was watching in my own neighborhood, how they would get tickets and hearing in other neighborhoods those are things that don’t even go on. I wanted to fight for my neighbors and the whole city of Chicago, the Black and Brown community, to get these things off their back.