May 22, 2020

Session brings good news: budget, legislative gains

The Illinois General Assembly passed a state budget in the early hours of May 24 that brings good news for tens of thousands of AFSCME Council 31 members. Gov. JB Pritzker is shortly expected to sign the plan, which is dependent on increased federal funding.

There is a lot to cheer in the FY 21 budget as adopted, as well as in several other measures that legislators passed during a spring session that lasted barely a week due to the restrictions required by the coronavirus pandemic.

There are four standout achievements that will immediately and directly impact AFSCME members—and in which AFSCME lobbyists and grassroots member activists played a pivotal role.

First, the budget plan averts layoffs in state government—a looming threat over these past months as the state budget hole grew ever larger as a result of the pandemic. Instead the governor proposed borrowing from the Federal Reserve to tide our state over. There is still an urgent need for a more durable budget fix—and that will require not just federal loans, but direct federal assistance, as well as approval by voters in November of the governor’s Fair Tax initiative.

Second, the budget includes funding for much-needed wage increases for frontline caregivers at state-funded community agencies serving people with disabilities and vulnerable children and youth. These underpaid employees have been risking exposure to COVID-19 and many are even living with the residents they care for to protect them from the virus. For years, AFSCME has led the fight for fair wages for these essential workers and this is one more step toward that goal.

Third, the budget brings the Local Government Distributive Fund (LGDF) back to its historic level, which will provide local cities and counties all across Illinois with a significant revenue boost.

The fourth big breakthrough for AFSCME members was the passage of HB 2455 which removes the prohibition against non-instructional education employees receiving unemployment benefits when they are laid off during the 2020 summer months. That means thousands of AFSCME members who work for school district and universities will be able to qualify for Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits this summer. And because of a recent change in federal law, UI benefits will be increased by $600/week through the end of July.

Two other measures of great importance to union members and our communities were passed with strong backing from the entire labor movement: 1) Expansion of vote-by-mail provisions to make it easier for every citizen to be able to vote despite restrictions that might be imposed by the coronavirus pandemic; 2) Easier access to workers’ compensation benefits for those stricken with COVID-19.

All of these measures are now awaiting the governor’s signature. AFSCME is urging speedy action and implementation. Our union will continue to lead the fight for fairness for frontline workers during this unprecedented time.

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