STATE OF ILLINOIS
90TH GENERAL ASSEMBLY
60th Legislative Day May 31, 1997
First of all, what I’d like to do is just commend both Senator Syverson, as well as the Governor’s Office, for entering into good-faith negotiations on what is a huge bill that hasn’t received too much attention. There hasn’t been too much political heat around this issue. There hasn’t been too much rhetoric around this issue. Nevertheless, this may be as important a bill as we pass in this Session. It will affect a huge number of people. I am not a defender of the status quo with respect to welfare. Having said that, I probably would not have supported the federal legislation, because I think it had some problems. But I’m a strong believer in making lemonade out of lemons, and I think that Senator Syverson and the Governor’s Office have done a good job in working with this side of the aisle and the other Chamber to come up with the framework that potentially ean succeed in moving people from welfare to work. Now, having said that, want to emphasize that I continue to have some concerns, and I think that those concerns are going to have to be dealt with over the coming months and the coming years as we evaluate how, exactly, the program is functioning. Concern number one relates to job training. There are a hundred and sixty thousand people who are going to be moving off the rolls. And right now, in Illinois, for entry level workers with relatively few skills, which is the cohort that we’re going to be talking about here, there are not enough jobs for the current number of people searching for jobs.
The only way that wedre going to be able to employ them in a way that allows them a livable wage is if we upgrade their skills and upgrade their training. And: unfortunately, we do not have yet a firm commitment in terms of dollars and a sound framework in terms of programs to make sure that these people are going to be trained. Now: Senator Lauzen, as well as Senator Garcia, in the Commerce and Industry Committee, have been working on this. I applaud them for working on this, but we have to follow up in this area to determine which programs are working, which programs are not, making sure that we puk money into the programs that are working, eliminate the programs that aren’t, so that we can transition people effectively into high-skill, high-wage jobs.
That’s concern number one. Concern number two, who I know some of my colleagues are qoing to be addressing in more detail: and I think is absolutely criticalr is the issue of legal immigrants. Everybody in this Chamber, at some point, comes from an immigrant family. And I don’t like the notion that those people who are here legally, contributing to our society, paying taxes, are not subject to the same benefits, the same social safety net that the rest of us are. I understand the State’s position that they don’t want to let the federal government off the hook. Ak the same time, I’m a little concerned that we are playing chicken with the federal government to see who, in fact, is willing to veer away first on this vital issue of providing basic protections to legal immigrants who can’t naturalize because of disability, because of old age, or are in the pipeline but it’s going to take them a while to get naturalized. Nows the — the Governor’s Officer with the help of Senator Syverson and Senator Rauschenberger, have given us what appears to be some accommodations and immediate stopgap measures, although we have not finalized the language as yet. We’re close, and I’m hoping that we will finalize that soon, and we’re — I’m — I’m standing up here today based on the assumption that that language will be pinned down in the next few minutes. But, even with that language, there are still some problems with protections for legal immigrants. And I think it is vital for us to take it upon ourselves, during the summer months, to look and see what, in fact, we can do within our constraints, within our budget, to make sure that this relatively small number of people are protected, if we can afford to protect them, particularly if the federal government falls down on the job in providing them those protections. That’s my second concern. My final concern is that we decided not to put in Statute a legislative oversight program — a — a legislative oversight board or commission to oversee this process of welfare reform. I am concerned if, having passed this bill, we then just leave it up to the administration and the bureaucracy to see what happens with folks who are moving off the welfare rolls. It is easy for these folks to drop out of our line of sight. They generally are not represented down here in Springfield. They don’t have powerful lobbies. They do not contribute to our political campaigns. And as a consequence, if, in fact, we start having problems in this bill, it is not clear, unless we are firm on it, that those folks are going to be protected. And so I strongly urge, although there is not a concrete mechanism for legislative oversight in this bill, that we look very carefully and very strongly over the next five years to see, in fact, how this bill is working and whether these folks are protected. Let me just end with — with a brief story about what — something that happened to me last weekend, during: Memorial Day weekend. I was outside late at night. I confess I was smoking a cigar; my wife doesn’t let smoke inside. And there’s an alleyway that runs behind our house, and oftentimes, behind our house, we end up having people who are collecting cans, as their primary means of employment; collecting cans for recycling. Most of the time they’re single men. They’ve got shopping carts. Some of you have seen them, maybe don’t know if they have them in your neighborhoods. They’re in mine. What I saw that evening was an entire family, at midnight. A man with a shopping cart, behind him a mother pushing: a baby cart - baby inside – at midnight. This was their visible means of support. This is the job that awaited them if they weren’t on welfare. We have an obligation to that family. We have an obligation to that child. I strongly urge that — although we’ve taken a good step on this bill, that we look at this carefully and continue to make a commitment to ensuring that all Illinois’ children and all Illinois familles have an opportunity to succeed in this economy.
Nevertheless, I think this is a good start, and I urge support of this bill.