Last Friday, August 23, 2019, Governor Pritzker signed SB 1791, a bill that would prevent Illinoisans who receive SNAP from facing sanctions due to issues with participation in SNAP Employment & Training (SNAP E&T) services! The new law will not only prevent thousands of people from losing access to food, but also clear a path towards improving and expanding SNAP E&T in Illinois. 

As we wrote in our “Pathways Not Punishment” report earlier this year, a voluntary SNAP E&T program will be better for Illinois in many ways. Historically, Illinois’ SNAP E&T program has only had sufficient services for a tiny fraction of the hundreds of thousands of people we “mandated” to participate – meaning we effectively ask people to jump through a hoop that doesn’t exist. 

The mandatory program model created huge administrative burdens on SNAP participants, on programs who provide services, and on the state. Resources got spent on oversight rather than meaningful services. Integration with our state’s “career pathways” system simply hasn’t yet happened. 

Additionally, our research showed that Black Illinoisans disproportionately lived in counties where SNAP E&T mandates were enforced, putting them at unequal risk of punitive sanctions. 81% of Illinois’ Black population lived in a county with a mandatory SNAP E&T program, compared with only 51% of the white population. Our hope is that moving forward, those same counties will be targeted with critical employment and training services rather than counterproductive loss of food benefits. 

SB 1791 will eliminate these harmful mandates, and instead allow SNAP E&T programs to focus on helping job seekers on SNAP build the skills they need to enter career pathways and earn family-sustaining wages. In addition to this bill, the Illinois Department of Human Services has started pouring time and energy into planning for how to expand SNAP E&T, improving both infrastructure and program models to reach more people with better services. With this momentum, there is hope for Illinois to take advantage of federal matching funding to really bring the program to scale needed to serve all the SNAP job seekers that could use support to connect with high-quality employment. 

There’s still a long way to go, and many potential roadblocks along the way. A series of federal rule changes to SNAP threaten the benefits and food security of many of the Illinoisans who stand to benefit from a better E&T system, so we have to be fighting back bad changes even as we’re heralding in good ones. 

But for today, we’re feeling thankful to the many advocates who fought for this for years (like Heartland Alliance, the Shriver Center, and the IL Hunger Coalition, to name a few), our provider partners who dedicate themselves to providing excellent services to SNAP job seekers, the Illinois legislators who overwhelmingly supported SB 1791, and Governor Pritzker for signing it into law!  

 

(For more information about our work around SNAP E&T, contact Mari Castaldi at mari@cjc.net.)