- Associated Press - Thursday, March 5, 2015

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - Democratic lawmakers sought Thursday to double a tax break for low-income workers, introducing their plan the same morning a child advocacy group released a report showing 1 in 5 Illinois children live in poverty.

Identical measures introduced in the House and the Senate would increase the state’s earned income tax credit from 10 percent to 20 percent, at a cost of more than $44 million in each of the next five years. Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner has talked about increasing the same tax credit without mentioning specifics, but his office didn’t respond Thursday to a call from The Associated Press seeking comment.

The Illinois Kids Count 2015 report, also released Thursday, found 21 percent of the state’s children were living below the federal poverty line in 2013 - a rate that held steady from the previous year.

The report’s authors say the rate remains higher than pre-recession figures, blaming long-term economic issues for prolonging the problem. Meanwhile, they say deep cuts proposed by Rauner during his budget address last month would be “very harmful.” Areas of concern identified by the group include more changes to the state’s already underfunded child care program and Medicaid cuts that could close hospitals.

Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, chief sponsor of the House measure, said she expects serious budget discussions in the coming months.

“I’m hopeful that the priorities will turn out to be issues of poverty and issues that matter to children,” said the Chicago Democrat. “I think we have a real responsibility to children and I don’t know that the governor’s overall budget proposals really met the needs of the children of this state.”

Democrats currently are the primary proponents of raising the earned income tax credit, with only a handful of Republican attached as co-sponsors at the moment. Former Gov. Pat Quinn, also a Democrat, doubled the earned income tax credit.

Rauner’s budget proposes dramatic changes to the state’s program for child care assistance, Joseph said. Copays would be increased for the third straight year and help for families with school-aged children would be frozen.

The governor is recommending $1.5 billion in Medicaid cuts for next year. More than 1.6 million Illinois children are covered by that and other related assistance programs, according to the report. Child poverty advocates said the cuts could impact hospitals that serve children.

The report from Voices for Illinois Children cites the effects past cuts to state funding have had on programs intended to mitigate the effects of poverty. Larry Joseph, one of the report’s authors, warns that possible future cuts would only exacerbate problems for low-income families.

“If they’re not below the poverty level now, it would make it more likely they would slip into poverty,” he said.

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The bills are HB2458 and SB676.

Online: https://www.ilga.gov/

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