Human services advocates are pressing Gov. Bruce Rauer to renew a federal waiver that would allow 259,000 Illinoisans to remain eligible for food stamps.
The Alliance for Community Services demonstrated at the Thompson Center Thursday afternoon in a call for the governor to take action and stop federal limits from being imposed on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
At issue is the federal government's three-month limit on SNAP benefits for jobless, able-bodied adults without dependents. Under the rule, such people cannot have SNAP benefits for more than three months over a three-year period.
In recent years, that provision has been waived in most states due to high unemployment rates. As the economy has improved, fewer areas have qualified for the waiver, which allows individuals to stay in the SNAP program if they are unable to find at least a part-time job or training program after three months of receiving benefits.
Illinois' statewide waiver is set to expire December 31, and it is eligible for an extension, according to the alliance.
Approximately 259,000 low-income Illinois adults could lose their food-aid benefits next year if the waiver is not renewed, the group estimates.
"In the state of Illinois, 259,000 people are at risk for losing their SNAP benefits -- 161,000 of those in Cook County alone," said Kathy Powers with Northside Action For Justice.
"This is draconian," she stressed. "If (the governor) doesn't sign the waiver, he in essence is saying that he wants the poor people of Illinois to starve."
A spokeswoman for the governor said the "decision on whether to apply for a waiver is under review."
The alliance, meanwhile, claims that the waiver brings $300 million in federal funding into the state's economy.
The waiver is "completely federally funded," said the alliance's Fran Tobin, who added that "there's no rational state fiscal reason" for not renewing it.
A few dozen low-income Illinoisans, people with disabilities and union caseworkers who administer the SNAP program were among the ralliers at the Thompson Center.
Here are scenes from the rally, including comments from Elijah Edwards with AFSCME Council 31 Local 2858 and Tom Wilson of Access Living:
The advocates tried to go into the Thompson Center to leave their demands with the governor's office, but most were locked out of the building by law enforcement.
Three alliance members who were allowed to enter met briefly with representatives from the governor's office. The reps reportedly reiterated that the waiver issue is being reviewed.
Tobin said the governor's office promised to have a follow-up discussion with the group in one week.
"So one week from now, we'll know better where we stand," he said. "But they couldn't even say, so what's the basis, what would be your reason for letting 200,000 people go hungry? ... They didn't have those reasons. We'll continue to ask those questions. And we will be back."