Maureen Foertsch McKinney

Maureen Foertsch McKinney is the NPR Illinois News Editor and a lead editor of Illinois Issues' feature articles, working with freelance writers,  and is curator of the Equity blog. Maureen joined the staff in 1998 as projects editor. Previously, she worked at three Illinois daily newspapers, most recently the suburban Chicago-based Daily Herald, where she served stints as an education reporter and copy editor. She graduated in 1985 with a bachelor's in journalism. She also has a master's degree in English from the University of Illinois at Springfield.

More counties appear on an anti-poverty group’s watch and warning lists this year than last.

Of the state’s 102 counties, 67 are on a watch list — or more serious warning list — created by the research arm of the Heartland Alliance, which works on social issues in areas that include poverty. That’s up from 52 last year.

This year, 14 counties throughout the state made the severe warning list.

The state of Illinois  is expected to hire more than 300 training and technical  staff members in an attempt to bring down a backlog of unprocessed Medicaid applications.

The  General Assembly also approved a bill this spring aimed at addressing problems with the Medicaid program. Those include a high denial rate cited by providers and the application processing backlog – which has reached over 100,000.  

Opioid use is on the rise in Illinois. In response, the General Assembly adopted a plan to create a statewide needle exchange.

The measure calls for a  new community-based needle exchange programs, which the Illinois Department of Public Health would have to sanction.

Legislation adopted this spring aims to chip away at the growing problem of college student hunger in Illinois.

Under that measure, the Illinois Student Assistance Commission could soon have to notify students of their eligibility for food assistance.

The measure would target people eligible for the Monetary Assistance Program, which provides grants for lower-income students.

They would have to be told they might be eligible for the food aid  know as  SNAP — the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Looking at the well-being of Illinois’ children through a racial lens … shows big disparities, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s annual KIDS count report.

Racial disparities show up on measures of health, educational achievement, and economic well-being.

Denise Rotheimer, who accused an Illinois state senator of sexual harassment at the start of the #Me-Too movement, now wants Gov. J.B. Pritzker to throw out part of an anti-harassment bill state lawmakers just passed.

All Illinois employers would have to conduct sexual harassment training under sweeping legislation adopted in the waning days of the General Assembly. 

“This really deals with sexual harassment, discrimination, and equity issues affecting every worker in the state of Illinois,’’ said  Democratic state Senator Melinda Bush of Grayslake, who is sponsor of the bill, which would protect independent contractors under the Illinois Human Rights Act. “So it is, I would say, probably one of the biggest pieces of civil rights law we’ve had in years.”

The Illinois legislature last week approved a measure to have public schools include LGBTQ history in their curriculum. That news hit home with Callie Vine, who will attend Carbondale High School in the fall.

Callie, who's 14, is gender-nonconforming, which means she doesn’t fit into a set definition being of masculine of feminine. She made this bill the focus of her history fair project, and won the chance to compete at state.

Gov.  J.B. Pritzker’s signature would ensure that single-occupancy public restrooms in Illinois will be gender neutral.

The bill was approved by the Senate in April and a few days ago by the House of Representatives.

Kim Hunt is executive director of the Pride Action Tank, which advocated for the measure.

“It brings me a great deal of joy that we live in a state where legislators get it, and that’s not the case in many others,’’ she said,

The measure will update the state’s plumbing code, which specifies that restrooms be labeled by specific gender.

State Representative Kelly Cassidy said Thursday that she’s received a pledge from House Speaker Mike Madigan that her expansive abortion legislative will be heard.

That bill would lift provisions that would make performing abortions illegal if Roe. V. Wade is overturned. The bill would also require private insurers to cover abortion if they already cover pregnancy-related expenses.

The Alabama legislature approved some of the most restrictive abortion rules in the country this week. A group of lawmakers wants to make Illinois the most progressive state.

Seventy-five women dressed in long red robes and white bonnets gathered at the capitol Wednesday. They represent characters from the dystopian Margaret Atwood novel and recent television series The Handmaid’s Tale.

Illinois could become the third state in the nation to require that single restrooms in offices, restaurants and other public places be gender-neutral.

Similar laws are in place in California and Vermont.

Illinois could become the first state in the Midwest to require public schools to teach LGBTQ history.

The plan calls for the contributions of LGBTQ people to be acknowledged in history courses and in textbooks purchased by public schools. The State House of Representatives approved the bill in March. The state Senate could consider it as early as this week.

Milo Vieland is a caseworker for transgender and gender nonconforming people at the Howard Brown Health Center in Chicago. Through a program that started last year, he helps transgender folks navigate through medical aspects of the transition process such as dealing with insurance. The transgender man says many of his clients will benefit from a new policy the state recently announced to start paying for gender reasignment surgeries through Medicaid. Maureen McKinney spoke with Vieland this week.

An anti-crime group released a report today tying involvement in crime to a lack of preschool programs. 

Children who don’t participate in preschool are 70 percent more likely to be arrested for a violent crime by the time they turn 18, according to a study cited in the report by the Illinois branch of the group Fight Crime: Invest in Kids.

A suburban parents’ group dropped its lawsuit that attempted to ban transgender students from using school restrooms and locker rooms associated with their gender identity, a move that supporters of transgender students say helps affirm the rights of  students across the state.  

About 200 advocates for early childhood education programs filled the Illinois statehouse recently.

The advocates want  $250 million dollars from an infrastructure spending plan for child care facilities around the state. That’s a big boost from the  $45 million  they got in the last plan a decade ago. 

Gov. J.B. Pritzker says Illinois will begin covering gender reassignment surgeries under Medicaid.

Most states  provide health care related to gender-transition.  Illinois was one of last 10 holdouts. 

Advocates for children are pushing for expansion of a child care program for lower income families that was cut by former Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration. 

The Child Care Assistance Program was cut severely in 2015 so that 90 percent of the participants lost services. The eligibility limits have increased since then.

Legislation under consideration would further increase the number eligible families by making the income limit higher.

 Should minors have to tell their parents or a judge when they want to terminate a pregnancy?

A recent report finds mainly women are in poverty in Illinois and improving their financial status would boost the overall economy in the state.

The report from the research arm of the Heartland Alliance concluded that improving wages and other conditions for women would be particularly helpful to women of color.

Katie Buitrago of the Heartland Alliance said women are over half the population in Illinois and that the poverty rate for families headed by women is double that for families headed by single men.

Cardinal Blase Cupich and Illinois’ bishops gathered in Springfield today to oppose changes to the state’s abortion laws.

Hundreds of anti-abortion protestors filled the Capitol rotunda today following the passage of a measure that would repeal parental notification of abortion.

Meanwhile, a group of Republican lawmakers are speaking out against legislation intended to expand abortion rights throughout Illinois.

State Representative Terri Bryant, a Republican from Murphysboro, also spoke out against another proposal being considered that would completely overhaul abortion throughout the state. 

Illinois lawmakers  forwarded a proposal that would allow minors to get an abortion, without telling their parents.

The measure would repeal the Parental Notification of Abortion Act – a law passed in 1995, but not enforced until 5 years ago.  The law allows for minors to go before a judge instead of notifying a parent.

Democratic Senator Elgie Sims of Chicago is sponsoring the proposal that would get rid of any notification requirement.

A measure to expand cases when eviction records can be sealed has advanced out of a House committee.

Proponents say unsealed eviction notices can taint a renter’s record even if an eviction is never carried out. That makes it difficult for renters to find a new home.

Bob Palmer of Housing Action Illinois says,“We understand that landlords have a compelling interest in wanting to screen tenants so they can get good tenants, but we don't think that just having an eviction filing is a good reflection  on someone's ability to be a good tenant.”

LGBTQ activists are speaking out about  proposed legislation that would punish medical  professionals who treat transgender youth.  

Under Republican sponsor Tom Morrison’s (R-Palatine) plan, medical professionals performing sex-change surgeries or prescribing certain hormones could have their licenses suspended or revoked.

Advocates pointed to Morrison’s history of proposing legislation hurtful to transgender youth, including an unsuccessful measure that would have required transgender students use the bathroom or locker room corresponding to their gender at birth.

Illinois could become the most progressive state in the nation on abortion rights if a proposed bill is approved this year.

The Illinois House Wednesday approved a plan that would require k-12 history textbooks to include LGBTQ  figures.

Rep. Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz, a Glenview Democrat and supporter of the bill, says if it had been law 15 years ago, her brother would not have been denied tenure in a suburban Chicago public school for his decision to talk about sexuality with his students.

The state Senate task force on sexual discrimination and  sexual harassment released its report this week, and leaders announced related bills, including several aimed at the business community.

One measure would require private employers to provide sexual harassment training, limit businesses’ use of non-disclosure agreements, mandate that large employers disclose sexual harassment settlements, and allow victims of sexual harassment or sexual violence to take unpaid leave.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker says he wants to invest in programs for children, and the budget he proposed this week called for increases in early childhood services and the Child Care Assistance Program.

Child advocacy groups applauded the proposals, including a $30 million boost to the CCAP program to help lower-income families pay for child care, and a $100 million increase for the Early Childhood Block Grant. The block grant for helps at-risk families with supports like home visits, parent education and preschool.

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