Bad faith: Deconstructing Exelon’s nuclear threat

If Exelon truly wanted to support a clean economy in Illinois, it would stop lying and commit to a renewable generation fleet. But, it prefers to bully and bribe its way to solvency. It’s time WE the People stood up and stopped the theft of our future to feed Exelon’s shareholders.

In the middle of a global pandemic and a historic economic recession – following a landmark federal corruption investigation and plea deal – under scrutiny by consumer groups and state lawmakers – Exelon decided to drop the mic on Illinois. If the state legislature did not provide billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies, Exelon would be forced to shutter its Byron and Dresden nuclear power plants in just 18 months. Oh, and it would be forced to do the same with its LaSalle and Braidwood plants afterwards.

Byron Generating Station (Exelon), near Byron, Illinois — Nuclear

If this sounds familiar, that’s because it is. Just six years ago, Exelon made the same threat. At that time, it was with the Quad Cities and Clinton nuclear power plants. If it didn’t get its free money, Exelon warned of, just like this time around, 1,500 direct job losses, in addition to $10 billion in economic damage from carbon emissions, over $1 billion in lost productivity each year, and wholesale electricity prices rising by some $430 to $650 million annually.

The legislature capitulated, and taxpayers bailed out these expensive power plants to the tune of $2.35 billion through the Future Energy Jobs Act (“FEJA”) in 2016. Put another way, Illinois taxpayers provided 6.3% of Exelon’s net income through 2026. Four years later, despite holding $117 billion in assets, Exelon is back for more free money and is willing to hold 1,500 workers hostage during the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

Let’s be honest, the state will probably capitulate again. How does Exelon manage to strike fear into state legislators so well? Previously, it was through bribery and good ‘ol fashion smoke-filled back rooms. This time around, under the microscope of taxpayers and politics, it’s relying on four key half-truths. Or, in plainspeak, it’s lying through its teeth to get what it wants – stealing your tax dollars to satisfy its shareholders.

Half-truth #1: Byron and Dresden produce 30% of Illinois’s clean energy

Rule of thumb – Never trust a number given out by a scandalous, highly profitable company. Especially one named “Exelon”. Without Exelon’s threat to close the Quad Cities and Clinton nuclear power plants six years ago, Bryron and Dresden wouldn’t even have made it on Illinois’s list of clean energy sources. Without the threat and nuclear hostage situation, the list would have been called “renewable energy” instead of “clean energy” because nuclear power is exhaustible, unlike wind, solar, and geothermal… etc. which will always manage to replenish themselves.

Hardworking Illinois taxpayers were forced to pay Exelon billions to bail out the uncompetitive and uneconomical nuclear power plants four years ago – bankrolling 6% of its net income through 2026 – and now it want us to do it again this year instead of investing tax dollars in truly renewable energy that creates thousands more jobs and a better environment for future generations.

So let’s look at the number Exelon provided. It claims Byron and Dresden account for 30% of Illinois’s clean energy, and while this is true, it’s not the whole story. Illinois produces more electricity than it consumes each year, and right around 20% of this generation is exported to states like Michigan and Wisconsin. When we examine what Illinoisans actually use each year, Byron and Dresden only account for 18.8% of the state’s net electricity generation at most, assuming we actually get it.

Dresden Generating Station (Exelon), near Morris, Illinois — Nuclear

ComEd and Ameren, the two largest electricity utilities in Illinois, report that it only procures 34% and 16% of their electricity respectively each year from nuclear power plants. What this means, apart from coal and natural gas continuing to provide the majority of Illinois’s electricity each year, is that the 20% of electricity that we give to our neighbors is most likely from our nuclear power plants.

Exelon itself confirmed this suspicion when it said that shutting down Byron and Dresden could occur “without jeopardizing power capacity when Illinois hits peak demand,” usually in the middle of summer – like right now.

In other words, Illnoisans are paying higher electricity rates to subsidize energy for our neighbors – not ourselves. Exelon wants us to continue to do this for another ten years, all under the guise of saving “clean energy” in Illinois – not mentioning how funding nuclear takes away funds from renewable energy like wind and solar.

Half-truth #2: Shutting down Byron and Dresden would cost consumers $4.2 billion by 2029 and increase air pollution

We can agree – this is quite a staggering figure. But there is an invisible asterisk that denotes the following caveat: Exelon assumes that the only replacement will be fossil fuels – and not billions of dollars flowing into wind and solar to replace the 30% total generation loss each year. In short, the market would find a way to make sure this doesn’t happen.

It’s also worth mentioning that Exelon happens to profit from fossil fuel electricity generation. At the beginning of the year, Exelon just so happened to own 7 natural gas plants, including one of Chicago’s South Side, and 12 fuel oil plants. 5 of these plants were supposed to be shut down by June 2020, but they are still listed on Exelon’s website as generation facilities.

So, where did Exelon get this number from? Well, quite conveniently, it came from a study… that it sponsored itself. You’d think that it would probably be better coming from an independent study, especially given Exelon’s federal corruption troubles, but this was written before all of that happened – you know, while it was busy bribing our elected officials.

But because everyone deserves the benefit of the doubt, we actually read the study. It really is not at all surprising that there were some quite interesting caveats and assumptions made in the study:

  1. The study assumed all the electricity produced by the current unsubsidized nuclear power plants are consumed within the state of Illinois – which we already know is not true. If Exelon can close Bryon and Dresden without impacting the power capacity in Illinois at peak demand, and the electricity generation by these two power plants happens to be about the same amount of electricity that is exported out of our state, it really starts to look like Exelon is holding our state hostage to get free money from taxpayers to fund its own sales activities.
  2. A total of POSSIBLY $4.2 billion across all consumers in the span of 10 years is only $2.42/month at maximum increase for an average household. Sometimes, you just have to have fun with the math to make $2.42 a month sound impressive.
  3. The possible electricity price increase would only occur if Exelon retired all four unsubsidized nuclear power plants (Byron, Dresden, Braidwood, and LaSalle) immediately.
  4. The immediate economic impact of this assumption would only occur if every Illinoisan were paying for their electricity at the hourly rate – which is not the case. For most Illinoisans, electricity rates are fixed, determined ahead of time by up to three years and approved by the Illinois Commerce Commission.

Nice try, Exelon.

Gibson Generating Station (Duke Energy), near Mt. Carmel, Illinois — Coal

Looking at the other half of Exelon’s argument, it becomes quite clear that Exelon is attempting to associate the concept of “clean energy” as integral with nuclear technology with the only replacement being coal- and natural gas-fired power plants, thus leading to more air pollution.

This might be because renewable energy accounts for only 6% of ComEd’s electricity purchases and 10% of Ameren’s purchases last year while fossil fuels accounted for 60% and 74% respectively. Facing a changing marketplace with an uncompetitive product, Exelon bribed its way to receiving subsidies from Illinois taxpayers to continue to stay in the generation business and keep its old, uncompetitive nuclear power plants running.

Exelon’s bribery, while not solely responsible, played a key role in crumbling the touted “savior” of Illinois’s renewable energy future, the Future Energy Jobs Act, by leaving our state a $200 million deficit in renewable energy funds in under two years (which was supposed to last 10 years). 

Half-truth #3: PJM’s rules allow fossil fuels to produce electricity cheaper

If you listen closely, you can hear the dog whistle there. It’s true that PJM, the regional transmission organization that manages the grid where Exelon operates, recently changed rules around pricing of electricity for the grid. But that change came from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to level the playing field and support free market principles. It’s true that this impacted Exelon’s nuclear energy, which is, and has always been, expensive. It’s true that fossil fuel electricity, in particular natural gas, is able to be produced much cheaper than nuclear. But these price differences were true… for years.

Grand Tower Energy Center (NAES), near Grand Tower, Illinois — Natural Gas

Over the past two decades, natural gas has grown to become the vogue generation source for cheap electricity. And it’s not exactly been a secret that nuclear, while a reliable zero-carbon fuel source, is incredibly expensive. This is part of the reason why new nuclear power plants have not really been built in the United States over the past few decades.

Exelon was able to artificially lower the price of its electricity through subsidies, in large part through the FEJA zero-energy credits it managed to steal from renewable energy the last time it held Illinois hostage for its own business inefficiencies.

The recent change to PJM’s electricity pricing rules required electricity to be sold at its intrinsic market price, meaning without subsidies artificially lowering the prices. Nuclear was forced to trade at its higher intrinsic price, allowing the free electricity market to decide which electricity prices would be best for consumers. Spoiler: It wasn’t nuclear.
Natural gas has grown in prominence as a generation fuel in large part because of its cleaner profile than coal but also because it’s significantly cheaper than nuclear – about 60% cheaper to be exact. Exelon’s dog whistling about carbon emissions comes down to one thing – existential threat from a market competitor. Because, remember, Exelon profits from natural gas generation itself. Including its Southeast Chicago Energy Project facility on the Calumet River.

Half-truth #4: Exelon is committed to supporting a clean economy in Illinois

It’s an old refrain from Exelon – that it supports a clean economy in Illinois. That it supports sustainability. That it… (fill in the blank). It definitely does – but on its own terms. For Exelon, there is no “clean economy” without its ancient, expensive nuclear fleet. This is the crux of its bully pulpit – If you want a clean economy, we the taxpayers have to bankroll Exelon’s revenue. Otherwise, it will shut plants down, lay off thousands of workers, and destroy local economies. It’s just business – and that is where the final half-truth lies.

Exelon’s assets were reported to be worth $117 billion in 2019. This includes really everything that it has its hands in, from the transmission lines of its utilities to the generation fleet it manages to the property value of its buildings and the cash it keeps on-hand. Oh, and don’t forget that that generation fleet includes 19 fossil fuel plants, including 1 on Chicago’s South Side.

Southeast Chicago Energy Project (Exelon), Chicago, Illinois — Natural Gas

If you’re scratching your head at the size of that figure, you’re not alone. If this was truly all just about business, Exelon would not be in the position it’s in with an inefficient generation fleet. It would be using its cash reserves and assets to diversify its generation fleet into renewables to be competitive across the Illinois and PJM markets in order to gain a leading foothold in the new energy economy – but it’s not.

Instead, it’s choosing to rely on power plants dating back to the Kennedy era and using taxpayers to fund its deliberate free market failures. If this was just business, Exelon would fold its inefficient operations and move into new markets to make up the lost revenue. It’s not. Instead, it’s threatening economic disaster in Illinois’s communities, dog whistling about “unfair” markets, carbon emissions, and respiratory illnesses, and lying to the Illinois people and our elected officials. Why? Because it’s all about profit – Keeping the free money from the government to subsidize its nuclear power plants. It worked before, and it will probably work again.

The cost to move Illinois to 100% renewable energy and build a clean energy economy is – unsurprisingly – unavailable. The latest estimate for substantive investment through the Clean Energy Jobs Act was around $39 billion in private investment over 10 years paired with around $7 billion in state funds over the same period taken directly from consumers on monthly bills. That’s just a little bit above what Exelon brings in each year in revenue (give or take a few billion) and is one-third of its total assets.

Do the math – If Exelon wanted to, if it truly cared about a clean economy and protecting the lives and livelihoods of the Illinoisans, it could single-handedly bankroll the development of utility-scale wind and solar energy in Illinois and transition the state to full decarbonization and sustainability. But it’s not. Because it knows that its bully pulpit is not only cheaper, but will guarantee another 6% taxpayer-funded net income for the next decade.

Take Action: Get informed, get active, and get in their faces

To recap: Exelon has six nuclear power plants in Illinois. It already threatened to close the Quad Cities and Clinton plants six years ago and received taxpayer funds to bail them out. This year, it’s threatening to close the Byron and Dresden plants if it doesn’t receive taxpayer funds to bail them out. That leaves two more plants – LaSalle and Braidwood – and if Exelon succeeds in threatening our state leaders again this year, it will be back for more free money in a few years.

WE the People have been forced to pay billions of dollars in taxes to fill Exelon’s deep pockets – pockets that are some $117 billion deep. Exelon is lying to us and to our state leaders to steal more of our hard earned money again. If WE the People do not stand up to Exelon, we will lose our progress towards a true clean energy future, one that respects Illinoisans and doesn’t allow a corporation to hold an entire state hostage.

Exelon had decades to prepare for market changes – It’s not our fault that it failed to do so. So what can WE the People do about this? Get informed, get active, and get in their faces. 

When we peel back the lies, we can see the corruption for what it is – direct theft and assault on our future. That alone should spur us all into action – and we have a petition for you to add your voice for an equitable energy future where no singular corporation dictates how WE the People will live.

Getting active also means voting out the corrupt politicians who don’t represent us and calling and pestering our elected officials to do their jobs and not allow a single corporation to dictate the direction of the future of this state, of our lives, and of the lives of future generations.

If you don’t know who your state legislator is or how to contact them, follow this link and enter your address – you’ll find your state representative and senator’s office locations and phone numbers. Let them know today that our future cannot be held hostage by Exelon.

Exelon has proven it is not a good actor – WE the People have to prove we’re up to the task to take it on and to protect our lives and our livelihoods.

Amy Chen,
Policy Associate



Amy Chen is a recent graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with a Master’s in Atmospheric Sciences and holds a Certificate in Weather Hazards and Preparedness from the College of DuPage. Amy has extensive weather research and field project experience and has held several leadership positions throughout her studies, including being twice selected as a summer undergraduate research intern at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and selected as a co-chair for a scientific student conference. She is passionate about evidence-based science policy making, especially in the context of climate change as it relates to national security impacts on energy, water, and food.

Jay La Plante,
Director of Humanity First for Illinois PAC

Jay La Plante is an MBA Candidate (Class of 2020) concentrating in Energy Finance at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Liautaud Graduate School of Business. He is currently completing a thesis exploring the relationship between the U.S. energy sector and the development of Russian energy sanctions. Jay’s previous work includes serving the people of Northern Illinois as a Program Specialist with the American Red Cross’s Disaster Cycle Services and a consultant with the Illinois Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster. Through these roles, Jay responded to some of the worst natural disasters that we have experienced as a nation, seeing firsthand the impact of climate change on our communities. Jay’s work afforded him the opportunity to work closely with municipalities and the private sector to build and facilitate community coalitions that speak to the diverse needs of their constituents. Jay holds a certification as an Energy Risk Insurance Specialist® and is sitting for the Energy Risk Professional® Part I Exam in November.

Democratic reform will help end the culture of corruption in Illinois

Political corruption and Illinois go together like… a handshake in a smoke-filled room. We can break this culture with democratic reform. Together.

Illinois woke up on the morning of Friday, July 17, to a stark headline:

“ComEd Charged With Bribery For Steering Jobs, Other Benefits For Speaker Michael Madigan. Speaker Denies The Feds’ Claims.”

For the first time, a sitting Democratic governor, himself under corruption investigation, called for Madigan’s resignation should the claims be true. The headlines came in all day. The Southern was more stark: “ComEd’s bribery admission implicates House Speaker Madigan.” The Chicago Tribune Editorial Board called for Madigan’s resignation and published the criminal charges against ComEd. Newspapers across the country also reported the story. By evening, after the reporting of the  ComEd charges and US$200 million plea deal,  federal investigators had also served Madigan’s office with subpoenas related to Walgreens, AT&T, and Rush University Medical Center.

It’s a loud secret that political corruption and the State of Illinois go together like peanut butter and jelly, or, in Illinois terms, like a handshake in a smoke-filled room. Reach back as far as you can in Illinois’s history and you will find corruption interwoven into our government at every level. From Chicago arm-twisting in City Hall to the greased palms in Springfield’s legislative chambers to the sneaky fingers of local treasurers across the state, political malpractice runs amok  in our state.

The list of perpetrators is seemingly endless as local headlines report of indicted state senators, village comptrollers, aldermen,councilmembers, and town treasurers. Since 1970, our state holds the distinction of having a .375 prison average for our governors – the highest of any state, which is a bit odd that we have to say that if you think about it. We have garnered quite the reputation for our epidemic of corruption: According to data from the University of Illinois at Chicago, Illinois is the third-most corrupt state in the nation behind only the District of Columbia (surprised, anyone?) and Louisiana. Oh, and Chicago remains the most corrupt city in the country.

It’s time to end the culture of corruption in Illinois. Corruption has a cost. For decades, WE the People have bore the brunt of the circus of smoke-filled rooms that is Illinois politics. It’s our communities, our families, and our livelihoods that are at stake when our government is broken. When former governor George Ryan’s administration took bribes for selling driver’s licenses to unqualified drivers, lives were lost – six children, to be exact. Payoffs of entire police departments have allowed violent crime to flourish in our state and obstruct due justice. In contrast,  these departments’ militarization  has siphoned off necessary and vital funds from our school systems, our healthcare systems, and our economic development plans.

The financial costs of corruption cannot be understated either. Citing a study that explored the potential impact of corruption on state economies, the libertarian Illinois Policy Institute estimated that, on a year-to-year average, Illinois has lost US$550 million each year from corruption. Over a ten-year period, that would run up to US$5 billion, or enough to provide tuition-free college education to all Illinoisans for two-and-a-half years.
Citing a study that explored the potential impact of corruption on state economies, the libertarian Illinois Policy Institute estimated that, on a year-to-year average, Illinois has lost US$550 million each year from corruption. Over a ten-year period, that would run up to US$5 billion, or enough to provide tuition-free college education to all Illinoisans for two-and-a-half years.

It is time for a change in Illinois. No longer can we allow the same leaders to continue to mislead us and steal from our livelihood and that of future generations during a time where we need them to step up the most. Illinoisans need term limits, direct democracy, and Ranked Choice Voting now  to break the power of the Machine and begin to build a society that we can all be proud of.

Illinoisans have had enough. It’s time for term limits.

If we want to make a difference in Illinois, we need fresh, competent leaders committed to changing the status quo. We need a reset. We need term limits. Term limits ensure the steady turnover of our elected officials and prevent the abuse of power in our government. Currently, Illinois is one of 14 states without term limits for executive and legislative leadership, meaning that we allow politicians to sit in seats of power for decades. Madigan, who finds himself in hot water over the ComEd scandal, is also the longest-serving leader of any state or federal legislative body in U.S. history, serving since 1971. To put that in perspective, Madigan’s reign in Springfield is older than Watergate, M.A.S.H, and Saturday Night Fever.  

For nearly 50 years, the Madigan Machine has planted its roots in Illinois politics, contributing to the cycle of stagnant politics by providing power and patronage to elected officials and becoming the epitome of political corruption. This power spills into our elections. Opponents of term limits claim that our elections function as natural recalls for underperforming leaders, yet these politicians develop imposing advantages that scare off new competition and make our elections lopsided to their benefit. The names, connections, and financial resources of incumbents serve as electoral armor and protect them from fair evaluation.

How can we trust in the electoral process when it gives weak  leaders opportunity after opportunity to fail us? According to Gallup data, only 28% of Illinoisans trust in our government- by far the lowest rate in the entire country.  We recognize that our system is broken and need new voices that advocate for our needs, not voices concerned with their own interests. Our politicians shouldn’t be entitled to a lifetime of leadership. 

Illinoisans want their voices heard. It’s time for direct ballot initiatives, referendums, and recalls.

While Illinois may be the third-most corrupt state, the Illinois people are not. In fact, Illinoisans have long fought for the ability to directly legislate and recall their elected officials. However, The Machine never let that happen despite 4 out of 5 voters voting twice for this ability. We even tried to include direct democracy in the 1920 constitutional convention, but the Machine steamrolled this. Voters ended up rejecting that constitution – Ever wondered why?

Direct democracy is one of the strongest powers that can be afforded to the electorate. It allows us to choose our own laws,  cancel those our elected representatives choose, and to kick out officials who don’t represent us. Contrary to the popular adage that direct democracy equals mob rule, no single mob has ever ruled a state that has recognized that they are stronger together when WE the People have the right to legislate. In fact, of the Top 10 states leading the country in corruption, only 1 has granted direct democracy to its electorate, although it does not allow for statewide recall.

It’s not that direct democracy and high levels of corruption are mutually exclusive, but it isn’t hard to see a correlation between the two. When WE the People have a veto check on our elected representatives, hold the trump card on career politicians, and can decide for ourselves what laws we want, our elected officials are forced to think twice about accepting bribes and layering the pork into legislation in favor of, say, Commonwealth Edison. Or selling a public office seat. Or helping the governor think through candidates for that seat in exchange for being named, say, the Treasurer of Illinois or the Illinois Attorney General.

Illinoisans are exhausted with the Democrat-Republican virtue signaling. Ranked Choice Voting will end that for good.

Why is Illinois’s political system so stagnant? Well, we really only have a choice between the Democratic Machine and the Republicans, who are more than happy to cooperate with the Machine. We may have “progressive” candidates from both sides of the aisle that try to attract our vote at the local, state, and federal level, but more often than not, they wind up being cut from the same Machinist cloth. Why? Well, the way that our elections are run dictates this.

Right now, Illinois has a winner-take-all system, meaning that you don’t need to win a majority to win an election. You just need to have the most votes-  even if that’s just 30% of them. This discourages independents and third parties from making inroads at all levels of government and expanding the political discourse. And, this is by design. The Machine fears third parties and independents. As Senator Durbin said in mid-July concerning the prospect of his third-party rival receiving 5% of the statewide vote, which would guarantee the third party an easier time getting on future ballots:

“What’s at stake here is not just his candidacy for the Senate, but the establishment of a new political party and a new political dynamic in the state.”

We can fix this, though! We can have a system where all voices are heard. It’s called Ranked Choice Voting! Illinois can join the truly progressive election process of Ranked Choice Voting and unleash the voice of WE the People in charting our own course. Ranked Choice Voting has been in use in Australia since the 1890s and in Ireland and Malta since 1921. In the United States, Ranked Choice Voting has been in use since as early as 1941. Maine currently uses it statewide, and New York City will be using it starting next year (a municipality two-thirds the population of Illinois).

Ranked Choice Voting ensures a majority winner, no “wasted votes” or “spoilers,” encourages more candidates to run for office, promotes diversity of perspective and background, and decreases the negativity of our political system. Candidates have to fight for all people because, if they don’t win an outright majority, they want to ensure they are your second, third, fourth, etc. choice – and that means they have to actually listen to We the People and put us before corrupt interests.

There are currently two bills in the Illinois Senate and House of Representatives to bring Ranked Choice Voting to Illinois: SB2267 and HB5585. Our friends at FairVote Illinois have a quick and easy way to let your elected officials know that they need to support them to win your vote in the next election. Check it out here.

Illinoisans have had enough of the political circus and stagnation that steals our livelihood to line the pockets of our elected officials, their families, and the businesses and organizations that line up to smoke in the backroom. It’s time that WE the People stand up and declare that the culture of corruption is no longer welcome in Illinois. This is the Land of Lincoln – it’s time we fought for the preservation of our state. It’s time we built a better society where our voices are actually heard. It’s time to put Humanity First and expand democracy to WE the People. It’s time to pay it Four Points Forward. Together.

Brianna Powell, Policy Intern – Democracy

Brianna Powell is a senior at Loyola University Chicago pursuing a Bachelor’s in Political Science with a minor in African Studies and the African Diaspora. With a passion for the political and social empowerment of our most vulnerable communities, Brianna’s leadership experiences with Loyola’s Student Diversity and Multicultural Affairs division and educational experiences abroad in Ghana have fueled her interests in racial justice and democratic advocacy. After graduation, Brianna aspires to pursue a P.h.D in Sociology, focusing on the intersections of race, policy, and social change. When she is not fighting the good fight, she can be seen doing yoga or watching Real Housewives reruns. 

Jay La Plante,
Director of Humanity First for Illinois PAC

Jay La Plante is an MBA Candidate (Class of 2020) concentrating in Energy Finance at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Liautaud Graduate School of Business. He is currently completing a thesis exploring the relationship between the U.S. energy sector and the development of Russian energy sanctions. Jay’s previous work includes serving the people of Northern Illinois as a Program Specialist with the American Red Cross’s Disaster Cycle Services and a consultant with the Illinois Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster. Through these roles, Jay responded to some of the worst natural disasters that we have experienced as a nation, seeing firsthand the impact of climate change on our communities. Jay’s work afforded him the opportunity to work closely with municipalities and the private sector to build and facilitate community coalitions that speak to the diverse needs of their constituents. Jay holds a certification as an Energy Risk Insurance Specialist® and is sitting for the Energy Risk Professional® Part I Exam in November.

Reaffirming our commitment to Respect, Trust, and Equity and centering the ‘Humanity’ in Humanity First | Statement from our Director

Humanity First for Illinois PAC welcomes anyone who believes that a basis of respect, trust, & equity is a requisite to put Humanity First.

Humanity First for Illinois PAC is a grassroots, people-driven organization that seeks to bring about change in Illinois by harnessing the power of WE the People to take back our government and build a society that we can all be proud of from all corners of this great state, regardless of who we are or where we come from.

Recently, members of the same movement that share our name have been engaged in inappropriate behavior including, but not limited to, libel and slander against members of the same community merely over disagreements over the direction of the movement in question.

Moreover, it is an unspoken understanding in many of our communities that the movement that claims to put humanity above all else does not actually represent them.

It is for these reasons that Humanity First for Illinois PAC strives to be reflective of the diversity of the great state of Illinois and was founded upon the Guiding Principles of Respect, Trust, and Equity.

Humanity First for Illinois PAC emphatically disavows any member of any community or movement who puts their own personal beliefs, be they about themselves, politics, or society, above the needs of their local community and the needs of the United States of America.

Humanity First for Illinois PAC will continue on our path and will continue to proudly put Humanity First above all else. We welcome anyone in the great state of Illinois, and anyone across this country, who believes that a basis of respect, trust, and equity is a requisite for any movement that puts Humanity First to join us and build a better Illinois tomorrow, today.

Jay La Plante
Director of Humanity First for Illinois PAC

Illinois needs Pragmatic Climate Policy

Climate mitigation is essential to ensure that future Illinoisans enjoy quality of life. We can build a green future for Illinois. Together.

2020 has been a historic year, not just because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but also because the third year of record-breaking rainfall across Illinois so far. Between January and May, we have experienced relatively warmer and wetter months than we would otherwise expect (of course excluding the roller-coaster ride of temperature back in April–fun!) In contrast of the plentiful precipitation we had, the weather decided to take a sharp turn in June where we ended up with nearly 50% less rain than a normal June. This precipitation deficit, combined with temperatures hovering close to the 90s, resulted in the drying out of soil moisture across the state. Luckily, by the first week of July, Central Illinois is only at abnormally dry on the drought intensity scale from the United States Drought Monitor. 

Climate change is no longer about the future. It is affecting all of us now, even if we do not feel it. Climate change is no longer just about a polar bear starving on a melting ice block in the Arctic, it is also about the multiple heatwaves in our neighborhoods, repeat flooding in our farmland and homes from the unusually torrential downpours, and the generally above-average warm winters we have been having over the past years. 

One of the critical solutions to mitigating climate change is reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Carbon dioxide is the predominant atmospheric greenhouse gas contributing to our warming planet, our state ranked 7th in total carbon dioxide emission of all 50 states in 2017. By reducing the amount of carbon dioxide that we release into the atmosphere, we can lessen the impact of climate change on Illinoisans’ daily lives – such as more days of extreme heat (temperature greater than 95 degree Fahrenheit) in the summer and more heavy downpour events with longer dry periods between events. 

Therefore, our state leaders must lead the way by enacting regulations that promote the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions across the state from various industries. This “detox” of our carbon dioxide dependency does take time, but we need to act now and hold our state leaders accountable for OUR future.

Our state leaders were previously off to a great start in working to reduce our carbon dioxide emissions when they passed the Illinois Power Agency Act in 2007. In doing so, they established the legal mandate for Illinois’s Renewable Portfolio Standard that requires electricity suppliers to increase the share of renewable energy generated electricity to 25% by 2025. It encouraged industrial investments in solar, wind, and thermal energy, and promoted local economic development. Unfortunately, Illinois has never met its Renewable Portfolio Standard requirement. The corporate interests sidelined environmental concerns for a half-a-billion dollar bailout to old, uncompetitive nuclear power plants the last time our state leaders attempted to move us closer to meeting the requirement. Nonetheless, the Future Energy Jobs Act (FEJA) passed in 2016 was a major failure that left our state a US$200 million deficit in renewable energy funds in just three years because of the lobbying from ComEd and Exelon.

Why does Illinois need pragmatic policy? 

Illinoisans need pragmatic climate policy in order to protect our health and our safety. Air pollution has led to the deterioration of the ozone layer, and as a result, temperatures are rising. This air pollution causes both lung and heart problems in humans. The higher temperatures brought on as a direct result of climate change influence our cardiovascular and nervous systems and can also cause heatstroke and dehydration. In Illinois, heat waves kill about 384 people every year. Given that many houses and apartments lack air conditioning, especially in our most vulnerable communities, we can expect to see an increase in heat-related deaths as temperatures continue to rise each year. These increasing temperatures also contribute to drought, which impacts crop yields for farmers and the economic success of our local communities across the state.

Climate change is bringing more than just rising temperature to Illinois. It is also bringing increased and more devastating flooding. The Midwest is no stranger to flooding, but in recent years, we have seen more and more of it – and the very borders of our state have begun to shift. Since 2000, Illinois has experienced over 1,500 different flooding events that have cost us US$3 billion in just property damage – Not counting the cost of the response, clean up, recovery, and the damages to public property like schools, parks, and government buildings. Last year, after record flooding caused US$6.2 billion in property damages across the Midwest, Illinois received its second Presidential Disaster Declaration for flooding in just under a decade. This second declaration came after one out of every three Illinoisans became flood victims.

These floodwaters come into our homes across the state, destroy our streets and buildings, reshape our state, and wash away generations of farmland. This, in particular, is of considerable concern as farmers tend to 75% of our state, which includes most of our local communities. When farmers are unable to plant their crops, as they were last year, they are unable to provide for their communities or make money for themselves. Crop insurance is expensive, and many local farmers are unable to purchase it to protect their livelihood, and because federal insurance requires them to be able to plant, many simply take the substantial economic loss. Farm foreclosures are more and more common, and the bankruptcies of our fellow Illinoisans work to the benefit of corporations who destroy our land and poison our water with their unsustainable techniques.

Climate mitigation policy would also address social justice and equity issues in Illinois. Lower income Illinoisans and people of color are the most vulnerable to climate change because their communities are more likely to be situated near toxic facilities that emit carbon dioxide.Their homes and apartments may also lack air conditioning, which makes it impossible to escape the rising temperatures in the state. These groups are the As we can see, the folks who profit from the burning of fossil fuels are not the same people being affected by pollution.  

What must take place in Illinois? 

It is undeniable that Illinois is being significantly affected by climate change, and nothing has been done in Illinois to effectively address this matter. We cannot afford to wait any longer. Climate mitigation must take place in Illinois to save our lives, our environment, and our livelihoods billions of dollars, lives, and the environment. Illinois needs to decarbonize our electricity. In Illinois, 40 percent of the electricity is generated from fossil fuels, and over half comes from nuclear energy because of corporate interests. In place of coal, Illinois could use solar energy or wind power. Utilizing wind and solar energy reduces air pollution, water usage, and helps to fight climate change. These are two of the most sustainable ways to generate electricity that does not produce toxic pollutants and reduce carbon emissions. 

Illinois also needs flood mitigation. Our climate has already shifted so significantly that decarbonization policies will not be enough because flooding will continue to be a life-threatening situation for decades if it continues to not be addressed. 

A Green Future for Illinois is possible, but to achieve this, our leaders must actually begin to think big. This starts with decarbonization. It continues with flood mitigation. And it takes into account the economic impacts of climate change on all of our communities, whether they are urban or rural. We as Illinoisans can also take steps on our own beyond pushing out leaders to act. Simple daily changes can have a big impact, from choosing more environmentally friendly modes of transportation, when available, to being energy conscious and conserving our resources.

When our state leaders refuse to act to mitigate climate change, not only are they failing to protect Illinoisans, but they are failing at the one thing they exist to do: provide safe, quality of life for all residents. If they continue to refuse to do this, WE the People need to act. 

Climate mitigation is critical to ensuring that future Illinoisans enjoy safe, quality of life.We have the ability to build a Green Future for Illinois, for the first time in the history of the state. But only if we do it together.

Naeelah Chism, Policy Associate

Naeelah Chism holds a Bachelor’s of Arts in Political Science with minors in Legal Studies and Gender Studies from McKendree University. Naeelah has previously lobbied both in Springfield and in Washington D.C. for issues ranging from funding for the Monetary Award Program (MAP) to comprehensive sex education for youth. She is presently pursuing a Master’s of Science in Education with an emphasis in Higher Education Leadership. Naeelah is currently working on completing a practicum experience at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater Dean of Students Office. There, she will be reviewing policies, protocols, and procedures to address student organization and individual student misconduct and disruptive behavior.

Amy Chen,
Policy Intern – Climate

Amy Chen is a recent graduate of  the University of Illinois as Urbana-Champaign with a Master’s in Atmospheric Sciences and holds a Certificate in Weather Hazards and Preparedness from the College of DuPage. Amy has extensive weather research and field project experience and has held several leadership positions throughout her studies including being twice selected as a summer undergraduate research intern at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and selected as a co-chair for a professional, scientific student conference. Amy has participated in numerous science policy and communication workshops and webinars. She is passionate about evidence-based science policy making, especially in the context of climate change as it relates to national security impacts on water, energy, and food.

Illinois Needs UBI and Education Reform

Illinoisans deserve a quality education and equitable access to basic living necessities. Universal Basic Income and tuition-free education reform will ensure a bright future for Illinois. We can build communities we can be proud of. Together.

The cost of living in Illinois is on the rise and shows no signs of slowing down any day soon. 

We have the second-highest property taxes in the nation. According to the Illinois Department of Revenue and the U.S. Census Bureau, Illinois property taxes have significantly outpaced income growth since 1990

This dilemma has made it challenging for local businesses and homeowners to pay off their principal balance in a reasonable amount of time because their property tax payments consume a considerable amount of their available capital.

Furthermore, Illinois is ranked as 21st among all states regarding healthcare access and affordability. Income inequality is high in Illinois with one out of every three Illinoisans unable to make ends meet before the Novel Coronavirus. Our gas prices continue to be one of the highest in the nation. 

The cost of education, a critical access point for alleviating poverty and developing an educated twenty-first-century workforce in our state, has also been rising.  The average cost of in-state four-year college tuition was $18,329 for the 2018-2019 academic year, not including fees, room-and-board, and textbooks, and other expenses, and it has only increased since. The cost of college in Illinois is $3,922 higher than the U.S. average. This higher-than-average cost makes Illinois the 10th most expensive state to attend college in the entire country. Students should not have to leave the state to receive an affordable education, and yet that is exactly what happens. One out of every two high school graduates enrolled in a four-year college leaves Illinois for an education elsewhere.

Illinoisans are not surprisingly graduating with massive amounts of debt. In 2017, the average college graduate in Illinois left school with $29,000 in student loan debt. This figure doesn’t tell the whole story, however. Not only are our students taking on significant amounts of debt at young ages to finance their futures, what is not calculated in the average student debt statistics in Illinois are the loans that families and friends take out to support a student’s education. Student loan debt is not only impacting student borrowers but their support networks as well. 

Considering that we’re currently experiencing the COVID-19 pandemic, where our local businesses and many Illinoisans have been negatively impacted financially (one out of every five workers reported being unemployed), and average job growth statewide has been stagnant for many years, this may be more unbearable than ever before. Moreover, a vast number of college students and recent graduates did not qualify for the one-time federal stimulus check, although many college students are taxpayers.

Economic reforms are needed. Illinois needs education reform and a guaranteed Universal Basic Income to best address this crisis and support our future generations.

How Universal Basic Income Reform would make a better Illinois

It’s simple: a Universal Basic Income (“UBI”) will advance and strengthen the financial security of every Illinoisane during a historic global crisis when they need it most. A Universal Basic Income  of just $1,000 each month would increase the per capita income for Illinoisans by over a third. This necessary injection of an economic lifeline to all Illinoisans will ensure that every resident has better access to basic living necessities and a higher quality of life. 

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Illinois’s unemployment rate averaged 3.53% between December 2019 and February 2020. By May 2020, one out of five workers were unemployed based solely off unemployment filings, which does not include those who never filed or gave up because of the state’s inadequate response to the surge of 1.3 million unemployment claims. This historic spike in unemployment has left many Illinoisans with minimal funds to provide for themselves or their families. Federal support has been virtually non-existent, and the state has taken months to resolve its unemployment system failings.

Had Universal Basic Income been a reality, Illinoisans would be experiencing less financial hardship than we are now. Since shutting businesses in March until reopening yesterday, June 26, Illinoisans would have received at least $3,000 from the state in addition to unemployment insurance funds and the one-time federal stimulus of $1,200.

This economic safety net would have led to less uncertainty among our state’s residents about where financial assistance would come from because they would have been guaranteed a basic income—something that would always be there and that they can count on in Illinois.

How Education Reform would make a better Illinois

The average cost of public college tuition in Illinois is 27% higher than the national average. This fall, the average Illinois student will pay $34,000 in tuition and fees, which is the same as our state’s per capita income. This means we’re requiring our students to pay the same amount that an average Illinoisan makes in a year for just one year of college. Education reform in Illinois would allow Illinoisans to pursue their dreams without undertaking enormous amounts of student loan debt to do so. To make education accessible for every Illinoisan, we must eliminate tuition for all community colleges and four-year public universities and provide full tuition assistance for trade schools in the state.

In addition to eliminating college tuition for Illinoisans, Congress must pass comprehensive student debt relief legislation to address the massive levels of student loan debt of graduates. This is vital, as the skyrocketing student debt levels remain unaddressed. Last year, debt grew to $1.6 trillion dollars with one out of every six Americans burdened.

We know that the burden of debt is significant for our students and our households. Higher education continues to provide a means of upward mobility in our society as our economy continues to transition to nearly necessitate a college degree in the twenty-first-century workforce. The unmanageable debt that our current system forces students to take on to achieve the basics of their future dreams, be it through college or through trade schools, which start in the thousands of dollars per program and quickly rise to rival tuition costs for public universities, makes it impossible to progress or even survive.

When students graduate with debt, they are more likely to put off buying a car, purchasing a home, and even getting married and starting a family. Student loan debt, which is a completely manageable phenomenon with decisive political action, should not prevent students from living.

Illinoisans deserve a quality education and equitable access to basic living necessities. Universal Basic Income and tuition-free education reform will ensure a bright future for Illinois. We can build communities we can be proud of. Together.

Sherijay L. Beckford, Policy Associate

Sherijay L. Beckford is a recent graduate of Loyola University Chicago, where she graduated with honors in Political Science, B.A. During her time at Loyola, she chartered and served as the president of a nonprofit that seeks to empower young women to run for office. Sherijay has a history of lobbying for action around homelessness and climate change, as well as working with elected officials and community leaders to cultivate a more equitable society for Chicagoans. She previously interned for a year with the City of Chicago as a City Markets Intern through the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. Sherijay is currently interning with a grassroots congressional campaign, where she conducts and writes research on policies related to criminal and economic justice, maternal healthcare, and tuition-free university education in addition to producing campaign op-eds and social media content.

Naeelah Chism, Policy Associate

Naeelah Chism holds a Bachelor’s of Arts in Political Science with minors in Legal Studies and Gender Studies from McKendree University. Naeelah has previously lobbied both in Springfield and in Washington D.C. for issues ranging from funding for the Monetary Award Program (MAP) to comprehensive sex education for youth. She is presently pursuing a Master’s of Science in Education with an emphasis in Higher Education Leadership. Naeelah is currently working on completing a practicum experience at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater Dean of Students Office. There, she will be reviewing policies, protocols, and procedures to address student organization and individual student misconduct and disruptive behavior.

June is LGBTQ+ Pride Month – Reflection from our Director

As we continue into Pride Month 2020, I offer the Philadelphia flag as Humanity First for Illinois’s celebration of the LGBTQ+ community and the recognition that we as a society have a long way to go in realizing a nation where all people are created equal.

Each June, communities around the world celebrate the LGBTQ+ community and honor the history of the ongoing struggle for equality. Pride Month is celebrated at this time in remembrance of the Stonewall Riots from late-June 1969. Humanity First for Illinois celebrates our LGBTQ+ community in Illinois, and we are committed to our Guiding Principles of Respect and Equity that ensure all team members are safe, welcomed, and empowered as we work to shift society not left, not right, but forward to a better future with Humanity First.

Traditionally, Pride Month is filled with rainbows and a spirit of celebration that culminates in annual parades and festivities around the world. Organizations issue statements affirming the LGBTQ+ community and their leadership in the diversity/inclusion space. Illinois itself is home to one of the largest Pride celebrations in the world, Chicago Pride Fest and the Chicago Pride Parade. In fact, these celebrations were so large that they were separated in order to allow for adequate support services as they used to be held back-to-back starting the Friday evening before the last Sunday in June and culminating with the parade held that Sunday.

This year, however, Pride is being celebrated differently, largely in part to Novel Coronavirus. Pride events have been cancelled around the country in order to promote public health. Recent events have changed the recognition of this month, as well. The LGBTQ+ community has a long history of being built on the backs of the outspoken activism of people of color and the transgender community. Despite this, the LGBTQ+ community is not immune to the systemic racism that permeates our society. The internal structure of the LGBTQ+ community promotes prejudices and discrimination against women, nonbinary and transgender individuals, people of color, the bisexual and asexual communities, and other marginalized groups.

In 2017, this ugly reality came to a head at Philadelphia’s Pride celebration. Organizers unveiled an 8-strip update to the traditional rainbow flag that included black and brown stripes to recognize the struggle of people of color that continue to this day and that are oftentimes ignored by the wider community. The flag instantly drew backlash from activists around the country who claimed the flag was “divisive” and “unnecessary.”

This is certainly not the case, and any celebration of the LGBTQ+ community must include the recognition of the institutional oppression that permeates the entire community. The LGBTQ+ community continues to experience discrimination and oppression in the United States and around the world. In Illinois, we have taken major steps forward to addressing this, but we still have a long way to go. LGBTQ+ individuals continue to be targeted in workplaces across the state and continue to lack adequate access to healthcare, education, and steady income vis-à-vis their straight counterparts.

This oppression and discrimination are amplified for LGBTQ+ persons of color, in particular trans women of color. This year, we have already lost at least 12 members of our transgender community to violence, almost two-thirds of whom were women of color. As we continue into Pride Month 2020, I offer the Philadelphia flag as Humanity First for Illinois’s celebration of the LGBTQ+ community and the recognition that we as a society have a long way to go in realizing a nation where all people are created equal.

Jay La Plante
Director of Humanity First for Illinois PAC

Putting Humanity First means condemning racism and affirming fundamental human rights and dignity – Reflection from our Director

Racism has no place at Humanity First for Illinois or in the Humanity First Movement. Bigotry as no place at Humanity First for Illinois or in the Humanity First Movement. Harrassment and discrimination of all magnitudes have no place at Humanity First for Illinois or in the Humanity First Movement.

I often find myself saying that Humanity First for Illinois is fighting for WE the People to move society not left, not right, but forward to a better future by putting Humanity First. This is true – Humanity First for Illinois is on a journey to build communities we can be proud of.

Building communities we can be proud of, however, goes beyond paying it Four Points Forward. A guaranteed basic income, greater voice at the polls, climate action, and tuition-free education will all mean nothing if the systemic oppression that permeates our society is allowed to continue.

Last week, we all bore witness to yet another horrific killing of an unarmed Black man in America by government workers who are sworn to protest us. Unfortunately, this has been a regular occurrence in our country for centuries, and our government refuses to actually uphold its own declaration that all people are created equal.

The rightful public outcry that followed George Floyd’s murder was met by additional oppression as fundamental human rights were violated across the country leading to global condemnation from allies and adversaries alike. Our national leadership was notably silent on protecting human rights while championing the increased militarization of our communities.

Humanity First for Illinois is an organization committed to fighting for the hardworking people of Illinois. We serve all Illinoisans and are reflective of the diversity of our state. And we condemn the racism that is a part of our everyday lives and that continues to hold communities back, especially communities of color, through no fault of their own.

I am proud to serve as the Director of an organization that takes an active step to protect the fundamental human rights of all of our team members. We are led by our Guiding Principles of Respect, Trust, and Equity, and we commit ourselves to ensuring that every team member feels safe, welcomed, and empowered.

Racism has no place at Humanity First for Illinois or in the Humanity First Movement. Bigotry as no place at Humanity First for Illinois or in the Humanity First Movement. Harassment and discrimination of all magnitudes have no place at Humanity First for Illinois or in the Humanity First Movement.

Humanity First for Illinois affirms and protects the fundamental human rights of our team members. All team members are encouraged to exercise their rights as they see fit insomuch as they align with our Guiding Principles of Respect, Trust, and Equity. This includes the First Amendment guarantees of Freedom of Speech and the Right to Assemble.

Internally, I am committed to maintaining open communication with all team members. I have affirmed that, as a white man, I have a lot to learn as I strive to live my life in accordance with Respect, Trust, and Equity. All team members are empowered to challenge me on this and hold me personally accountable. It is only through personal change that we are able to truly build communities that we can be proud of here in Illinois and across the country.

Jay La Plante
Director of Humanity First for Illinois PAC

Illinoisans waited for unemployment applications to go through, now waiting for unemployment checks almost a month on

“We all have bills in the meantime. So, what are we supposed to do until then, you know?”

On March 16, Governor J. B. Pritzker issued an unprecedented order that closed all restaurants and bars to sit-down traffic as one of several efforts to flatten the curve of Novel Coronavirus infections. The next day, hospitality workers across the state found themselves without employment. Five days later, Governor Pritzker issued COVID-19 Executive Order No. 8 that shuttered all nonessential businesses, leading to over 400,000 newly unemployed Illinoisans as of April 9.

To mitigate the economic fallout, Governor Pritzker encouraged the newly unemployed and furloughed to apply for unemployment insurance. In the first few days, so many Illinoisans applied for unemployment that the application portal crashed. While some were able to file their claims beforehand, others were not so lucky.

“I tried for a week and a half to apply…but the site was experiencing so much traffic that many of us were getting error codes,” Elizabeth, who worked as an assistant manager before being furloughed on March 18, told us, “When you would call their office, you would get a busy tone or get through the call prompts only to be told by an automated voice that they were experiencing high call volumes and you’d have to call back later.”

The Illinois Department of Employment Security has been able to process claims since the rush, but more than three weeks on, and after monthly rents came due, unemployment checks have not been sent out.

“Living paycheck to paycheck is rough on a normal basis, let alone during these trying times,” Elizabeth said. She was able to eventually file her claim over the phone and is waiting to receive her first check and the check from the $2.2 trillion federal stimulus package. “We all have bills in the meantime. So, what are we supposed to do until then, you know?”

With reports that Illinois doesn’t have sufficient funds to meet its obligations for unemployment support for COVID-19 layoffs and furloughs, the slow movement of federal support only intensifies the economic fallout.

To her fellow Illinoisans still on the fence about applying for unemployment, Elizabeth told us she wants them to “hang in there” and continue to try and apply because payments will be backdated.

For everyone else, Elizabeth said, there’s something we can do to help.

“Advocate for Congress to send out more payments as fast as possible to help all of us that are in dire need.”

As the COVID-19 economic fallout drags on into the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, more is needed from our elected officials.

WE the People have the power to help move the needle to bring more to those who need it. How? By contacting your congressperson and letting them know that action needed in your district. Badly.

Visit the House of Representatives website and enter your zip code to learn who represents YOU, and then use your voice to advocate for action today.

Humanity First for Illinois PAC is a grassroots, people-driven political action committee fighting for Humanity First initiatives in Illinois and for candidates up and down the ballot who will fight with us at the local, state, and federal level. We are committed to not accepting corporate donations and are only able to realize this critical work through the generosity of WE the People.

As the COVID-19 crisis deepens, we encourage making a gift if you are able to do so to an organization of your choice that is helping to alleviate the strain that COVID-19 is placing on Illinois and the United States of America.

As Illinoisans wait for the first stimulus checks to arrive, most university students are left out

“It’s easy to sit on top of a lot of money and think you understand the country and its people, but they don’t. They don’t seem to understand how unimportant the stock market is for most Americans and how lives are truly at stake outside of the virus.”

Novel Coronavirus has wreaked havoc on the American economy. Coverage of the financial fallout has focused on the dramatic increase in unemployment claims, the $2.2 trillion stimulus package, and projections of just how much the economy will shrink. Current estimates place it at around 3x that of the 2008 recession, on track to come disturbingly close to the shrinkage experienced during the Great Depression.

University students, however, are largely left out of the coverage. This is despite the fact that the Class of 2020 is graduating this year into the worst economy since the Great Depression saddled with debt, echoing and potentially overshadowing the experience of the Class of 2008. It would make sense that our national leaders would have included provisions somewhere in the $2.2 trillion stimulus package for students beyond waiving the accumulation of interest fees.

That would be a no, though. In fact, most students will not be eligible for receiving stimulus checks. That comes despite being laid off, despite having their lives thrown in upheaval.

“Many students have lost their campus jobs because of the virus and were let go by their companies,” an undergraduate student who wished to remain anonymous told us at the end of March, “I am still unaware if I have employment still because my supervisor does not have enough information to tell me.”

As Illinois universities began to move to online classes and shut down dorms, student workers entered a state of employment limbo. Many students rely on campus employment as their full source of financial support, to pay some of their bills, or as part of their financial aid packages that enable them to attend university.

Public documents obtained from the University of Illinois System, the state’s largest university system with over 83,000 students, has promised to continue to pay student workers and offer flexible work arrangements. Other universities, like DePaul, are offering job changes with remote opportunities for students and are directing students with financial difficulties due to lost employment or reduced hours to contact the Dean of Students for individualized support.

Danielle, an undergraduate at Northern Illinois University, also shared with us how COVID-19 has impacted her financially:

“As a full-time college student taking 18 credits this semester, I have class Monday nights and all day Tuesday and Thursday. I was also working as a substitute teacher Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I made around $800-1000/month depending on the school district I subbed for and if I worked all three days of the week. Now, with schools closed, I make $0/month.”

As university students grapple with employment challenges and maintaining previous academic standards in the midst of a global pandemic and the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, they are unable to count on the federal government for financial support.

The $2.2 trillion stimulus, which included billions of dollars for the airlines, does not provide support for most university students. Why? Despite being legal adults, most students are claimed by their parents as dependents for FAFSA purposes, which is the primary method that undergraduates are able to afford the high price of university tuition.

Federal law forbids any undergraduate student under the age of 24 to apply for FAFSA funds without their parent or guardian’s information because they can be claimed as a dependent. There are some caveats, such as if the student is married, serves in the military or is a veteran, or was emancipated prior to turning 18.

Thus, while bearing the full economic brunt of the COVID-19 downturn like everyone else, university students are not receiving any stimulus check from the $2.2 trillion package. Moreover, as these students are generally over the age of 17, their families will not be receiving any support, either. The federal cutoff for stimulus funds for children is 17, and there is no caveat for children 18-24 who are claimed as dependents.

So, burdened with tens of thousands of dollars in student debt, faced with lost wages and bills they may not be able to pay, and the psychological stress knowing they are graduating into an economy that has no comparison since the Great Depression, the federal government has not found any funds in the $2.2 trillion stimulus to provide to students or their families.

But the airlines, who depleted upwards of 96% of their cash reserves to buy back stock, are getting billions.

Danielle put it more bluntly:

“I want the politicians to know that what they are doing is not enough. It’s easy to sit on top of a lot of money and think you understand the country and its people, but they don’t. They don’t seem to understand how unimportant the stock market is for most Americans and how lives are truly at stake outside of the virus.”

Our students deserve better. Illinoisans deserve better. Americans deserve better.

Humanity First for Illinois PAC is a grassroots, people-driven political action committee fighting for Humanity First initiatives in Illinois and for candidates up and down the ballot who will fight with us at the local, state, and federal level. We are committed to not accepting corporate donations and are only able to realize this critical work through the generosity of WE the People.

As the COVID-19 crisis deepens, we encourage making a gift if you are able to do so to an organization of your choice that is helping to alleviate the strain that COVID-19 is placing on Illinois and the United States of America.

In the abscence of public support, a private fund offers hope to one Illinoisan

“Andrew Yang is doing great things for people. He’s really an inspiration.”

Austin Chapman is a full-time student at Illinois State University in Normal and was working as a manager at a movie theater before he was furloughed due to Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19). Upwards of 80 to 100 in total Illinoisans were furloughed at his location, just one of many across the footprint of one of the largest national chains.

“It’s weird not going into work,” Chapman said, noting that he, like all other Illinoisans, is hardworking and wants to work. “Not having a steady income throws a wrench into all plans for the foreseeable future.”

Those plans include Chapman’s upcoming wedding, which he is still actively planning. The economic fallout of COVID-19 has also impacted Chapman’s family. While his parents have been offering what little financial assistance they can provide, they themselves are close to being furloughed.

Austin Chapman and fiancée Trinity Scalf.

“It’s hard to be optimistic when your whole life flips,” Chapman said, noting that it would be nice “if the government actually cared a little bit.”

The recent passage of the $2.2 trillion stimulus package would provide some level of relief, but the one-time $1,200 check only goes so far. One time. Chapman has applied for the unemployment insurance promised by Governor J. B. Pritzker, but like most Illinoisans, has not heard from the Illinois Department of Employment Security since applying early last week.

In the absence of tangible public support, Chapman was one of the recipients of Humanity Forward’s #MoneyForThePeople support package. Humanity Forward is the next step for Andrew Yang, the former Democratic Presidential Candidate from the 2020 cycle who championed the “Freedom Dividend,” a universal basic income of $1,000 each month for every American adult citizen.

Chapman was involved with Yang’s campaign in the Midwest and played a critical role in making sure Yang made it onto the Indiana and Illinois primary ballots. It was this connection that alerted him to Humanity Forward’s generous gift.

After speaking with a fellow Yang Ganger, Chapman was advised to contact Humanity Forward on Twitter to explain his financial situation. Within an hour, the Humanity Forward team had messaged back and offered a financial gift to Chapman to help “relieve the stress” of Chapman’s upcoming bills.

“Andrew Yang is doing great things for people. He’s really an inspiration.” The gift, while a one-time payment of $250, represents the first stimulus to Chapman and other recipients while elected officials stalled on comprehensive financial relief. More than a direct cash payment, it represents hope that together, WE the People can support each other through this crisis and emerge stronger and unified.

At press time, Humanity Forward has provided over $250,000 in direct cash assistance to Americans impacted by COVID-19 while our state and federal governments have yet to issue direct financial relief.

Humanity First for Illinois PAC is a grassroots, people-driven political action committee fighting for Humanity First initiatives in Illinois and for candidates up and down the ballot who will fight with us at the local, state, and federal level. We are committed to not accepting corporate donations and are only able to realize this critical work through the generosity of WE the People.

As the COVID-19 crisis deepens, we encourage making a gift if you are able to do so to an organization of your choice that is helping to alleviate the strain that COVID-19 is placing on Illinois and the United States of America.