The Capitol
Brian Mackey/WUIS

  Nearly three million Illinoisans receive benefits in the form of food stamps, welfare or medical help. But one lawmaker says too much of this assistance is being "drained" by drug users.

Rep. Dwight Kay (R-Glen Carbon) is proposing changes to the way beneficiaries qualify for assistance. He wants to require drug testing when people sign up for welfare. The representative says the state pays money to people without assessing their ability to be productive.

Welfare Chart
WUIS/Illinois Issues

When Illinois passed legislation in 1997 to help implement the federal overhaul of the welfare system, then-state Sen. Barack Obama voiced concerns about poor residents falling through the cracks.

Retrospective Part 1: Three decades of public affairs journalism

Dec 1, 2004

This coming January, Illinois Issues will enter its fourth decade of publication. And throughout the next year we’ll celebrate that achievement by exploring the challenges Illinoisans are likely to face over the next three decades. In the final months of this year, though, we’ll look back at some of the policy concerns, political events and personalities that caught our attention, and possibly yours, over the past 30 years.

Aaron Chambers
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Nuance can be everything in lawmaking. That’s certainly the case for federal welfare reform, which is still on the negotiating table. 

Five years after it redefined public assistance as temporary, rather than an open-ended entitlement, the reform law is set to expire at the end of this month. When lawmakers return to Capitol Hill from their Labor Day break, they must decide what the next five years will hold — for needy families and for the states that administer the welfare program. 

For the first time this fall, welfare watchers will get a hard look at how Illinois’ unemployed poor are faring in finding and keeping work. Lawmakers are due to get the second, and more detailed, phase of a six-year tracking study in November. And that’s when the hard work will begin — for policy-makers as well as recipients.

Peggy Boyer Long
WUIS/Illinois Issues

To many of us, welfare reform is a story about numbers: How many are still on the rolls; how many have found work. To some, it's a story about politics or history, the latest chapter in an evolving social policy. 

That's to be expected. The new rules governing the unemployed poor don't touch most of us personally. Numbers, politics and history are more readily grasped. Still, what happens over the next year in Congress and the legislature will touch hundreds, if not thousands, of Illinoisans' lives.