Group wants more tobacco money invested into health care, housing
A citizens group asked lawmakers Tuesday to give more money to help struggling families in Illinois who can't afford basic health care or shelter.
The group, made up of people from Chicago and the suburbs, wants legislators to pass a $4 billion "Families First Agenda" to respond to growing financial pressures faced by families despite the booming economy.
"We're asking them to put the investment in families," said Catie Poronsky, a family practice nurse who joined the United Power for Action and Justice group at St. James Episcopal Cathedral in Chicago for the presentation to lawmakers.
About 20 legislators, including Republicans Rep. Rosemary Mulligan of Des Plaines and Sen. Christine Radogno of LaGrange, attended.
The citizens want lawmakers to use about $3.5 billion of a $9 billion tobacco settlement on services related to health care and affordable housing.
They pointed to a report the group commissioned that concludes rising home prices are pushing home ownership beyond the reach of many working families. About 15 percent of Illinois residents cannot afford regular doctor visits or prescriptions because they don't have insurance, the report said.
Researchers contended the issue is not confined to the poor. Nearly 1 in 10 people who don't have insurance live in households with incomes over $50,000, the report shows.
"Illinois has put the investment (of tobacco funds) in the infrastructure of roads and bridges," Poronsky said. "We're asking that they put the investment into moms and dads and kids and grandparents."
The state will receive a total of $9 billion over the next 25 years from tobacco companies in a settlement of a lawsuit to recover the cost of medical care for people who became ill from smoking.
Donna Thompson, a member of the group who also heads Access Community Health Network in Chicago, hopes some of the money can be used to teach people about preventative care.
"We're in a new millennium and breast and cervical cancer still are affecting women at alarming rates," she said. "Some women don't have access to preventative care such as pap smears and mammographies, so they don't seek medical care until they have symptoms."
If legislators support the Family First agenda, she said, money can be funneled into "the family unit of Illinois," which she says is an infrastructure, too.
United Power for Action and Justice is an independent group of citizens fighting for changes for the uninsured.
It also has another campaign to expand health-care coverage in Illinois. Its goals include enrolling uninsured people in health care programs, expanding primary and preventative care, and expanding Medicaid programs and other services.