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.

The federal government plans to cut funding to clinics that provide abortion referrals. But in Illinois, any clinics that lose that funding can get grants from the state. 

Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced the plan Thursday, saying it amounts to about $2.4 million for 28 clinics throughout the state. Those clinics normally receive federal Title X grants, which cover services like family-planning and HIV screening for low-income, under-insured and uninsured women.

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.  

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.

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.

People in Illinois struggling to repay certain kinds of debt could get some relief under a new plan pending approval from Gov. J.B. Pritzker. 

The measure calls for lowering interest rates on outstanding consumer debt from 9 percent to 5 percent. It would also trim 10 years off the time a lender can pursue collection.

The legislation would only apply to consumer debt — that is, debt for personal, family or household expenses. It's also limited to debt under $25,000.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.  

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.

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.

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.

Saying the state is the midst of an affordable housing crisis, one lawmaker has introduced legislation that aims to boost low-cost rental units by offering a tax credit.

The  Chicago-based child advocacy group Voices for Illinois Children wants Illinois lawmakers to consider how their policies might worsen racial and ethnic disparities.

According to a spokeswoman,  state Sen. Kimberly Lightford, a Maywood Democrat, is expected to introduce a measure that would create a “racial impact note” – where a lawmaker could ask for additional information tacked onto a bill that would estimate the impact on minorities.

They would be similar to fiscal notes that detail how a policy would affect the state’s finances.

Illinois recipients of Temporary Aid for Needy Families - also known as TANF - will see an increase in the amount of their monthly grants in October. A $22 million boost was negotiated in the budget this year. Advocates for the poor say the difference may mean more families will be off the streets.

Teen pregnancy rates are going down in Illinois and across the nation because teens are having less sex, and when they do, they’re using contraception more often. The reasons behind these changes in behavior are harder to pinpoint.  

The Illinois poverty rate hovers above pre-recession levels at 14.4 percent, according to Census numbers released Thursday. In all, 1.8 million Illinoisans live in poverty.

Meanwhile, income in Illinois is stagnant even though job growth is up, according to numbers crunched by the Chicago-based Heartland Alliance.

This is likely a consequence of the state’s budget woes, says Kimberly Drew, an economic security specialist at the alliance.

Drew says cuts in social programs because of the budget impasse are likely to worsen the effects of poverty in the state.

Just under 2 million people a year are fed by food banks in Illinois, according to the 2015 report of the Illinois Commission to End Hunger, which released its annual analysis last week.

In July, Gov. Bruce Rauner signed a bill calling for language that would create respectful references to people with disabilities throughout state law.