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Dear Neighbor,

Greetings 7th District residents! I wanted to give you some quick updates. The last couple weeks have been a busy mix of community and legislative meetings.

First, I’m happy that my youth mental health bill Senate Bill 4028, which was signed into law, is well on the road to implementation. I met with staff from the State Board of Education and the Student Mental Health Partnership housed at Lurie’s Children’s Hospital to ensure the goals around the new advisory council mandated by my legislation are being met. The student mental health council will be made up of youth from across Illinois who have direct lived experiences with mental health. The council will include queer youth, youth of color, and leaders from diverse backgrounds working in mental health. As a recap, this bill idea came directly from young high-school aged people in our district who are participating in my people’s legislative councils, where constituents help shape public policy and legislation that I introduce and pass. I am so proud of the progress we are making together.

I also met with staff from the Illinois Department of Transportation to push for safety improvements to roadways within our district that are under state jurisdiction, including Peterson Avenue. I am pushing the department to review crash and traffic fatality data along these roads with the goal of focusing on the most dangerous points and intersections that the department then can improve for cyclists, pedestrians, and those who are disabled. We will be meeting again before the end of the month to review IDOT’s findings. I also requested and set up a meeting with Active Transportation Alliance, an advocacy coalition working to make biking, walking, and public transit safer and more equitable. We brainstormed potential ideas for the upcoming legislative session, and will meet again before we reconvene the spring session to discuss potential bill ideas to make our state much safer and accessible for those on bike, foot, and public transit.

I also participated in a panel with other state legislators where we discussed how grassroots ideas become policy ideas that become bills that pass the legislature. I enjoyed sharing concrete examples where grassroots organizations have coalesced around ideas in the areas of health care and housing insecurity to get laws passed. The panel was organized by the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus Foundation.

My staff and I also went over to Swedish Covenant Hospital to visit the Welcoming Center, which is run by Lutheran Social Services of Illinois and seeks to increase access to mental health and substance abuse treatment for community members, which is a major need for the region and a high priority for me. The Welcoming Center staff walked us through some of the challenges of running their programs ranging from funding issues to the need for modernized data and record keeping. I will be proactively reaching out to many of our mental health providers and staff in our district in the months ahead so that I can effectively fight for resources and legislation to bring better mental health services and substance abuse treatment to our constituents who need it and their families.

On another topic, I have met with a handful of constituents advocating for the human rights of those who are incarcerated and their families. I met with Restore Justice staff including several returning citizens who are on staff and actively advocating for smart legislation. I also met with advocates from Chicago Votes, and separately with Rev. Jason Lydon, who serves at Second Unitarian Church. In these meetings we talked about the need for medical care for those who are incarcerated; we also discussed SB828, legislation I have sponsored that would restore the right to vote to roughly 30,000 people currently incarcerated in Illinois; and we discussed a bill I passed, HB5525, that recommends the state make a number of systemic improvements to policy and programs serving incarcerated parents. This is a priority area and I will continue to focus on building support for legislation that respects the human rights of those who are incarcerated.

Lastly, I joined the Not That Late Show at Newport Theater to discuss my first 18 months in office. I always enjoy supporting the arts, theater, music, and comedy and was honored to bring updates from my office to a community that is well-represented across our district. And finally I appeared in a documentary that debuted this month that chronicles the lives, activism, and relationship of two LGBTQ+ community leaders and husbands, Art Johnston and Pepe Pena, owners of Sidetrack Video Bar in Lakeview and longtime organizers with Chicago’s LGBTQ+ community. I was honored to be featured in the documentary where I talked about the long history of queer activism in Chicago, and what I see as my role in that history as Illinois first openly gay state Senator. It’s always a joy to step back and reflect, and I was honored and humbled to participate in this terrific documentary that debuted last month in the Chicago International Film Festival.

As always, my office is available at 773-769-1717 if we can be of any assistance.

Sincerely,

Mike Simmons

State Senator | 7th District

Community Updates

Indigenous Peoples' Day March

Click the links below to view footage of my speech at this years Indigenous Day March.

Senator Simmons "Indigenous Peoples' Day 2022 Remarks

Senator Mike Simmons Chicago Tonight Feature - Indigenous Peoples Day

National Coming Out Day podcast episode - Sound of the Senate

As the first openly gay person to serve in the Illinois Senate, I was very proud to share my story and thoughts on National Coming Out Day. LGBTQ+ communities are being targeted all around the country. It's very important that the LGBTQ+ community and those who are on a coming out journey spend time to reflect on their experiences and for all of us to support those who are coming out. I hope you enjoy this short podcast recording! Click here to listen!

Heartland Health Centers Press Conference

Tapestry 360, formerly Heartland Health Center, has rebranded and manages 16 local health centers, with many being in our district.

Image: Tapestry 360 CEO Nicole Willis, Senator Mike Simmons, and Director of Outreach and Constituent Services Shenicka Hohenkirk attended the Tapestry 360 Health press conference in October.

Image: Senator Mike Simmons poses with Tapestry 360 Health stakeholders.

Dorothy's Sweet Shoppe

I stopped by Dorothy's Sweet Shoppe on Lincoln Avenue near Argyle Street for cookies! Do yourself a treat and visit this friendly place because all their goodies are baked in their Gateway to Learning kitchens next door where adults with intellectual challenges and developmental disabilities are getting workforce training and employment through culinary arts and education. I popped in and had the pleasure of meeting staff at Dorothy's Sweet Shoppe, Latrice and Kevin, who like me are Lincoln Square natives. Gateway to Learning has served our Lincoln Square neighborhood for decades, and Dorothy's Sweet Shoppe for the past few years. Click the hyperlinks to check them out!

Image: Senator Mike Simmons poses with Dorothy's Sweet Shoppe employees Kevin and Latrice.

Lakewood Balmoral Harvest Moon Festival

It was such a joy to visit the Harvest Moon Festival of Lakewood Balmoral Residents Council! I enjoyed chatting with everyone and congratulating the kiddos on an epic Jenga display!

Image: Senator Mike Simmons smiles with Lakewood Balmoral constituents next to their Jenga display.

Image: Senator Mike Simmons smiles with Lakewood Balmoral constituents.

Phoenix Bean/Jenny's Tofu Ribbon Cutting

Alongside community partners, elected officials, and Illinois farmers, I had a great pleasure of celebrating Jenny Yang and her local manufacturing business, Jenny's Tofu.

Jenny's Tofu received grant funding through the USDA that allows for incarcerated tofu production and distribution. Senator Durbin led discussions around challenges Illinois farmers face and how important it is to connect local agriculture with local businesses.

Jenny, who I met last year at an Edgewater block party, then led us on a tour of her newly expanded production site at 5410 N. Broadway! We got to sample soybeans and freshly made tofu!

Jenny is a proud immigrant whose business bears the slogan "Made in Chicago, Born in Taiwan." She employs 43 staff, of whom 50% are women. With hopes of growing nationally, the USDA grant brings that dream to closer reality.

You can find Phoenix Bean products at the Andersonville Farmers Market, Morse Fresh Market in Rogers Park, Tai Nam Market in Uptown, and many more locations throughout Chicagoland. Congratulations Jenny and Phoenix Bean!

Image: Senator Mike Simmons attends Jenny's Tofu ribbon cutting ceremony with US Senator Dick Durbin, State Representative Kelly Cassidy, Alderman Harry Osterman, the Edgewater Chamber of Commerce, and Chinese Mutual Aid Association.

WCWF Block Club Meeting

On Oct. 25th I had the pleasure of attending the WCWF (Winona Foster Carmen Winnemac) Block Club meeting! I always appreciate time with constituents where we talk about how the 7th district office can serve you, as well as report out broader legislative accomplishments from this year. Thank you for your questions and engagement!

Image: Senator Mike Simmons attends the WCWF Block Club Meeting via Zoom.

Uplift Community High School Visit

Last week I had the great pleasure of touring Uplift Community High School. Located at 900 W Wilson, Uplift is a CPS school with beautiful mosaic art on the facade. What is even more special is what it offers within its walls. Uplift does not have any attendance boundaries and most notably offers a rare "Early College STEAM" dual credit program which allows students to simultaneously earn their high school diploma AND an associates degree. Uplift also houses a state-of-the art 3D print lab, free student clinic in partnership with Tapestry 360, swimming pool, performing arts space, and so much more. Their mission focuses on racial and social justice in word and action while emphasizing rigorous academics, project based learning, and family community engagement. I am proud to have attended a tour of the school last week alongside U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, Leader Greg Harris, and Friends of Uplift. I encourage you to check out the school for yourself!

Image: Senator Mike Simmons poses with Uplift High School Principal Dr. Ty Graham, Uplift students, US Representative Jan Schakowsky and Leader Greg Harris.

Community Resources

The Welcoming Center

The Welcoming Center through Lutheran Social Services of Illinois is located in the Swedish Northshore campus and offers open-access treatment for individuals struggling with emotional stress, mental health systems, and substance abuse. No appointment necessary. The center is a safe alternative to seeking care in the emergency room and uses a warm, compassionate environment that is more like a living room than an office.

Walk-ins are welcome Monday-Friday 8 a.m. -7 p.m., at 5217 N California Ave, Suite F101 or call 773-561-5809.

Image: Senator Mike Simmons poses with Kimberly Leslie, Director of Nursing in the emergency department, and staff from The Welcoming Center and Lutheran Social Services.

Student Debt Relief

The federal student loan debt relief portal is now live. Up to $20,000 in debt forgiveness is available to student borrowers, with most benefits going to individuals who earn less than $75,000. Apply here by Dec. 31, 2023.

2023-2024 FAFSA application now available

The 2023-24 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is now available, making this the perfect time for anyone who might be interested in attending college next year (2023-24) to apply for financial aid. With a single application, FAFSA allows students to be considered for the federal Pell Grant and the state MAP Grant, plus work-study opportunities, federal student loans, and direct college grants. Illinois students who are ineligible for federal financial aid can check out the Alternative Application for Illinois Financial Aid to apply for the state MAP Grant and institutional aid.

Free support available from the Illinois Student Assistance Commission this fall

During the fall, ISAC highlights events and resources to help students complete timely applications for college admission and financial aid:

  • ISAC offers free financial aid completion and college application workshops, where Illinois students and families can fit out college applications, complete their FAFSA or Alternative Application and receive direct assistance from college and financial aid experts. Free assistance is available in-person and virtually, and some workshops are available in Spanish. For a list of upcoming ISAC-supported events, visit studentportal.isac.org/events.
  • Students and families can connect with free one-on-one assistance from the Illinois Student Assistance Corps (ISACorps) member in their area. ISACorps are recent college graduates who are extensively trained to help high school students navigate their college and financial aid process. Find your ISACorps member at studentportal.isac.org/isacorps.
  • Personalized assistance is also available through ISAC College Q&A, a free text messaging service where students can get answers to their college and financial aid questions sent directly to their phones.
  • The ISAC Student Portal offers free online tools and resources, as well as short videos about college planning and financial aid.
  • ISAC also offers assistance through the agency's call center (800-899-4722) and its Online Chat service, available at isac.org.

Avoiding scams

Make sure you understand which companies and claims are legitimate so you can protect your personal information from scammers. The definitive source for information about federal debt cancellation is this website from the U.S. Department of Education. This website will continue to be updated as details develop and questions are answered.

Additionally, the Federal Student Aid office at the U.S. Department of Education has shared its resource page on scams and a blog post with helpful tips on protecting yourself from scams involving student loan debt relief.

Remember: The Department of Education and its federal loan servicers will never charge fees to help borrowers with their student loans. If you are asked to pay an up-front or maintenance fee, you are not dealing with the Department of Education, so do not share your information. If you are not sure whether to trust a company that contacts you, refer to this list of trusted companies that work with the Department to provide student loan services.

New free and reduced-price lunch eligibility in Illinois Schools

With students returning to classrooms, the Illinois State Board of Education announced new eligibility guidelines for free and reduced-price lunch programs. Families are encouraged to contact their local school for details about accessing free and reduced-price meals, as the process may vary across school districts.

Click here to learn more about all free and reduced price meal programs offered at Illinois schools.

LIHEAP

Does your family qualify for energy bill assistance? Now through May 31, 2023, any family who earns up to two times the federal poverty level may be eligible for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program. Find out if you're eligible and apply today by visiting helpillinoisfamilies.com.

Benefit Access

Illinoisans aged 65 or older, aged 16 or older and living with a disability, and who meet income requirements may be eligible to receive a discount on license plates or a free bus pass through the Illinois Department of Aging Benefit Access Program. Click here to learn more and apply.

Fall Colors Trip Planner

Enjoy Illinois has released the 2022 Fall Colors Trip Planner, and online guide to make finding the best time to spot peak fall foliage across the state. The Planner features the Illinois Fall Color Tracker, a new interactive map that allows users to track peak fall foliage within a specific time frame and plan a vacation or staycation around it. Click here to read more.

In-home COVID-19 boosters for Seniors

AgeOptions is providing in-home COVID-19 vaccines and booster shots for homebound seniors across Cook County. To qualify for an in-home vaccination or booster, a person must:

  • Live in Suburban Cook County
  • Need an initial COVID-19 vaccine or any CDC recommended booster shot , and
  • Be 60 years or older.

Click here to sign up for your in-home vaccination. Loved ones may also refer a senior for in-home vaccination at vaccine.cookcountyil.gov and by clicking the "In-Home Vaccination" tab in the top right.

Upcoming Events

The Community Commission on Public Safety and Accountability recently opened applications to serve on the Chicago Police Board, the 9-member council which makes disciplinary decision for the Chicago Police Department officers accused of misconduct - due Nov. 7th. There are three vacancies currently. The Commission has also opened applications for their Noncitizens Advisory Council, (non-citizens or those who have engaged on these issues previously) which will be advisers to the Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability to help make sure that the Commission's work reflects and incorporates the public safety perspectives and experiences of non-citizens and new Chicagoans - due Nov. 20th.

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Office Info

District Office
5533 N. Broadway
Chicago, IL 60640
(773) 769-1717

Springfield Office:
Senator 7th District
M115 Capitol
Springfield, IL 62706
(217) 782-8492

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