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Making Illinois Affordable: How AARP is Working With State Officials to Tackle Pressing Pocketbook Concerns

Illinois State Capitol

Al Hollenbeck, a retired civil engineer, and his wife, Karen,  have lived in their home in the Chicago suburb of Winfield for 35 years. The ranch design will allow the couple to age in place, as will their retirement savings.

“My wife and I are blessed,” says Hollenbeck, 68, an AARP Illinois volunteer and Executive Council member. 

But he also knows that not all people his age are similarly blessed. High property taxes, rising energy costs and a lack of savings hold many of his peers back. 

That’s why AARP Illinois is undertaking a Make Illinois Affordable campaign, which will address a range of pocketbook issues. The multiyear initiative  builds on legislative wins last year that made saving for retirement easier, deferred taxes for some residents and clamped down on predatory lending. 

AARP hopes the new effort will make it easier for older residents to stay in their homes as they age—something Hollenbeck feels lucky to be able to do.

“The concept of aging in place is not only the right thing to do—society can’t afford to do anything different,” he says.

As part of the push, AARP Illinois, working with state and local officials, is developing a webinar series to educate the public on key affordability issues. Josh Harris, an associate state director for  advocacy and outreach for AARP Illinois, expects the series to run monthly from May through December. Topics will range from retirement savings and Social Security planning to affordable housing and debt management. 

A schedule of sessions can be found at aarp.org/il.

Trimming High Costs

Another effort will aim to curb utility rates, which have risen as natural gas companies levy surcharges to pay for system maintenance and upgrades. AARP Illinois is part of a coalition of organizations calling for an end to the surcharges and is urging residents to ask candidates in this year’s elections to explain their positions on these fees. 

Make Illinois Affordable builds on 2021 triumphs in the Illinois General Assembly. Among them:

  • Expansion of Illinois Secure Choice, which requires businesses without a qualified retirement savings plan to begin offering one or enroll their workers in the state-facilitated program. Under the expansion, businesses with at least five employees (down from the current minimum of 25) will have to comply by Nov. 1, 2023. 
  • A boost to Illinois’ Senior Citizens Real Estate Tax Deferral Program. Under expanded eligibility, a homeowner 65 or older with an annual income of $65,000 or less can defer up to $7,500 in property taxes on a primary residence each year through 2025. The deferral is a loan from the state, repayable, with interest, upon death or sale of the home. The expansion increased income and deferral amounts, from $55,000 and $5,000, respectively.
  • Passage of the Predatory Loan Prevention Act, capping consumer loan interest at 36 percent.

The legislative wins will benefit the state and its citizens, says AARP volunteer Charles Johnson, 76, of the Chicago suburb Olympia Fields; he is a former director of the Illinois Department on Aging.

“We are buying cars; we are paying taxes on goods and services,” he says. “We should not be forced to leave the state because affordability is not what we expect it to be.”

Lisa Bertagnoli is a writer living in Chicago.

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