The Aging Justice Project Public Policy Fellowship


I. Project Overviewtop

The Aging Justice Project is a yearlong intensive policy and advocacy training program that is designed to equip older women, their allies, and their sponsoring organizations with the capacity to advocate successfully for policies that allow older women to age in place with dignity, economic security, and access to affordable health care.

The Aging Justice Project is modeled after the Women’s Policy Institute of the Women’s Foundation of California. For over 30 years, the Women’s Policy Institute has conducted policy and advocacy training for women and the program has been extraordinarily successful. To date, the Institute has passed 14 bills in the California legislature that benefit women of all ages, especially women of low-income families. The Aging Justice Project seeks to demonstrate the same success in the state of Illinois, and is one of five other programs being funded by the Women’s Foundation of California across the country – these include Georgia, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Wisconsin.

The key goals of the Aging Justice Project are to:

  •  Sharpen the legislative and administrative policy advocacy skills and political analysis of women
  • Provide women with knowledge and information about the Illinois policy landscape
  • Increase women’s confidence in participating in the legislative process and to work with decision makers to craft public policy that reflect the needs of older women in Illinois
  • Build relationships between women in Illinois with a commitment to long term action for change
  • Improve the lives of all Illinois’ seniors, particularly older women

II. Context, Methodology & Preliminary Findingstop

The Aging Justice Project was piloted in Illinois in 2012 and recruited policy fellows from a variety of organizations across the state.  The 2012 program included fellows from the Jane Addams Senior Caucus, AARP of Illinois, the Chicago Abortion Fund, Lakeview Action Coalition (LAC), Service Employees International Union (SEIU), American Federation of State County & Municipal Employees (AFSCME), and the Beck Research Initiative for Women, Gender and Community at DePaul University.  The program accepts 12 – 15 fellows each year who participate in a series of eight training retreats as well as a hands-on policy project throughout the fall and winter.

Program Curriculum

  •  Intensive Training: The retreats provide participants with intensive training on the legislative process, advocacy, and organizing. The program creates a learning environment where fellows can experiment with new ideas, skills, and strategies. The retreats use an intimate, small-group format to provide fellows with a deeper understanding of Illinois’ political context and policy process.
  • Hands-on Policy Project: The policy project is a small group project designed to develop and implement policies that benefit older women in Illinois. The Aging Justice Program fellows  work in teams with a policy mentor to identify an issue, draft and lobby legislation through the Illinois General Assembly, and/or participate in the rulemaking and implementation process on a pressing older women’s issue.

Policy Project

Anna Assenmacher represented the Beck Research Initiative for Women, Gender and Community at DePaul University as a policy fellow during the 2012 pilot year. As a group the policy fellows chose to draft legislation that addressed the issue of job-protected leave for grandparents and grandchildren, who act as important caregivers for their families, but are not (currently) included in the definition of “family” under the federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).  The bill was designed to provide job-protected leave to grandparents caring for grandchildren, and grandchildren caring for grandparents, an intergenerational caring arrangement which is often found in communities struggling with economic security.

In the state of Illinois and across the country, research shows that the traditional American household is changing, often including intergenerational family members. Increasingly, grandparents and grandchildren are becoming crucial resources for family caregiving – and in many cases, they are the primary caregivers. In the state of Illinois alone:

  • Almost 100,000 grandparents are householders and are responsible for their grandchildren living with them (2005-2009 American Community Survey)
  • Of these, 68% are under the age of 60 – and thus of working age (2005-2009 ACS)
  • Over 300,000 children under the age of 18 live in homes where the householders are grandparents or other relatives – over 10% of the children in Illinois (US 2010 Census)
  • Nationally, 8% of family caregivers are grandchildren (National Family Caregivers Association)

To address the needs of working families, the Aging Justice Project fellows, working in collaboration with policy mentors and coalition partners, ultimately drafted  SB 1190 – the Illinois Family Care Provider Act - which expanded the definition of “family” in the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to include grandparents caring for grandchildren, as well as grandchildren caring for grandparents, thus expanding the benefits of job-protected leave to include these important family caregivers.

SB1190 was sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Toi Hutchinson (D- 40th District) and in the House by Rep. Robyn Gabel (D- 18th District). While the bill made it out of the Senate Labor Committee, the bill ultimately did not generate the necessary votes in the Senate after considerable lobbying efforts by business opposition groups to reject the bill. Efforts to pass the bill continue.

III. Leadership Team and Community Partnerstop

The Beck Research Initiative for Women, Gender and Community
  • Anna Assenmacher, Assistant Director

Anna Assenmacher is the Assistant Director of the Beck Research Initiative of Women, Gender and Community at DePaul University. She holds a B.A. in Business Administration and Finance from Calvin College (1999), and an M.A. in Women’s and Gender Studies from DePaul University (2012). Anna also serves as Adjunct Faculty in the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies at DePaul University, and continues her engagement in legislative advocacy in leadership roles with the Academic Advisory Council for the Chicago Foundation for Women (Women’s Economic Security Campaign) and the Quality Jobs Council for Women Employed.

The Jane Addams Senior Caucus
  • Lori Clark, Executive Director
  • Kara Bender, Lead Trainer & Racial Justice Organizer / Aging Justice Program Co-Coordinator
The Midwest Academy
  • Kate Barthelme, Trainer and Consultant
ACLU of Illinois
  • Khadine Bennett, Staff Attorney, Legislative Counsel and Policy Mentor

IV. Funding & Sponsorstop

The Aging Justice Project is a grant funded program. Support in 2012 was generously provided by the Women’s Foundation of California, Retirement Research Foundation, Sophia Fund for Advocacy of the Chicago Foundation for Women, Crossroads Fund, Woods Fund of Chicago, Polk Bros. Foundation, Driehaus Foundation, SEIU Healthcare, and AARP of Illinois.

V. Publications and Researchtop