VTTC (HB2118) Program Renewal: How the Extension Helps Survivors
The reality of accessing consistent, long-term services and resources often proves difficult for survivors of trafficking. With T-Visa applicants now waiting nearly 34 months to be granted status, foreign-born survivors are facing greater lengths of time in finding true stability to move forward after a trafficking situation.
A law to aid foreign national survivors of human trafficking right here in Illinois was helping to mitigate some of this in the short term by providing survivors with access to public benefits; most recently our task force partners at Heartland Alliance advocated in Springfield, IL to extend the program, which was set to sunset on June 30, 2019.
The VTTC Program provides eligibility of state funded benefits to non-citizen survivors. The VTTC (HB2118) Program was passed by the House on May 23, 2019 and sent to Governor Pritzker on June 21, 2019. The program was extended until June 30, 2022.
What is the VTTC (HB2118) Program?
The VTTC Program was made available to foreign national survivors in 2016 after it was signed into law, due to advocacy on the part of Heartland Alliance and the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law. It was intended for non-citizen trafficking, torture, and other serious crime victims who were in process of filing or had already filed for the T-Visa, U-Visa, or Asylum status through USCIS. Applicants would be eligible to seek and receive medical care through Medicaid plans, receive cash assistance for those with children and a food assistance budget through SNAP. Foreign-born survivors find that accessing and connecting to services is difficult without status and may fear reaching out for help at programs designed to provide basic needs.
As of late, this has been further complicated by conversation at the federal level around the idea of ‘public charge’ and who might be determined to be one (T-visa and U-visa holders remain exempt from this consideration) if they receive support from the government. While the exemption for T and U visa holders still applies, it is a confusing and often scary landscape to navigate for anyone without status. The extension of the VTTC program undoubtedly allows for survivors to access these benefits as they apply for legal relief, but doesn’t entirely placate the fears about what it means for folks to be in the system as they receive this support and continue to await their visas.
Assistance on Applications
At STOP-IT, case managers can assist with applications to the VTTC Program. The application is extensive, but case managers are happy to walk participants through what they are applying for and what information to provide. In addition to the application, STOP-IT case managers write a declaration of confirmation for the survivor stating the individual was a victim of human trafficking under the federal law and is in process of filing for their T-Visa. Case Managers also can assist participants to write a survivor statement that declares participant confirmation in the STOP-IT program and that they are in need of assistance. It has been extremely beneficial that IL DHS is a member agency of The Cook County Human Trafficking Task Force because STOP-IT case managers can advocate for movement (with participant’s permission) on applications and troubleshoot any delaying factors with partners that know our program and the impact this law can have on the stability of a survivor’s life in the short term.
Impact and Importance to the STOP-IT Program
As an anti-trafficking organization, we see the obstacles and barriers participants must work through to achieve stability. Being granted medical care, food benefits, and cash assistance helps survivors focus on other areas of their life that may take a back seat when worrying about basic needs. Through medical care, survivors can seek ongoing therapy services and receive check-ups in dental, primary care, and eye care services. Food assistance allows survivors to not worry about how they will find their next meal and cash assistance gives survivors the chance to provide for their families. STOP-IT has recognized that access to these services provides hope and motivation for survivors to rebuild a life they choose.
From everyone at STOP-IT, thank you to Heartland Alliance’s Policy and Advocacy team for fighting for human trafficking survivors’ rights and the successful renewal of the VTTC Program. Click here to learn more about the efforts of Heartland Alliance in Springfield and their successes in legislation for other human rights.