Our Communities Can’t Wait
The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have been devastating to vulnerable individuals and families. At the height of the crisis, the state unemployment rate skyrocketed from 2.4% to as high as 32.6% in hard-hit Gateway Cities, and new estimates show as many as 250,000 workers will never return to their pre-pandemic jobs.
Since the onset of the crisis in March of 2020, United Way Covid-19 relief funds have provided emergency financial assistance to more than 317,000 people through 189 organizations to help pay for food, rent/housing, utilities, and other essential needs. Over 52% of those served were receiving assistance for the first time.
It’s going to take much more than emergency financial assistance to help families and communities recover and rebuild.
Looking ahead, we know that together, we will overcome this public health and economic crisis. We’ve identified five key areas where community-based organizations, state and municipal leaders, corporations and philanthropy must partner now to address immediate, urgent needs of families and foster resilient, thriving communities:
- Promote economic justice and stability. Countless workers in our region remain underemployed with reduced hours and are struggling to make ends meet. We must develop new career pathway programs aligned with industry growth to provide households with more resilient employment and foster financial wellbeing by providing emergency assistance and financial coaching.
- Reimagine the safety net: The crisis compelled us to look at innovative new approaches to community-wide, sustainable food relief. In partnership with the Shah Foundation, City of Chelsea and Massachusetts General Hospital, United Way is piloting a new way to provide flexible resources to people in need, and we are gaining new research insights from this innovative approach that can be used to re-imagine the safety net in other communities.
- Respond to the growing eviction crisis. Now is the moment to take coordinated and comprehensive action to ensure state and federal resources are leveraged effectively and equitably. Even with the surge of recent rental assistance, the expiration of the federal eviction moratorium could result in widespread displacement and surging rates of homelessness. We must prioritize and expand legal representation, consumer protections, and remove barriers to assistance programs so that families can access these resources immediately.
- Create deeply affordable housing and expand supportive services. We must work with state officials and our Commonwealth’s network of providers now to create a plan for housing the individuals and families that were forced to leave shelters and stay in hotels and motels because of public health safety measures. Long term, we must build public will to create a comprehensive plan to close the statewide gap of 160,000 units needed to provide supportive housing for all.
- Increase access to early education. The early education sector, which is core to the healthy development of children and to getting caregivers back to work, is in a perilous situation. We must expand access to high-quality early education for young children and provide business training and support to family childcare providers – an often-overlooked minority and women-led workforce – to ensure sustainability and prevent even more closures.
Our communities can’t wait. The Covid-19 crisis has illuminated and widened existing cracks in our human services safety net and education system like no other point in time in our history. But it is also a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reimagine how we meet the needs of our most vulnerable residents now, in ways that empower our communities to emerge stronger, more equitable and more prepared for the future.