The Road Ahead: How We’re Imagining Covid Recovery

While the pandemic has left no one untouched, it also put a spotlight on the alarming disparities that have always existed throughout our country. As we look toward recovery, this pivotal moment demands an equity-forward response. At United Way, this is the framework that will guide us as we move forward in reimagining and rebuilding a more resilient community for all. 

Housing & Eviction Prevention 

Living in one of the most expensive housing markets in the country, too many families need every hour they can work to pay rent. The loss of income during the COVID pandemic has been devastating – especially for families and individuals whose housing was precarious before last March. While state and federal moratoriums on evictions and foreclosures provided temporary protection, the bills have continued to pile up. United Way partners continue to work tirelessly to support families, connecting them to rental assistance and, for those who don’t qualify for public help, making private assistance available. Throughout the crisis, United Way staff convened local coalitions of service providers and community leaders, fostering collaboration on the most pressing housing concerns.  

“As we met with housing providers during the worst months of the pandemic, we heard countless stories of residents facing housing discrimination. While we worked through these concerns together on a case-by-case basis, it’s time to solve for this systemically.” 

So far:

  • United Way’s COVID-19 Family Support Fund provided rental and utility assistance to 5,600 households and direct financial assistance to nearly 11,000 households. 
  • United Way’s 2-1-1 call centers became the state’s designated hotline to connect residents to rental assistance and other housing supports – receiving over 224,000 calls for assistance. 
  • United Way’s advocates raised their voices in favor of expanding tenants’ rights to legal counsel, extending pandemic-related eviction protections, and strengthening the MA Eviction Diversion Initiative. We continue to fight for the consumer protections residents need as we emerge from the pandemic.  

The road ahead 

Housing justice has remained a top priority throughout the duration of this crisis. The pandemic has illustrated all too clearly why safe, affordable, and permanent housing is essential to a community’s resilience. To that end, United Way has doubled down on our commitment to make sure all residents have housing. It’s time to invest in innovative solutions, driven by those with lived experience, and ensure that these resources are accessible to everyone facing housing insecurity.  

Immigrant Families & Gateway Cities 

The economic and health impacts of COVID-19 have hit BIPOC communities disproportionately harder than the rest of our region. Moreover, immigrant households were particularly hit – overrepresented in front-line work and segregated in the tightest housing markets. One of United Way’s partners, Agencia Alpha, reported 80% of their financial assistance recipients either had COVID-19 or had an immediate family member who had it. Unemployment hit harder too, spiking in the City of Lawrence to 33% in July of 2020. 

“As United Way responded in real time, we were honored to have the partnership of many grassroots organizations representing our region’s diverse immigrant communities.  68% of United Way’s relief dollars were distributed by immigrant-serving organizations or in Massachusetts’ Gateway Cities.” 

So far: 

The Road Ahead 

Advocacy is needed to ensure that the social safety net works to support and uplift all who live in our diverse communities. The region’s recovery agenda must be guided and led by individuals most directly impacted by racial and economic injustice. By centering their voices and leadership, we can design a more effective and equitable system of public services. 

Childcare and Afterschool 

In a state with exceedingly high levels of income inequality, working families struggle to access affordable, reliable childcare. Childcare businesses – often owned by Black, Latinx, and immigrant women – have faced considerable hurdles during pandemic, navigating rapidly changing health regulations, unpredictable enrollment, and financial instability.  In fact, across Massachusetts, more than 300 family childcare businesses have already closed their doors for good. Families report consistently that the loss of childcare and the pressure to support remote learning during the pandemic was incredibly challenging. To compound this, remote learning has exposed the deep inequities that too many students face in access to technology and learning materials. Our partners raced to address these issues and numerous others – delivering literacy bags, fine motor kits, and Chrome books; covering Internet bills or purchasing Wi-Fi hot-spots; and offering a range of supports online. Afterschool and out-of-school time providers moved mountains to stay open, providing a safe space for young people to learn and giving parents and caregivers the opportunity to return to work. 

So far: 

  • United Way funded 27 afterschool programs to support the distribution of meals to families learning from home and 111 family childcare businesses providing care to economically vulnerable families.  
  • United Way provided vital business training and supports to childcare providers facing economic instability related to the pandemic, negotiated discounted rates for PPE and supplies, and helped establish alternative learning arrangements for virtual students.  
  • United Way is partnering with the Department of Early Education and Care on Summer Step Up, administering $10M in funding to expand and enhance summer programming for young learners in approximately 40 school districts. Some of these young children in pre-K through grade 2 will be entering school for the first time this fall and have had little access to in-person learning due to COVID. 

The Road Ahead 

We have yet to understand the full, long-term impact of COVID-19 on young people’s social-emotional and academic development. The immediate effects of disrupted learning and trauma are already evident, and we need to harness the power of wraparound supports and community–based providers and make them available at the scale they are needed. Moreover, the past year has underscored the critical need to ensure that students of color have access to quality early education and out-of-school time opportunities. 

Food & Income Support 

In March 2020, the food insecurity landscape changed overnight. When schools and businesses closed, the channels of where and how people got food also changed. That is just one reason that Massachusetts saw the highest increase in new residents facing food insecurity in the nation during 2020. At the peak of the pandemic, more than 1 million families throughout our state didn’t have enough food, and 1 in 5 children in Massachusetts are now living in a food-insecure household. Reduced hours and loss of supplemental income coupled with changes in where and how people access food have resulted in unprecedented demand for food and financial supports.  

“Where United Way was able to provide the maximum flexibility with its financial assistance – such as the One Chelsea Fund or Chelsea Eats – we saw time and time again that families spent that support on food. That tells us that the need for food and capacity to address issues of food security at the community level are widespread.”

So far:

  • United Way’s union leaders held 33 food drives in cities across our region, donating 172,000 pounds of food in total.  
  • United Way granted $1.7M to food assistance programs, including funding that allowed programs to source culturally appropriate food from local restaurants and bodegas. 
  • United Way partnered with the City of Chelsea and the Shah Family Foundation on Chelsea Eats, a first-of-its-kind guaranteed income pilot program providing monthly debit cards to 2,000 Chelsea households.  
  • United Way granted $4M in flexible, direct relief to individuals who were working with a case manager, financial or career coach already helping them reach their goals to build assets, manage debt, and navigate career training and re-training opportunities.  

The Road Ahead 

This crisis made clear that our food system is in dire need of continued innovation to prepare for future crises, address supply-chain issues, and increase culturally appropriate options. Furthermore, more flexible financial supports are needed to empower families and individuals to cover their essential needs. No logistical challenge should ever stand in the way of people having enough healthy food to eat. The Chelsea Eats program is a great example of the type of leadership that is deepening resilience and moving our communities forward. 

Help us chart the path 

We want your feedback! United Way has launched an internal strategic planning process for our Community Impact work that examines need and draws insight from our community. We want to hear from you! Help us shape our impact by completing this short survey about your experience with the United Way.