How Nonprofits Are Sparking Statewide Change

Over a third of early educators in Massachusetts rely on public assistance to make ends meet.  These preschool teachers, family child care providers, and infant/toddler caregivers are teaching the state’s youngest and often most vulnerable children at a critical stage of their development. The pressure they experience has a real impact — the teacher turnover rate is more than 30 percent. Massachusetts already has the second-highest child care costs in the country.  

Solving the Commonwealth’s early education workforce crisis won’t be easy. It will require policy change and new, significant resources–more than any one organization can raise on its own. That’s why nonprofit organizations are turning to public policy and advocacy to make the case to the Massachusetts Legislature and the Governor to create change statewide.

“We need to hear how this impacts you and your families,” said Senator Michael Moore as he addressed hundreds of early education professionals who turned out for Advocacy Day 2020 at the Massachusetts State House last week. “We need to hear from you.”

In response, hundreds of early education professionals visited their legislators to share personal stories and information legislators need to hear from their constituents. They advocated for ways to increase the quality and availability of care, including investments to help more educators earn a living wage, reduce turnover, and attract educators who have bachelor’s degrees to the workforce.

“This issue transcends districts,” added State Senator Sal DiDomenico. “This issue transcends zip codes. You are there for our families every day, and we should be there for your families.”

Whether seeking solutions in education, housing, and homelessness, or issues that impact the nonprofit sector such as tax policy, United Way and its partner agencies are looking to help as many people as possible by working toward solutions that would impact them on a statewide scale.

Advocacy in Action 

Advocacy is a powerful tool for changing lives and improving communities. These efforts can be aimed at policy changes that are big or small. Advocacy can look like helping your mayor, state representative, or state senator better understand an issue that impacts their constituents. Or, it can be urging them to prioritize and expand programs that are effective. It can be urging congressmen to invest more in education, housing, or strengthening the safety net for children, families, and individuals to rely on. It can be mobilizing family, friends, and colleagues to speak out on a critical cause, in person or online.

“Nonprofits are a force for good in Massachusetts: over 551,000 people employed by nonprofits educate us, keep us healthy, and steward our cultural and environmental treasures,” says Jim Klocke, Chief Executive Officer at the Massachusetts Nonprofit Network. “Nonprofits that engage in smart and strategic advocacy involve public officials in ways that amplify their important missions and make their communities stronger.”  

Lindsay Torrico is Senior Director for Policy and Advocacy at United Way Worldwide.  She says, “Advocating allows the United Way to help more people through our community impact programs and improve the lives of millions of people. Because government is a critical decision-maker and the major provider and funder of health and human services, United Way must actively engage in public policy to ensure existing resources are deployed most effectively. We advocate for common-sense long-term solutions and build consensus with policymakers on the national, state and local levels.”

Creating change

In Massachusetts, United Way advocates for legislation and policies directly and through our network of our community-based partner organizations.  This allows us to achieve greater community impact for our priorities of supporting young children, preparing youth for success, ending homelessness and moving families out of poverty. We also work to raise awareness of innovative programs and the results they are achieving as evidence of strategies that are working and which policymakers should bring to scale statewide to help more people.

For example, our Boston Builds Credit initiative is leveraging credit building as an important and underutilized tool for addressing income inequality and opening doors to build assets, reduce expenses and pursue financial goals.  To complement this work, United Way is pressing for passage of legislation this spring sponsored by Senator Jamie Eldridge that would help create upward economic mobility for individuals and families by allowing for credit building through reporting of on-time rent payments.  All residents participating in a pilot program who initially had no credit score had either a high non-prime or prime score with the inclusion of their rental payment history.

During the upcoming budget season, we will advocate for increased funding for permanent supportive housing for people across Massachusetts who are experiencing chronic homelessness, reducing costly utilization of emergency and acute care.  This builds off the success of United Way’s innovative Pay for Success partnership with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance, which has housed over 970 individuals to date, saving the state millions of dollars and redirecting public investments in permanent supportive housing opportunities.

United Way also provides funding to 16 community-based partner organizations to support their work directly engaging with legislators and policymakers and mobilizing the community to join them in advocating for these changes. Last year, these partners increased resources and awareness for issues such as summer learning (Boston After School and Beyond), transportation for individuals with disabilities (Boston Center for Independent Living), rental housing vouchers (Homes for Families), and access to early education for homeless children (Horizons for Homeless Children).

To get involved and help United Way advocate for policies that will strengthen families and communities, sign up for our Advocacy Alerts and join us in reaching out to legislators this budget season and through the end of the 2019-2020 legislative session!