BOSTON — With an infusion of $5.3 billion in direct aid from the American Rescue Plan Act, Massachusetts has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to invest in communities and address systemic inequities in the social safety net. The most pressing challenges affecting families – including housing affordability, economic stability, and access to childcare and learning opportunities – are deeply connected and interdependent.
At a public hearing held today by the House and Senate Ways and Means Committees and the House Committee on Federal Stimulus and Census Oversight, United Way urged the Commonwealth to prioritize American Rescue Plan Act funding for the following pillars of an equitable recovery:
- Despite early infusion of federal relief at the start of the pandemic, we have heard consistently from our nonprofit partners that they lack the operational capacity to administer government contracts and re-direct already strained budgets towards more community outreach and case management. Without an immediate financial backstop from the state’s ARPA funding, nonprofits across the region and the people we serve will face a precipitous decline in services at a time when they are needed more than ever. United Way is requesting $10M per year over four years for a nonprofit fund that provides unrestricted operating dollars to our sector. During the pandemic, nonprofits have been keeping millions of residents healthy, housed, and fed, but we cannot sustain this work through private donations alone.
- Early education is essential infrastructure for a healthy economy, and there can be no equitable recovery without a sizable, intentional investment in the early childhood sector. Over the past decade, the childcare supply in Massachusetts has shrunk while the number of children needing care, especially in low-income areas, has grown steadily. Driving this crisis is the lack of childcare staff to keep classrooms open and a systemic underinvestment in family childcare (FCC) entrepreneurs, who are primarily Black, Latinx, and immigrant women. Without a strategy to stabilize the workforce and expand small business supports for the sector, this instability will continue to slow our region’s recovery from COVID-19. United Way is requesting a $1M investment in Shared Services MA to provide business training for 200 additional early educators.Additionally, due to lower rates of in-person learning last year, early educators are also now reporting a rise in students with undiagnosed developmental delays and behavioral health challenges. United Way is requesting a $1M investment in our proven DRIVE initiative to screen 1,200 children and connect them to the referrals they may need.
- With the state’s ARPA funds, we have a unique window to strengthen the coordination and delivery of supportive services that empower families and individuals to exit streets, doubled-up housing, and emergency shelter. Supportive housing is a highly effective, cost-efficient strategy that combines affordable housing with intensive, coordinated services designed to help people with substance use disorders and/or chronic physical and behavioral health issues maintain stable housing for the long term. Further, children with unstable housing are twice as likely to repeat a grade, and at a 52% higher risk for developmental delays. United Way urges lawmakers to prioritize $300M to expand supportive housing for adults, youth, and families experiencing homelessness.
- The Earned Income Tax Credit is a proven strategy to help alleviate economic hardship for low-income households. United Way supports increasing the state’s EITC match to 50 percent, and expanding eligibility to immigrants filing taxes with Individual Tax Identification Numbers. This investment would provide more than 375,000 households across every city and town in the Commonwealth with additional income to support their local economy and cover their essential needs.
- Finally, young people have experienced increased isolation, stress, and anxiety during the pandemic. As the largest funder of out-of-school time programs in the region, United Way deeply understands the role that community-based organizations play in supporting young people before and after school, during the summer months, and all year round. United Way is urging the Commonwealth to allocate $10M to support afterschool providers that have lost income during the pandemic, and $10M to recruit and embed diverse mental health professionals in community-based organizations statewide.
“We applaud you for rising to this moment and considering transformative investments that will reimagine the safety net and uplift communities of color,” said Daphne Principe-Griffin, Chief of Staff at United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley. “History will judge us not if we are too bold and ambitious, but rather, if we remain complacent or think too small. Together, we can take bold action to address systemic disparities and advance an equitable recovery.”