Between July 20 – 28, 2021, our United Way Public Policy Committee hosted a series of five meetings organized around our areas of work – Health, Financial Stability, Veterans, Early Learning and Youth. Over 150 volunteers, partners, staff and other community stakeholders participated and heard from 22 Impact Partners and our own signature programs – MISSION UNITED, the Center for Financial Stability, the Center for Excellence in Early Education and the Youth Institute – and listened to some of the challenges they and their clients experience. Participants worked in small groups to identify barriers to success in our community and propose some solutions.
Some of the challenges raised have been exacerbated by the COVID pandemic but are long-fought areas of concern, like access to affordable housing and living wage jobs.
Many agencies raised concerns related to the upcoming increase to the minimum wage. Many programs are directly funded by the state and receive reimbursement for the services they provide. If their contracted reimbursement rate does not increase along with the minimum wage increase, many would not be able continue operations. These programs provide services like in-home health care, therapy for developmentally disabled children and adults, and child care. How can agencies whose staff need specialized training pay a competitive wage when low-skill jobs are paying a similar wage?
Of equal concern is the impact on the financial stability of agencies clients and staff, many of whom receive benefits that low wage workers rely on to make ends meet. When a worker’s wage increases and eliminates them from eligibility for a program it is called a benefits cliff. Benefits cliffs have been a long-time concern of United Way but the upcoming increase to the minimum wage has broadened the scope from individual families to the entire population that makes a wage below $15 per hour. The questions remain – at what wage will a family’s benefits be impacted when their wages increase? In what ways can government and nonprofit agencies help to support increased wages and eliminate the benefits cliff?
The session on Veterans included testimonials from several agencies that support MISSION UNITED’s clients, and a Family Readiness staff in the South Florida area as well as a US Army Veteran. A significant area of concern is the need for transition services to begin earlier in a soldier’s career – planning for their next job, how to manage finances and how to engage in a civilian world with little to no structure or supports. Some of the solutions included building pathways for veterans to move easily into a job with a similar skillset as their role within the military. And while programs like this exist, few service members take advantage and there are significant barriers like licensing and certification exams which can be costly. Additional recommendations included housing solutions, like a Veteran’s Village for homeless Veterans. In what ways can we provide more support for service members transitioning into civilian life?
Early Learning, often heralded as our nation’s best bet for increasing educational outcomes and reducing poverty, is at a tipping point. With literally billions of dollars (650k CRRSA + 2.4B ARPA) coming to Florida in the last year, agencies are still waiting to hear what the plan will be for the ARPA funds. Early Head Start (EHS) and Head Start (HS) programs received small allocations from the Office of Head Start from these same federal Acts, but few programs serve only EHS or HS children. Most programs use what is known as a blended or braided funding model – where classrooms have children from various funding streams – School Readiness (state subsidized child care), Voluntary Prekindergarten or VPK (state funded PreK for 3 hours/day for 4-year-olds), Head Start and private pay. Yet these programs who have blended programs were deemed ineligible for earlier rounds of Federal assistance. With increased flexibility in work structures, and many families unable to find adequate paying jobs, many private pay families did not enroll for the 2020-2021 school year, significantly reducing the overall budget for centers.
The session on Youth highlighted the need for increased support for programs that serve youth during out of school time – after school programs and enrichment activities – and their staff in direct services roles. There is a perpetual lack of adequate funding in order to meet the needs of children in the community – and they asked for support for funding that is longer term in order to increase stability in programs and communities. Programs that have been historically based in school buildings have had to pivot over the past year – and they’re uncertain about whether they will be allowed back into the building in the next school year. The huge shift toward online learning deepened the need for students to have access to broadband and devices that work reliably for each child in the household. Finally, child welfare programs have seen a significant decline in referrals from schools and programs because children are not attending programs in person. They fear COVID has not only impacted children’s learning trajectory, but more critically their physical and mental health related to unreported abuse and neglect.
The overwhelming feedback from the agencies themselves was how pleased they were to have an opportunity to collaborate and hear about the good work the other agencies are doing. They have a desire to use their voices collectively to work on some of these systemic issues. Attendees were able to see similar concerns presented and began to form ideas of how to support the agencies in the future.
While a first of their kind, these Roundtables will likely become a mainstay of our policy work – providing a chance for the volunteers and staff who make decisions about what we fund in the community, and what we advocate for in Tallahassee and Washington D.C., to hear for themselves the great work being done in our community and opportunities to break down barriers to success for our neighbors.
If you weren’t able to join us, please take an opportunity to view the recordings and let us know what you heard. Your voice matters.
United Way Center for Financial Stability
The Advocacy Network
Cuban American National Council, Inc. (dba CNC)
YWCA South Florida
Goodwill (submitted notes)
United Way Miami Mission United
Janette Chandler, Family Readiness Assistant for the 81st Readiness Division
United Way Center for Financial Stability
Legal Services of Greater Miami
Travis Dozier, US Army Veteran
YWCA of South Florida
United Way Center for Excellence in Early Education
Redlands Christian Migrant Association
Parent Ambassador, CFE
The ARC of South Florida
United Way Miami Youth Institute
Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Miami
Family Resource Center of South Florida
Girl Scouts of Tropical Florida
YWCA of South Florida