Image Copyright United Way 2021
Nonprofit Sector News
April 9, 2021
United Way Worldwide has been serving its mission of improving lives by mobilizing the power of communities to advance the common good since 1887. This year, their mission in providing accessible healthcare for all shifted to focusing on COVID-19 recovery.
United Way Worldwide, for its 2022 agenda, is hoping to focus on rebuilding rather than recovery.
“And we are continuing to move forward with that with the new Biden administration,” said Dave Wallace, health policy director for United Way Worldwide. “And we’ve, you know, focused on a number of issues that will, one will just will help the nonprofit sector at large with the charitable deduction and a PPP program to include the nonprofit sector, but also helping families specifically that are impacted not only by the pandemic, but the economic crisis that ensued because of it.”
Usually, when it comes to advocacy work in health, United Way Worldwide creates an agenda that covers a two-year term of Congress. He said that, for 2021, the organization decided to set a one-year agenda instead.
“And then refreshing the agenda for 2022. So 2021, we’re really focusing and drilling down on COVID recovery. Whereas next year, we’re hoping…we could focus more on rebuilding,” Wallace said. “So specific to healthcare and in our past versions of our health policy, federal policy priorities, it’s always been focused on expanding access to affordable health care, and ensuring that health care coverage is accessible, affordable and adequate.”
United Way not only focuses its lobbying on healthcare, but education and financial stability as well. He said that United Way has been actively engaged in supporting the Families First Coronavirus Response Act: Employee Paid Leave Rights and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES).
Wallace said the largest change that United Way made in its health care policy priorities has been addressing the impacts COVID-19 had on communities of color.
“We know that deep inequities have always existed in access and affordability of healthcare, and in health outcomes. And and so COVID hasn’t just amplified that and made it worse. And so we are being much more specific and deliberate in making sure that that expanding access to health care, increasing access to Medicaid, protecting Medicaid, and is reaching communities that are hardest hit by the pandemic,” Wallace said. “COVID has really changed the lens and how we are seeing health inequities and how we’re trying to address those by the ACA and Medicaid and making them more affordable and more accessible.”
Wallace said that United Way’s advocacy work for the 2021 year is pushing for a larger Medicaid program and protecting the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
According to its website, “Medicaid provides health coverage to millions of Americans, including eligible low-income adults, children, pregnant women, elderly adults and people with disabilities. Medicaid is administered by states, according to federal requirements. The program is funded jointly by states and the federal government.”
With Medicaid, United Way is working to expand access to it especially in states that have yet to. Wallace explained that Medicaid is a federal-state ownership, meaning that states fund these programs and then the federal government matches them, usually with a 70-90% match. Many states, however, saw a fall in tax revenue when COVID-19 created an economic crisis. (Many other states saw little difference and a few had increases.)
“COVID has had a dramatic impact on people’s access to health care. First is because of job loss, people have lost their employer based coverage. So they’re having to turn to Medicaid to find health care and affordable health care,” Wallace said. “So we’re seeing this vast increase in the amount of people trying to enroll in Medicaid.”
He said that increasing the federal tax rate became the United Way’s main priority in 2020.
The ACA, usually referred to as “Obamacare,” is a health care reform law that went into effect in March of 2010. People who are eligible can enroll as long as they meet a set deadline in the fall. Wallace said that in circumstances where people lose their jobs, losing their health insurance, there is an extended enrollment period outside of the annual deadline.
“What we’re trying to do now with the pandemic is expand that special enrollment period so that somebody who’s uninsured, regardless of the stark circumstances, can enroll in an ACA plan at any time during that extended special enrollment period. So we’re seeking the federal government to open up and expand the enrollment period for the ACA. And to put in place more funding that will increase the tax subsidies that are part of that. So plans will be more affordable,” Wallace said.
Wallace explained that the way United Way’s lobby is that United Way Worldwide provides tools and resources for the nearly 1,800 local United Way units across the country to use in advocating with their own members of Congress and districts. Federally, Wallace said that all United Ways advocate for the same thing.
In Tennessee, Mary Graham, President and CEO of United Ways of Tennessee, said that her organization works with United Way Worldwide to speak with their state’s congressional delegation in Washington. “And we get a lot of policy done in partnership where we can with the governor’s office and state agencies too. It’s not all legislative—sometimes it’s just about the implementation and the practical, how things play out that we work on that and and we do try to support our members as they work on local politics.”
Graham pointed out, “All of my members have relationships with their mayors, city and county mayors and are working with them on local policies and we support them in that wherever we can.”
She said her United Ways of Tennessee’s main focus right now is allocating unspent Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) to help low-income families and customizing their work to meet the needs of their communities.
United Way also has a free and confidential service called 211 that helps people find local resources across North America, 24/7. It is a helpline as well as website that anyone can turn to for any assistance and support.
Southerlyn Reisig, director of media and public relations for United Way Worldwide, said Wallace and his team uses 211 to accurately assess needs that people have. Call rates increased significantly since March 2020, in some places by 400%, she said.
Reisig said so many calls into 211 are allowing data collection that informs the group about needs. During the pandemic and job losses, a lot of calls have been about mental health needs, other healthcare and access to food.