By Kristen Rosenberger, Director of Advocacy and External Engagement
Advocacy is one of the ways Greater Twin Cities United Way works to create lasting change in our region toward our vision of a community where all people thrive regardless of income, race or place. We are uniquely positioned to inform policy and funding decisions to support immediate needs and systemic change, by amplifying community voices, educating leaders on issues and opportunities, and developing solutions in partnership with the public, private and nonprofit sectors.
This year’s Minnesota legislative session was unlike any other, as the state grappled with the COVID-19 pandemic, calls for racial justice and the impacts both have on Minnesotans and the economy. United Way led the charge on urging legislators to act decisively on housing stability and homelessness prevention; investments in early childhood education and access to quality child care; and the creation of a nonprofit recovery fund to direct relief funds into communities – all while endorsing and supporting other important issues.
Here is a quick rundown on the progress we made regarding our 2021 advocacy agenda.
Issues we led
Housing stability and homelessness prevention
We know that housing stability and eviction reform are homelessness prevention. That’s why we strongly advocated for emergency rental assistance for Minnesotans experiencing financial hardships during the pandemic, as well as a reasonable off-ramp to the eviction moratorium and long-term eviction reforms.
Lawmakers agreed on a new emergency rental assistance program, RentHelpMN, which is accepting and processing applications to cover unpaid rent and utilities. Our 211 resource helpline is providing guidance and support to callers interested in the program, which has received 6,000 calls each week since its launch.
Additionally, a 15-week phase-out of the eviction moratorium was adopted. Most importantly, the agreement will require a 15-day pre-eviction notice during the off-ramp period, and the provision that any tenant eligible for assistance with a pending COVID-19 rent assistance application cannot be evicted through June 1, 2022.
Access to quality early childhood care
We were highly vocal on behalf of our littlest Minnesotans, advocating to expand access to quality early childhood care and learning opportunities for families across the state and to support our already struggling network of child care providers.
We were successful in achieving a long-sought increase in funding for Minnesota’s Child Care Assistance Program, primarily for its reimbursements to child care providers for low-income families. This increase will allow more families to access the program – which already serves roughly 30,000 children each month – while providing much-needed stabilization for providers.
Nonprofit resiliency and recovery relief fund
COVID-19 has dramatically increased the need for local services from Minnesota’s nonprofits. Yet the very programs and infrastructure that strengthen community wellness and economic vitality for people across Minnesota are struggling to stay afloat.
We advocated for the allocation of $50 million in federal emergency relief funds to support Minnesota’s nonprofit sector, so they can maintain their ability to address current needs and improve recovery outcomes for communities. While we have yet to secure this funding, we continue to work with state leadership and our nonprofit partners to make it happen.
Wins on issues we led:
- $101.8 million over three years to increase child care subsidies for low-income families
- $300+ million in monthly grants to help stabilize child care providers and their programs
- $518 million for emergency rent assistance via RentHelpMN, benefitting 50,000 families
- A fair and thoughtful off-ramp from the eviction moratorium, including a 15-day pre-eviction notice during the off-ramp and a provision forbidding the eviction of any eligible tenant who has applied for COVID-19 rental assistance through June 1 of next year
Issues we supported and endorsed
We also supported several issues in collaboration with our partners around early care and afterschool programming, workforce development and improved access to healthy meals. This included a push for changes to policy language around home visiting to be more inclusive of nonprofits, as well as a call for increased funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to support families hardest hit by the pandemic.
We also supported legislation that would provide additional funding for afterschool programs specifically for organizations led by and serving Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian and People of Color, as we know that a disproportionate number of Families of Color were negatively impacted during COVID-19 and saw the greatest loss of community resources and support.
Wins on issues we supported or endorsed:
- $4.5 million in new, one-time funds for home visiting for young children, as well as policy changes to allow more nonprofits to receive funding and increase access for families
- $13.2 million in funding to support afterschool programs across the state, 50% of which is designated for organizations serving Communities of Color
- An emergency 15% increase and extension of the maximum SNAP benefits for Minnesota families to access healthy and nutritious foods
- $14 million in maintained Pathways to Prosperity grants to support workforce development and training
We are incredibly grateful to our nonprofit partners, coalition organizers, friends and supporters who helped us spread the word about these issues and fuel lasting change for our communities. We are also immensely thankful for the hard work of legislators across the state who worked tirelessly amidst many unknowns to pass important legislation that supports an equitable recovery and vibrant communities across Minnesota.