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Building Stronger Communities: United Way Public Policy Agenda

United Way Worldwide

In rural areas, towns and cities nationwide, local United Ways assess the needs of their communities and work to meet them through strategic investments, partnerships, and direct services. This work on the ground enables United Ways to gather accurate, detailed knowledge about local human needs – information that is vital for policy-makers at all levels of government.

As the largest non-government funder of human services in the United States, the United Way movement directs several billion dollars and hundreds of thousands of volunteer hours each year towards creating long-lasting community change. While our impact is vast, United Way recognizes that government spending in our primary areas of work totals in the hundreds of billions of dollars.

United Way engages in public policy advocacy because we recognize that it is our civic obligation to use our experience and knowledge to help inform policymakers’ decisions regarding public policy and funding of government human services programs.

United Way is a policy leader in the nonprofit community because we help to craft practical long-term solutions to human needs. We remain non-ideological and nonpartisan in our advocacy, urging lawmakers to set aside partisanship and to work together. United Way uses our convening power, bringing together all of our partners – business, labor, nonprofits, and advocates – to fight for the health, education and financial stability of every person in every community.

United Way Worldwide’s Policy Agenda for the 115th Congress helps fulfill our obligation to assist policy-makers in crafting the best possible governmental policies in the areas of education, financial stability and health, while also tackling important policies that strengthen communities at-large.

A summary of United Way's priorities can be found below, or you can download entire United Way Worldwide’s Policy Agenda for the 115th Congress.



Education is a cornerstone for success in school, work, and life. High school graduates have higher earning potential and contribute more to their local economies, and those who manage to obtain a post-secondary credential increase their earning potential even further. In order to ensure strong communities, it is imperative that all of our nation’s students graduate from high school prepared for post-secondary education or the workforce.


The United Way network is working to improve educational opportunities and quality along the continuum of education, from cradle to career. United Way Worldwide will focus on the following policy priorities for the 115th Congress:

  • Increase access to high quality early care and education opportunities.
  • Support the funding and implementation of elementary and secondary education policies and programs.
  • Expand opportunities for students to obtain a post-secondary credential.


Communities are stronger when every individual and family, regardless of race or socioeconomic status, is financially stable and has the opportunity for economic mobility. Americans are best positioned for economic mobility when they have quality education that leads to good-paying jobs which allow them to access housing and save for the future. For low- and moderate-income Americans, supports like the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit and programs that provide food to children and families are instrumental in helping families cover the basics while encouraging and supporting work.


The United Way network invests in and supports a variety of programs that help workers secure and maintain employment, access tax credits, find stable housing, and build savings and assets for the long-term, including through local and state policy efforts. United Way Worldwide will focus on the following policy priorities for the 115th Congress:

  • Protect and expand the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit.
  • Strengthen job training and workforce development programs.
  • Support policies to improve the nation’s affordable housing options for low- and moderate-income individuals and families.
  • Strengthen child nutrition programs, SNAP and other nutrition-related income supports.


For children to succeed in school and for adults to maintain financial self-sufficiency, they must have affordable, quality healthcare. To address health disparities that still exist, access to care must not be blocked by cultural, linguistic, financial or logistical barriers. As part of the overall continuum of care, health mental and physical development ensures youth are positioned to success in school and adults can lead productive lives.  But due to lack of resources and access to mental health and substance abuse services, many communities across the United States are facing a public health and safety crisis.


At United Way, we believe in a comprehensive, holistic approach to healthcare so all Americans are healthy through every stage of life.  To ensure all Americans
have access to affordable, attainable and quality healthcare coverage United Way Worldwide will focus on the following priorities for the 115th Congress:

  • Expand and improve healthcare coverage with changes to health laws, including critical programs like Medicaid, CHIP and MIECHV
  • Expand access and resources for behavioral health services, especially in addressing the opiate epidemic in local communities.


Although the economic outlook is improving, the recession and drawn-out economic recovery have resulted in significant cuts to federal and state funded human service programs. Many low- and moderate-income families have been left out of the recovery altogether. Middle class workers both support and rely on help from United Way and its nonprofit partners. The need for a robust nonprofit sector and government recognition of the sector’s vital role in our society is now more apparent than ever. Nonprofit organizations provide critical services that contribute to healthy, educated and economically stable communities. Strong nonprofits that are supported and valued by government can address the complex issues facing their communities and spur opportunity for all.


United Way strongly supports policy initiatives that seek to strengthen communities by enhancing the nonprofit sector’s capacity to serve through tax policy, expanding the 2-1-1 system, protecting human rights, and supporting laws and regulations that encourage philanthropy. United Way Worldwide will focus on the following policy priorities for the 115th Congress:

  • Protect and expand charitable giving incentives
  • Strengthen and expand 2-1-1
  • Expand programs that prevent human trafficking, punish offenders and support survivors
  • Advocate for policies and regulations that support nonprofits

United Way of Illinois

United Way of Illinois (UWI) is a statewide association of 52 local organizations that create long-lasting community change by addressing underlying causes of the most significant issues. Common focus areas include helping children and youth achieve their potential, promoting financial stability and family independence, and improving people’s health.

In rural areas, towns and cities across Illinois, local United Ways assess the needs of their communities and work on-the-ground, devising plans to meet local human needs. Through our work, our assessments, and our close ties to community partners and to those we serve, United Ways attain accurate, detailed knowledge about local human needs. This information is a vital tool for policy makers at all levels of government.

United Way brings together stakeholders from all across the community -- government, business, organized labor, nonprofits, and ordinary people to tackle these issues. Together, united, we can inspire hope and create opportunities for a better tomorrow.

UWI recognizes the critical role that state government plays in creating systemic change that can improve people’s lives. United Way engages in public policy advocacy because we recognize that it is our civic obligation to use our experience and knowledge to help inform policy-makers’ decisions regarding policy and funding of critical human service programs.

United Way’s role in public policy is focused on educating elected officials about how health and human service policies affect constituents and advocating for policies and services that promote healthy communities.

By positioning itself as a non-partisan convener, facilitator and coalition builder UWI can bring stakeholders together to listen and create achievable policy solutions to community problems.


United Way of Illinois' public policy agenda reflects the work of United Ways across the state in the areas of education, income and health. Additionally, United Way advocates for sound policies affecting the non-profit sector's capacity to advance the common good. United Way of Illinois has established engagement strategies within each of the following four areas:

EDUCATION: Laying the Foundation for Future Success

United Way advocates for public policies that expand opportunities for children ages 0-5 to enter kindergarten ready to learn and support middle school students in transitioning to high school on-track to graduate.

To ensure children receive a quality education and stay in school through graduation, United Way will:

  • Advocate to make high-quality, affordable, early-learning opportunities available to all children
  • Promote partnerships that support family engagement and community-based involvement to improve student academic achievement
  • Support comprehensive and consistent assessment and measurement standards from Pre-K through high school graduation
  • Help provide supports for the whole family outside the classroom
INCOME: Fostering Strong Communities through Financial Stability

To better prepare individuals and families to be self-sustaining and able to weather financial challenges, United Way is focused on the following strategies to ensure people achieve economic stability: job training and placement, tax assistance, and financial literacy education.

To ensure families and individuals have the resources they need to achieve financial stability, United Way will:

  • Support increased access to work training and support programs
  • Help streamline processes for accessing critical public benefits
  • Strengthen financial literacy programs to help individuals avoid financial hardship and develop lifelong security
HEALTH: Preventing Chronic Disease and Ensuring Access to Care

United Way believes that a healthy population can only be realized through consistent access to healthcare services, preventative practices, and health-focused lifestyle choices.

To ensure families and individuals are able to live healthier lives, United Way will:

  • Support access to healthcare by connecting people to affordable, comprehensive health services
  • Combat preventable chronic disease through the promotion of strategies that support wellness and healthy lifestyles
COMMUNITY STRENGTHENING: Building Capacity to Advance the Common Good

We have a shared responsibility to promote the common good by ensuring the state has a well-managed and resourced network of community services that protect and invest in our state's most vital resource: Our People.

To do this, United Way will:

  • Advocate for a state budget that adequately funds strategic investments in Illinois' health and human services
  • Promote fair, efficient and transparent contracting practices between service providers and government funders
  • Support efforts to reduce unnecessary state administrative burdens on human service providers and their programs
  • Enhance community resources that ensure a seamless infrastructure of health and human service support for those in need

View United Way of Illinois' 2016 Annual Report.

Join United Way in advancing the common good by advocating for issues important to you and your community!