Care About Policy Change? So Do We
Did you know United Way does public policy work? That’s right. We have people. In Olympia.
Why? Because what happens in politics doesn’t stay in politics. It affects our daily work: building a community where people have homes, students graduate and families are financially stable.
We recently sat down with United Way’s Associate Director of Planning and Public Policy Colleen Laing for a little Public Policy 101.
Q. Public policy work? Um, a-what?
A. I’ll start with the basics. We at United Way of King County meet with local and state elected officials. We meet with members of Congress. We meet with state legislators from King County during and outside legislative sessions. (No idea who your legislators are? Here’s the finder.)
We also have a contract lobbyist, Nick Federici, who works full-time in Olympia and works on our behalf part of that time. He knows this stuff in and out and specializes in homelessness and housing legislation.
A fair amount of my time is with coalitions of advocacy groups. Did you know there’s a coalition of early learning advocates? And another for youth homelessness? These groups meet with legislators and lobbyists and learn from each other about the latest work. By participating in these groups, we can cover more ground. We can’t do this work alone.
“Legislators love to hear from constituents, especially in person. When you come with us to those meetings, you open doors and amplify our voice on behalf of those we serve.”
So much of the action in Olympia is in meetings. Shocking, right? So talking to people who’ve been in the meetings is incredibly useful. It’s all about the intel.
Q. Why does United Way work on policy in the first place?
A. We engage in policy change, despite its manifold opportunities to stick our foot in something, because public policies define the environment in which we operate. A couple examples:
- When tax policy changes, our EITC-based Free Tax Prep Campaign changes.
- When benefit levels change for SNAP or school meals, our Fuel Your Future program is impacted.
How could we not take action in those discussions? They directly affect people in need in our Seattle and Puget Sound area!
Q. Any advocacy groups for people of color? This is Seattle, after all.
A. You bet. There’s a group of lobbyists of color that tracks and analyzes legislation that impacts communities of color. They share that analysis with participants, including United Way. This is so important for our diverse community.
Q. Who decides what United Way pushes for/against when it comes to policy change?
A. Great question! We have a Public Policy Impact Council (PPIC) made up of donors, volunteers and community leaders who are experts and passionate about policy change. The PPIC advises us on our state and federal legislative agendas. Our agenda is basically our list of goals for that legislative session.
In the period between legislative sessions in Olympia, items for our state agenda are added to a list of prospects. Then our interns and I research them. And research them some more. Then the PPIC reviews it with these questions in mind, among others:
- Does it align with what we do?
- Is it likely to raise significant objections from key United Way partners?
- How will it impact communities of color?
The list gets narrowed to about 10 items. Then it’s reviewed, revised and approved by our board of directors.
Then the real fun begins: We get pushy and go out advocating for change specifically on those 10 items. Here’s how we fared last year, for some context.
Q. Say I’m super into politics, campaigning, etc. How can I help United Way?
A. Whether you’re recently activated by news or campaign results or a long-time insider, we could use your help. You don’t need to be an expert—just bring your passion!
Come to Lobby Day in Olympia Feb. 23, 2017. You’ll meet with legislators from your home and/or work districts and talk to them about United Way’s legislative agenda. We’ll set up the meetings, provide carpooling opportunities, give you training and materials to share with legislators you meet with. You’ll hear remarks from lobbyists and legislators, see our network in action, and have an exciting day being in the thick of things. Email me to sign up!