For the past three years, our United Way has been preparing for this moment. The moment when the thinking of policy makers at all levels—donors, advocates, volunteers, United Ways and our partner agencies—aligned. You cannot predict when a moment like that will occur. You simply have to be ready when the opportunity presents itself.
Governor-elect John Bel Edwards has presented that opportunity. At a recent press conference he uttered the word “poverty” and it will be forever etched in the narrative of our great state. His timing was impeccable and, perhaps, somewhat influenced by our preparations for the “moment”.
Three years ago we decided that we needed to transform our United Way and begin to act on the issues that our communities care most about. We heard very clearly that “poverty” is THE issue. We also heard very clearly that there is no silver bullet.
In order to effectively address poverty, communities must develop collective impact strategies in the areas of education, health and economic opportunity. Makes sense, right? Children need access to high-quality education from their early years through their post-secondary experience. Children and families must learn to practice healthy lifestyles and have access to high-quality, affordable, healthcare. And, last but not least, everyone needs equitable access to economic opportunity.
Governor-elect Edward’s willingness to take on poverty is inspiring, admirable and timely. His recognition that we must openly discuss increasing the state match of the Federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is a great start. We must strip down the debate over this “anti-poverty” instrument and hopefully develop understanding that the EITC is one of the most effective poverty reduction tools of this century. In fact, individuals that benefit from the program are incentivized to work and ultimately navigate their way out of needing the program. Something I believe we all hope for.
As we prepare to welcome John Bel Edwards as our next Governor in late January, I hope that you will join your voice with ours and unite with us against poverty. Because, what this place needs is you!