Pre-K Investments Make Sense for a Better Future for our Children

Investments into early childhood education is a pathway for a better tomorrow for our children, our state, and our future.  Recently, the Council for a Strong America, a national, bipartisan nonprofit uniting five organizations comprised of law enforcement leaders, retired admirals and generals, business executives, pastors, and prominent coaches and athletes, released a report highlighting how pre-k is the key to boosting school success and cutting prison costs in Pennsylvania.

The report goes into depth on the societal benefits that Pennsylvania and our country can see with investments into early childhood education. Providing at-risk kids with high quality early learning programs will contribute to less crime and incarceration in the future.  Not only is this better for our children, it saves our state money in the long run.  In fact, for every disadvantaged child that participates in a high-quality pre-k program, there is an average “profit ” of more than $29,000 to society for each child served.  Governor Wolf proposed a $75 million investment into Pre-K and Head Start programs for the 2017-18 budget, which would give 8,400 children the opportunity to attend a Pre-K program.  If that investment goes through, and based on the cost-figure presented in the report on realized profit, Pennsylvania could have a return of more than $244 million over the lifetime of the 8,400 children being helped.

While cost-savings is also a goal for states, the positive outcomes with investment into early learning don’t stop there. The report shows children who participate in Pre-K have fewer behavior problems, better school outcomes, increased reading and math scores, fewer dropouts, less crime, and are less likely to end up in prison. The best thing we can do for our children and our state is to invest in early learning!

Read more about the benefits of Pre-K investment in the report.


UWP Supports Pre-K Investments

High quality Pre-K and Head Start help set kids on a path to success. Those who don’t get to attend these programs are set up to fall behind their peers before they ever step foot in a Kindergarten classroom. And we know that kids from low income families are much less likely to attend Pre-K programs than kids from higher income families. Access and affordability for high quality programs are obstacles for parents of young children in all parts of our state.

While PA has funded Pre-K programs since 2003, we are still not keeping pace with the investments other states are making.  Pennsylvania ranks in the bottom half of per capita investments for preschool aged children to attend comparable publicly funded, high quality Pre-K programs.  PA’s per capita commitment is less than $700.  In 18 other states and the District of Columbia, taxpayers invest more in high quality Pre-K for their kids. This includes many of our neighboring states such as New York, New Jersey, Maryland and West Virginia. United Way believes we need to invest more in PA’s young learners.

The Pre-K for PA campaign recently released a report highlighting much of the research around Pre-K and how Pennsylvania measures up to other states.   You can view the report here.

Volumes of research has shown the positive impacts that high quality early childhood education has for children over their lifetime. Research has shown that ninety percent of a child’s brain development occurs from birth to age 5. These early years greatly influence educational, behavioral, and economic outcomes throughout a person’s life.  High-quality Pre-K is an essential part of this development, yet 64 percent of Pennsylvania’s 3 and 4 years olds are unable to attend a high-quality Pre-K program.

The United Way network in our state is doing its part to invest donor dollars in high quality early childhood education, but we know we alone cannot meet the needs of all of PA’s kids. This is why we advocate for more state taxpayer dollars to be invested in high quality Pre-K and Head Start programs. We support an increase of $75 million in the 2017-2018 state budget. We know that investing today will lead to a job-ready, educated workforce tomorrow.  It means more children in PA will have the skills necessary to reach for the stars and grab their dreams.  And it’s a smart investment, because for every dollar PA invests in high-quality Pre-K, there is a return of $4 in savings and benefits in the form of social services, reduced crime, and increased earning power.

Educating Pennsylvania’s youth and providing opportunities for growth and success are staples for United Way of Pennsylvania’s advocacy and our mission.  In order to provide these opportunities UWP, along with our United Way network, invest our efforts to bring awareness and funding to Pre-K and Head Start programs throughout the commonwealth.  We are proud to partner with many others who are stepping up for young learners, including business leaders, law enforcement, the military, school administrators, and the Pre-K for PA campaign. We hope that Pennsylvania’s budget for 2017-2018 will provide an additional $75 million for high quality early childhood education.

Let’s Celebrate PA 2-1-1 Day!

February 11th is just another day for many people, but for the United Way network it is a celebration of PA 2-1-1 Day.

2-1-1 is like 4-1-1 but for health, human services and disaster relief. 2-1-1 was designated for nationwide use as an information and referral phone line by the Federal Communications Commission in 2000.  PA 2-1-1 was established in 2011 and covers over 85% of Pennsylvanians.  That number will be growing in May when six, of the remaining twelve PA counties currently not covered by 2-1-1, come on board.

The 2-1-1 system is funded by a combination of United Way support, grants and private contributions, and contracts.  In Pennsylvania, the United Way of Pennsylvania and the non-profit, PA2-1-1, are partners supporting this community-strengthening service.

2-1-1 can be used for a multitude of services. Anything from where you can donate your unused man cave couch to tax assistance preparation to job placement and much more.  When you dial 2-1-1 you will have a trained representative answer the phone who has access to a statewide database with information from community programs to government assistance for your needs.

PA 2-1-1 believes every Pennsylvanian should have access to a happy and healthy life.  Sometimes we get down on our luck and need some extra help…  2-1-1 is the perfect place to turn to for that help. In fact, in 2016 over 160,000 contacts came in to our six 2-1-1 regional call centers across the Commonwealth either through phone, chat, or text.  From those contacts, there were over 200,000 referrals made where people could find the help they were looking for.  If you or anyone you know is in need of a little extra help, please ask them to dial 2-1-1.

To find out some more information on 2-1-1 please take a look at their website.

Help us celebrate today as PA 2-1-1 Day!!

Celebrating EITC Awareness Day!

The Earned Income Tax Credit is the most effective poverty-fighting tool in the United States Tax Code. But as much as 20 percent of the population who qualifies for this tax credit does not know they are eligible and the credits could put thousands back in their pocket each year.

If you received income from working for someone or from running your own business or farm, you might qualify. You also must be a U.S. citizen for the entire tax year with a social number for yourself, and your spouse or children, if applicable. There are income limits which vary by household type, so read more about that here.

In Pennsylvania, 919,000 people claimed the Earned Income Tax Credit for tax year 2015. The average refund received by a Pennsylvanian was $2,271. That means the working people of our state claimed a total of $2.1 billion to support their families.

What do these dollars mean to working families? Research has shown most EITC refund recipients spend at least a portion of their refund immediately. Research also demonstrates that the funds are spent for a variety of reasons, including purchase and repair for cars that get people back and forth to work, clothes for their kids, housing expenses, and paying down credit card debt. Many families also bank a portion of their refund for emergencies.

United Way helps families with an annual income less than $54,000 to access these credits through Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) programs in many communities. VITA allows to get your taxes prepared for free by a trained volunteer. United Way also provides, powered by H&R Block, and this is an online service available to anyone with an income of $64,000 or less to file their taxes for free. Seniors also can access free basic tax preparation in many communities. More information is available on UWP’s web site and you can find out the main contact point for VITA programs in most counties here.

This tax season, we need your help in two ways:

  • Advocate to Expand the EITC. We know EITC works, yet some working Americans are excluded from the powerful, proven impacts of the EITC.  In fact, about 7.5 million Americans, and 554,000 Pennsylvanians among them, are actually taxed into poverty largely because they are ineligible for the EITC or the EITC is too small. We can change that by raising our voices together – learn more and take action.
  • Spread the Word – Help family and friends connect to the EITC. One in five who are eligible for the EITC are leaving money on the table – money that can make a big difference in paying bills and putting food on the table. Anyone earning $64,000 or less in 2016 can do their taxes for free at com and can connect any credits for which they are eligible.

By connecting local community members like Jesse to existing resources and advocating to expand what works, you can make a difference today.  Please join us and #LiveUnited.

Making the Holidays Brighter Through United Way

T-Minus 3 days until Christmas time!  And right around the corner from that is the New Year! You are probably thinking, “Where did the time go!?”  Between the baking, shopping and wrapping, time can quickly get away from us.

You know what else can sometimes slip through the cracks?  Our appreciation for what the holidays really mean to us.  For most, it is a time of joy and love spent with family and friends, but for others it can be a difficult period.  For some the holidays mean a lack of money to afford presents, or little food to celebrate with.  It also means winter is upon us, which can be hard for those with limited funds to purchase proper clothing or heat their home.  It is in these times of hardship that United Way and donors to United Way can make a huge impact to make the holidays a little brighter.

United Ways across Pennsylvania have been running numerous campaigns to help bring some joy and comfort this holiday season.  United Way of Lebanon County collected winter clothing towards the #LIVEWARM initiative.  The United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey collected presents for families in need through the #AllWrappedUp initiative.  In addition to these campaigns, many United Ways across PA have provided a list of free holiday meals that will be available throughout their communities, as well as an opportunity for volunteering during the holiday season.

From a donation of winter clothing to donating some time to volunteer during the holiday season, United Way is a great way to give back to those that need some joy in their lives.  Check out your local United Way to see what opportunities are available for you.

Earned Income Tax Credits Help Veterans

Did you know that veterans are among the 7.5 million American workers currently taxed into, or deeper into poverty? We can and must change that.

The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is the nation’s strongest tool to promote work and help working families keep more of what they earn to pay for things like childcare, groceries, and car repairs so they can get to work. Across the nation, about 2 million veteran and military families receive the EITC and the Child Tax Credit, another critical work support.  But 600,000 veteran and military service members who aren’t raising children at home are largely excluded from the pro-work, anti-poverty benefits of the EITC.

The EITC helps workers keep more of what they earn. Here in Pennsylvania, 919,00 families claim the EITC, pumping more than $2 billion back into our state’s economy at an average rate of almost $2300 per EITC claim.

Many of our United Ways partner in efforts to provide free income tax preparation services to low income families. They have shared their firsthand knowledge of how these EITC dollars are used. They help fix the furnace or pay the car repair bill or reduce credit card debt. A few of those dollars might end up in a savings account for a rainy day. Those who benefit from the EITC dollars need them, and for some it is the only buffer which keeps them out of poverty.

Currently people between the ages of 21 and 24 cannot claim the EITC. Those who aren’t raising children at home also can access little to no EITC even if their income levels would otherwise qualify them. In Pennsylvania, that means 30,000 veterans and military service members cannot currently access this form of tax relief.

We can do better for those who have sacrificed for our country. Congress can change this law. You can help by voicing your support to expand the EITC. Go here to write your elected representatives in Washington and urge them to help veterans and military service members to keep more of what they earn.

Election Day is Here!

Today, Pennsylvanians go to the polls to vote for the candidates which we believe will be the best leaders for our country and our state. There is no question in the minds of most Americans that the 2016 election has been one of the most negative campaigns we have seen in our country’s history. But this is not just a product of bad behavior by the candidates themselves. It reflects deep disagreement among the electorate about what our country’s largest challenges are, and how to address them. So the question that lingers is how do we resolve the problems which have created such steep divides in our communities?

The nonprofit sector should not discount its ability to contribute to solutions which help bridge the divide in the coming months and years. A recent report by Independent Sector, titled “United for Charity: How Americans Trust and Value the Charitable Sector”, shows that more than three quarters of the United States trusts the charitable sector and believes we need a bigger role in solving this country’s challenges.

Throughout our history, Americans have turned to nonprofit organizations to provide a strong, collective voice to inform and influence public policy. United Way’s credo is “Give. Advocate. Volunteer.”   United Way has a vital role to play in strengthening democracy, advancing freedom of expression and adding richness and diversity to community life. We pride ourselves on being able to bring together civic-minded individuals from all parts of the community to give of their time, talents and treasure in support of advancing the common good.

The people who sit around the table at United Way board meetings or allocation committee meetings are working together for a mission. They serve the public, but they do so without labeling themselves as republicans or democrats or independents. They come from diverse backgrounds, but their differences do not define their work. They have a shared objective to advance the common good. They strive to make wise investments and measure results. They wrestle with complex and deeply-rooted community challenges as they try to make long-term improvements.

The healing process that lies ahead needs to be about much more than graceful concession speeches and a peaceful transition of power. As the passions of “my candidate versus their candidate” die away on social media, we need all those with whom a chord has been struck during this election to engage with the nonprofit sector in service to their communities. We need policy makers to commit to nurture partnerships which support the work of charities. And we need organizations like United Way to be a forum where citizens look beyond ideology, tackle the tough issues and reach for common ground to move our nation forward.