Friday, January 30, 2015

Raise Your Voice for Working Families on EITC Awareness Day

What would you do if you knew there was a proven solution that lifts millions of children and working families out of poverty each year… a tool that, at the same time, also improves child health and academic achievement, enables financial stability for hard-working families, and pumps billions of dollars back into local communities around the country?

You’d probably want to talk about it. You’d probably want as many of your friends, family and community to know about this amazing resource. 

That’s exactly why United Way, our community partners, and thousands of volunteers each year take action to connect millions of people to the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). In fact, just last tax season, United Way of Pierce County, through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, helped connect local people to $428 million in tax refunds – money coming right back into our community. And that’s why we advocate to strengthen and expand the EITC for working families and individuals. 

Simply put, the Earned Income Tax Credit helps lower-wage working families keep more of what they earn.  Research finds that the EITC encourages work, reduces poverty and leads to long-term gains in child health and academic success. Together with the Child Tax Credit (CTC), another essential credit that helps offset the cost of raising children, the credits lifted more than 9 million people – 5 million of them children -- out of poverty in 2013. The credits also help 22 million lower-income Americans have further financial stability.

Knowing this, what would you do if you realized that some key features of the EITC and CTC are set to expire soon, and that, without people like you taking action, thousands of our community members could fall back into poverty?

We hope you’d take action.

There are three important ways you can take action this EITC Awareness Day – January 30, 2015.

1)  Advocate: Send a message toyour Members of Congress letting them know how important the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit are in our community.  It’s easy! Simply read the letter (personalize it if you wish), enter your information, and press send.  That’s it!

2)  Spread the word: Tell your friends and family about the success of the EITC & Child Tax Credit.  Tweet it, post it, put a sign in your yard, a sticker on your car, or a tattoo on your arm. Why not be creative? The tax credits could mean hundreds or thousands of dollars in the pockets of people you care about. Use #EITC, #EITCDay, and #LIVEUNITED.

3)  Connect people to the credits through free online tax preparation at Share the link and individuals or families earning $60,000 or less in 2014 can file their state and local taxes for free online.  Those who may want free in-person assistance can call 2-1-1 to find their nearest Volunteer Income Tax Assistance site.

Thanks for taking action – because change doesn’t happen without you. 

Sunday, December 28, 2014

A Lifeline

by Dona Ponepinto, President & CEO

As the seasons change, the colder weather starts to set in. The recent nights with lows in the 20s make a person want to stay under a blanket and turn up the heat. Imagine how you would feel if your home didn't have heat. Or even worse, if you didn't have a home. Would you know where to turn?

There is a place you can call, South Sound 2-1-1. Help starts here. By simply dialing 2-1-1, just like you would 9-1-1, you can get connected to a real person. Someone who not only knows about the resources available in Pierce County to help you get heat or find a warm place to sleep but someone who also knows how desperate you might feel.

With empathy and knowledge, South Sound 2-1-1 provides a lifeline. In 2013, it was a lifeline for over 83,000 people. Specialists helped people find a ride to their doctor’s appointment. They helped them find an agency that could provide services for their developmentally delayed child. They were there simply to listen.

When a resource was unavailable, South Sound 2-1-1 looked for other areas where a caller could get help. In some cases, connecting them to food gave the caller the funds they needed to pay the electric bill or fill the gas tank.

And at South Sound 2-1-1, we don’t just look for a quick fix. We want to help people get on their feet but we also want them to stay on their feet. By checking the caller’s eligibility for the Basic Food program or Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), we can help them find stability.

For those who have called, South Sound 2-1-1 provided answers they couldn't find on their own. We want South Sound 2-1-1 to be available for all those in need and for a long time to come. We can’t do it alone. Please answer the call to support 2-1-1 by donating today.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

I Love Working at South Sound 2-1-1

by Sarah Teague, South Sound 2-1-1 Resource Specialist

I can honestly say that I love my job. I’m a call and resource specialist at South Sound 2-1-1, which means I answer the phone when someone calls needing help, and works with the community to list the resources that are there to help. I like taking calls here because it connects me with my community in a way that I had never connected before.

  •      I have helped callers stay in housing, or found housing because they called 2-1-1.
  •      I have helped callers access a doctor, or insurance or dental care because they called 2-1-1.
To me, that’s amazing. And I am lucky, because not only do I have the ability to search our resources to find what can help a caller, I also to get to add the information about new programs, or make changes to the programs we have.

I have learned so much about what our community needs and the barriers we face. And how there are so many caring and committed groups working to help.

I collect information about community organizations and programs. Pester them with questions to help our callers be prepared (Oh, you provide this service too, fantastic! Now, should someone call to set up an appointment or just walk-in? What documentation should they bring?) And I am very grateful to those who work with me to keep the information as accurate as possible.

After I receive the information and, like any Librarian-at-Heart, I have to categorize it in a way that other people can find that information. Using the AIRS Taxonomy (the Dewey Decimal system of social services) every program is categorized so the Information & Referral Specialists can find it quickly.

Within seconds, we can pull up a list of food pantries across the county. Within minutes we can find information on resources available to help with multiple needs, or if there are no resources, we can try to troubleshoot alternatives and work-arounds.

And I am lucky to work with other people who are caring, and committed to our community. I am constantly moved by how much they give of themselves.

I think that’s why I have stuck around for eight years. I have really enjoyed watching the call center grow and seeing how we can really be the “First Call for Help.” I am looking forward to see how we can change and grow to serve our community better.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Giving Jamie’s Family a Second Chance

by Kathryn McCarthy, Director of Donor Relations

Last December was a really scary time for Jamie, her husband and their two-year old daughter. In August, her husband had been laid off and by the time December came, they were really behind financially, just as their electricity bill was growing. Unable to pay their bills, they finally lost power in December. Losing power meant more than just heat, it meant no way to cook, no refrigerator and after 4:30 p.m. in winter no light.

If you ask Jamie about that time, she will tell you “We bundled up, lit candles and we tried to be troopers, but it was scary. We really did not know what we were going to do.”  The change and the stress had an immediate effect on their two-year old. Normally happy and easy going, her temperament changed over those long days and nights.

The family knew they needed to do something, but they really did not know where to turn. Finally, Jamie came across a flyer for South Sound 2-1-1.  At first, she was hesitant to call. She wasn't looking for a handout, but her family was in trouble.  

“We’re proud people; I was embarrassed to ask for help. And I didn't really think it could be that easy. That I could really dial three numbers and someone would help me.  But I called and a real person answered. She listened to my problem and she found my family help.”  Jamie was guided to Metropolitan Development Council (MDC) and within a day her power was restored.

Today, Jamie and her family are getting back on their feet. Jamie said, “I’m so grateful to 2-1-1. We’re getting our finances back on track and that would not have been possible without 2-1-1. I tell everyone about 2-1-1, it changed my life. They gave my family a second chance.”

Every day hundreds of people in our community call South Sound 2-1-1 distressed, just like Jamie. Our call specialists answer the phone with compassion and professionalism.  It’s so much more than a data base. Call specialists can problem solve and help callers find solutions they might not be aware existed, and they might be the only caring and compassionate voice someone hears.

If you or someone you know needs help, tell them to call 2-1-1. It might be the second chance they need.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

American Graduate Day

by Nalani Linder, Community Impact Manager - Early Childhood Development 

Did you know that our local public television station, KBTC, does a lot more for children than just air great programming like Sesame Street and Clifford the Big Red Dog? For years, KBTC has been active in the greater Tacoma/Pierce County community offering outreach and innovative hands-on programming, particularly for children in Tacoma’s Eastside and Hilltop communities. 

United Way of Pierce County congratulates KBTC on their award of the American Graduate grant, part of a national campaign to promote awareness and raise high school graduation rates across the country.  While many of the other American Graduate sites focused on interventions to support older students (such as mentoring, dropout prevention and/or college and career readiness programs), KBTC and its partners—United Way of Pierce County, First 5 FUNdamentals and the Foundation for Tacoma Students) chose to focus on high quality early learning experiences and its strong connection to later success in school and life. 

We are fortunate that public television is so committed to success of our community’s children.  Last month, KBTC hosted ‘American Graduate Day’, a television broadcast which featured inspiring stories from around the nation as well as local interviews with several leaders in education and the community. Viewers learned about some diverse ways that kindergarten readiness is being supported within Pierce County. Examples included: 

  • Columbia Bank- a company that ‘walks the talk’ of investing in the community through their volunteerism and donations to United Way and early learning; 
  • Reach Out and Read, an innovative program through pediatricians’ offices that provides a free book at every well-child visit and encourages parents to read to their children; and 
  • Sumner School District, where kindergarten teachers, child care providers and parents work together to help children be as successful as possible as they start school. 

If you missed the program, you can see highlights here.  

Want to help spread the word about the importance of early learning and what’s happening locally? Share information about American Graduate with your friends by sending them this link:

Monday, September 29, 2014

SNAP Challenge: Can you live on $4.50 a day?

by Lindsey Burks, Marketing Associate

Feeding America asked people across the nation one question – can you eat on just $4.50 a day?

Over 47 million Americans face this difficult task every day because they rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly food stamps) to get enough to eat. So many of us have grown accustomed to morning Starbucks coffee and eating dinner out, and we don’t often take the time to reflect on the fact that an enormous number of people are struggling to even get enough food on the table.

To encourage the public to get a sense of what life is like for millions of low-income Americans facing hunger, Feeding America devised the SNAP Challenge. By accepting this challenge, participants commit to eating on a limited food budget – $4.50 a day, or just $1.50 per meal.

Pete, our resident vegetarian and United Way CFO, took on the SNAP Challenge and conquered it. However, his defeat didn't leave him feeling great – instead he emerged with a new found understanding of just how difficult it is for an individual, let alone a family, to eat healthy on that tight of a budget. Let’s walk through his experience:

His first step – shopping! Following the rules of the challenge, Pete bypassed membership stores, such as Costco, and headed straight to Safeway and Big Lots. At Safeway, Pete focused on finding his breakfast and lunch foods for the entire week. At the end of his trip, his cart was filled with only 4 items: a box of oatmeal, a loaf of store-brand bread, a jar of peanut butter and a jar of grape jelly. This weeks’ worth of breakfast and lunch items cost a total of $8.27. Although Pete spent so little of his budget and managed to buy the bulk of the food he would need for the week, the foods he purchased had minimal nutritional value.

Dinner options were next on Pete’s list. As a vegetarian, he did not need to worry about spending the lion share of his budget on meat, which is often the biggest expense on the grocery list. Instead he headed straight to Big Lots where he knew he could count on finding canned goods cheap. At $1.00 per can, Pete grabbed assorted beans and mixed vegetables.

Throughout the week, Pete began to appreciate the luxuries he frequently enjoys; missing his family’s weekly pizza night was the roughest. Aside from missing out on luxuries, he realized the toll high-sodium and high-sugar canned foods can take. Pete exclaimed, “You can get by for a week and have it not be very disruptive but if you had to eat this way for even a month, let alone if it was your lifestyle, you would begin to feel the effects.”

Working in the nonprofit industry, Pete already had a strong appreciation for the services provided by food banks but during the SNAP challenge, he realized even more the vitality of those services. The food that SNAP participants can afford are typically not foods with nutritional value, leading to medical issues such as diabetes and high blood pressure, and more expensive issues in the long run. We have an obligation – we must provide better locally and ensure that our food banks are well stocked so that we can eliminate hunger in our community.

Although Hunger Action Month is coming to an end, there is so much you can continue to do to raise awareness and fight hunger. Spread the word about our South Sound 211 Center; by simply dialing 2-1-1, people can be connected to food banks or apply for the basic food assistance program. Don’t need help but want to lend your hand? Check out our volunteer center for ways to get involved at your local food bank: