Policy: The other piece of the puzzle

At Metro United Way, we’re focused on three priorities: thriving kids, strong households, and an equitable community. We support programs and initiatives that address those priorities. However, we know that what policy has built, programming alone cannot fix. We need both pieces of the puzzle to make a real impact in our community.

What do we mean by that?

Policy – either at the local, state, or federal level – affects the wellbeing of our communities. Some laws and policies promote prosperity and equity in education, health care, and public safety, for example, while others do not. Social programming works to fill gaps to create a safer, more productive society. But it can’t be effective if public policy does not support it.

It’s important to note that as an organization, we do not support candidates or engage in partisan politics. Our focus is on what is best for our community, no matter which side of the aisle it comes from. This allows us to build unlikely coalitions of support and sparks dialogue around key issues we hope to address.

Our policy team pays close attention to action in Louisville Metro Government, the Kentucky General Assembly, and the Indiana Statehouse. They attend meetings and hearings to advocate for and against policy, speak with legislators, councilmembers, and other community leaders, and build lobbying coalitions with organizations that share our values.

“We are able to broker conversations that others couldn’t,” Brandon McReynolds, Metro United Way’s Director of Public Policy, said. “To be able to sit between the Chamber and small, grassroots organizations, or organizations in conflict or competition with each other – our convening power allows us to be part of a broader, more impactful movement.”

Over the past few years, our focus on these conversations has built trust between us, other organizations, and local and state leaders. The strength of the national United Way network, and partnerships with other regional United Ways, also powers the impact of our advocacy.


We have set priorities our team is focused on in 2024 for community-driven, evidenced-based policies that can activate systemic change and propel our communities forward. But before we break it down – let’s discuss the need.

Research shows that 56% of children in Kentucky and 38% in the southern Indiana region are not kindergarten ready. More than 170,000 children in Kentucky and 200,000 in Indiana are food insecure. And children of color are 4 times more likely to grow up in low-opportunity neighborhoods.

When children start out behind, they tend to stay behind. Metro United Way fights for investments in early childhood education and after school programs to help kids overcome these statistics. Investing in children early matters. For every $1 invested in early childhood programs, there is a $5 return in benefits for the community. After-school programs triple the return on investment by increasing youth earning potential, improving school performance, and reducing crime and juvenile justice involvement.

Incarceration is also a problem in Kentucky and Indiana, which have the 7th and 19th highest incarceration rates in the nation, respectively. Black residents are jailed at a disproportionate rate, and incarceration increases the likelihood that people will experience poverty.

Kentucky has the 6th highest maternal mortality rate in the nation, while access to maternal health care is severely lacking in both Kentucky and Indiana.

Research also shows that in our area, white people live three years longer on average than Black people due to social determinants of health, which are the non-medical factors that influence health outcomes. Social determinants of health include education access and quality, health care access and quality, economic stability, and more.


Based on that data and led by our team of policy experts, this is what we are doing to address those issues:


Metro United Way advocates to:

  • Increase availability of affordable, high-quality early childhood education programs through public-private partnerships.
  • Attract, prepare, support, and retain a qualified, diverse early childhood workforce including addressing compensation and benefits.
  • Ensure all families can access evidence-based home visiting and parent support programs.
  • Enhance accessibility to high-quality out-of-schooltime programming and dropout prevention and recovery.


Metro United Way advocates to:

  • Support greater access to safe and affordable housing, including all aspects of housing costs.
  • Work with industry leaders and lawmakers to identify and implement policies that prevent evictions.
  • Improve pathways to prosperity by fortifying short-term safety net programs, eliminating abrupt program exits, and streamlining application and renewal processes based on lived experiences.
  • Implement equitable, commonsense reforms to reduce financial barriers, increase pretrial services, and promote successful reentry from the judicial system.
  • Connect justice-involved children to family-focused services and prevent youth from entering and persisting in the justice system.


Metro United Way advocates to:

  • Improve access to reliable, quality health care programs and services.
  • Expand access to paid leave programs that support families, the workforce, and the economy.
  • Leverage service referral technology to meet needs and increase connectivity and efficiency among providers.
  • Allow Kentucky voters to empower local governments to invest in regional needs by modernizing the Commonwealth’s Constitution.


Nonprofit sector

Metro United Way advocates to:

  • Promote tax policy that fuels community solutions through nonprofits and encourages philanthropic giving.
  • Protect nonprofits’ right to advocate for their missions and civic participation on a non-partisan basis.

Further reasons behind our advocacy are laid out in detail in our public policy agendas for Kentucky and Indiana. It is all supported by data and research into what is most effective in helping children thrive, creating pathways from poverty to prosperity for all families, and building equity in our social systems.


Recently, Metro United Way was a strong advocate for employer-employee child care assistance, which has been adopted by both Kentucky and Indiana. This provides funding to help employers offer a child care benefit to their employees.

But policy change can be slow moving.

“A win for us is to see growth in each item of our policy agenda on an annual basis,” McReynolds explained. “A big part of it is building solidarity and those partnerships with other organizations around important issues. That’s a win for community, too.

“Even if we don’t see a direct bill or policy passed, there’s still a lot of progress made.”

Stand with us!

The first thing every individual should do is make sure they are registered to vote, and exercise that right. Kentucky residents can register to vote online here, and Indiana residents can do the same by clicking or tapping here.

We also want to help you engage directly with lawmakers to have your personal stories and priorities heard.

To get involved and advocate for thriving kids, strong households, and an equitable community, join us for Live United Day at the Indiana Statehouse on Jan. 31, 2024, or Live United Day at the Kentucky Capitol on Feb. 20, 2024.

“We all want to see things happen, and the more that we row together, the faster we’re going to get there,” McReynolds said.

To sign up for advocacy alerts and learn how to contact your lawmakers, click or tap here.


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