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SW Michigan United Way CEO Focuses on Educating Lawmakers on the Struggles of the Working Poor

United Way across the country continues to focus on the population of people with limited assets, limited income, employees (ALICE) or some other measure for the working poor. United Way of Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region President and CEO Chris Sargent said about 40 percent of people in the area live paycheck to paycheck, which has many ripple effects in the community.

What do you think of as you think about next year?

The trends we have seen in the nonprofit sector over the past few years are that global donations to many local nonprofits are on the decline. But, there are also a lot of good causes and a lot of opportunities to give to good causes. New nonprofits and new ways for people to give sometimes create limits to the way donors give.

President and CEO of United Way of Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region, Chris Sargent
COURTESY PHOTO

How could the 2020 presidential election affect the nonprofit sector?

With an election year, there are certainly a lot of “requests” and invitations to give. We know there are limited resources that people can give with discretionary income. United Way, the non-profit sector and our partners work with people of all political affiliations. We are more important than a particular problem. We really focus on each person who wants to help support their community.

Does the political climate filter through the nonprofit industry?

One thing we have seen in the political environment that is playing out from a national perspective is the continued creation of divisions across the country, which has the potential to impact what is happening at the national level. state and local. There’s this thought that, “I’m going to do what’s best for me first and I might think of someone else in the community afterwards.”

What does this mean for nonprofits and people at the local level?

The division we see across the country creates a division locally over how we approach complex social issues and care for our friends and neighbors who are vulnerable. The populations of ALICE are the most important in our communities. If we continue to see this gap and it continues to grow, we may no longer be able to support the nonprofits that are closing these gaps. I worry about the divisions in the country, the economy and more people with fewer resources to make ends meet on a monthly basis.

Considering your work around the people of ALICE, where do you plead for more change?

We continue to advocate for SNAP benefits because we know that some of the cuts to SNAP benefits will continue to put vulnerable families at risk. Over 70 percent of the community’s resources for food and addressing food insecurity issues come from government support for the SNAP program. If you look at basic resources like emergency food and shelter, we defend key work requirements legislation implemented under Medicare Extended Benefits.

We don’t want the most vulnerable in our community to lose benefits due to unintentional conversations about the requirements they must meet to maintain those benefits. Do nothing that prevents vulnerable families and children from accessing basic needs.

What kind of legislation would you like to see enacted to help the non-profit sector?

The most recent conversations we have had with lawmakers are about tax deductions for charitable donations and their implications. It is difficult to measure and understand at the organizational level the impact of this. Millions of dollars will not come from philanthropy. Universally, lawmakers are aware of this implication. They all share the knowledge that this will reduce the amount of philanthropic giving. Nonprofit networks like United Way have had numerous conversations with lawmakers to prevent this, to no avail.

What will your priorities be in 2020?

In general, most of our elected officials know the importance of the associative sector. He represents 10 percent of the workforce and provides a lot of support to voters. There are always opportunities with many issues to have productive conversations from multiple sides of the aisle and many of the people we work with nationally and locally are people we have known for a long time. They know when we come to speak to them that we represent the United Way or other non-profit organizations and that we are speaking to them from an impact point of what is going on with the constituents we represent. The challenge is where the resources will come from to support the necessary programs.

We are not partisan and we discuss issues that are important to people in our community. We talk about it from a problem perspective and help people understand the intended and unintended consequences.

Talk about some of the headwinds for the nonprofit sector next year.

The non-profit sector keeps pace with the economy. If a recession occurs and the economy slows down, business slows down and philanthropy slows down. The ability of nonprofits to generate and harness private resources that are not sufficient to counter state and federal government cuts continues to be of concern to us.

We have heard about the importance of a living wage with benefits. The ALICE report shows how much an individual must earn to meet the basic needs of a household. It is the private sector that must finance the various needs that we see. We spend a lot of time with organizations and businesses asking ourselves, “What is it like to pay workers with a living wage and benefits?” “

On the other hand, what opportunities do you see for 2020?

This region is one of the most generous in terms of philanthropy. We are used to being extremely generous and supporting our friends and neighbors. I know there have been many instances where there have been challenges and we have always had generous individuals, organizations and businesses and businesses stepping up and that will not change. We have some of the most talented and passionate people at the helm of our non-profit organizations. We are fortunate to have the skills of great leaders who help and uplift those in need.


EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated to correct a typo in the title appearing in the web version of the article.


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