When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, it exacerbated already existing, serious challenges faced by many Minnesotans, including housing instability, food insecurity, unemployment and financial stress. And in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd, the deep racial disparities that have long existed in our state were laid bare. All told, a hard and accurate picture was painted of how broken and inequitable our systems are. We are now heading into another year of these crises, with every lifeline overwhelmed and resources low.

In our over 100-year history, Greater Twin Cities United Way has responded to community needs and challenges as they evolve, and more recently made it our mission to directly advocate for social good. We accomplish these things by supporting our region's nonprofit sector, partnering with businesses to align their goals with community needs, co-creating innovative solutions with community leaders, connecting Minnesotans to basic resources through our 211 resource helpline, and advocating for policies and funding to support immediate needs and systems change.

We see our role as a cross-sector convener and nonprofit amplifier, and we work hard to keep our finger on the pulse of our community. Securing affordable, stable housing has long been unattainable in Minnesota for many low-wealth families, particularly households of color. Before the pandemic, one in four families struggled to pay their rent each month, and 13,000 families faced eviction annually across the state. More than ever, our neighbors are looking for help to pay their rent, mortgage or utilities, with calls for this kind of assistance up 150% since last year.

We also know that many families are unable to find and afford quality child care. Before COVID-19, 35,000 children were unable to access quality care while their parents worked. Now providers are struggling to simply stay afloat with their enrollment plummeting while parents are furloughed, laid off or working from home. This, coupled with a remarkably low reimbursement rate to providers caring for children from families with low incomes, means we will have an even greater gap following the pandemic if existing providers are forced to close their doors.

That is why we are showing up to this year's state legislative session, ready to serve as a reliable source of information for legislators to help them determine where to concentrate their efforts. We are urging legislators to focus on immediate and long-term solutions for housing stability; invest in early childhood development and support child care providers who are struggling to keep their doors open; and consider directing $30 million into a structured fund that can be effectively allocated to help stabilize nonprofits across the state who know best what their communities need.

These issues cannot be addressed solely by nonprofits, even with the generous philanthropic support of private donors. Greater Twin Cities United Way will advance policy informed by those most impacted by systemic inequity. We urge state leaders to prioritize bold action in service to a state where all people thrive — regardless of their income, race or place.

John Wilgers is president and CEO, Acooa Lee Ellis is senior vice president of community impact and Dorothy Bridges is board chair at Greater Twin Cities United Way.