United Way of Dane County’s COVID-19 Relief Efforts
Intense Community Support
United Way CEO Renee Moe and the rest of the United Way staff
began to track COVID-19 in early February and begab earnest
planning by March 1st for internal and external measures.
services before. And so, there is a lot of newness around people needing to ask for help and figuring out where that can come from. That’s the biggest impact.
Obviously we’ve had to add capacity in terms of 2-1-1 to make that happen. Across the rest of the organization, certainly the fundraising and fund distribution parts
required that a whole new website be built. A whole new committee was created. Certainly our finance team had to collect those generous gifts that people gave
and distribute that money as quickly as possible. That was really compressed requiring a lot of change.”
While the Boys & Girls Club funds went out very quickly, the larger sum that United Way had received commitments for too time to amass. Nonetheless, by April
20th, United Way announced approximately $1.8 million in grants with about 75 percent of the funds ready to go out the door right away.
“The way that the committee made their recommendations was around food access, housing access and flexible funds,” Moe said. “We knew a lot of families were
asking for things like getting their car fixed because they needed it to get to work at an essential service job. We wanted to have flexibility for agencies to help out
with whatever needs families had with such extraordinary income and job loss for so many. The biggest contribution that United Way could make with non-profits
was really in food, addiction prevention and homelessness prevention along with the flexible funds. The city was taking the lead on child care. And the county took
the lead in getting hotels opened up so that we could space out homeless families. We were pretty collaborative in terms of figuring out who was staying in which
Another effort that was going on was virtual meetings between the heads of some of the larger public and private institutional actors in Madison and Dane County to
coordinate efforts and to make sure that all needs were being met.
“I have a weekly call,” Moe said. “It’s the mayor, county executive, public health, the superintendent, the chancellor, UW Health and United Way. We get together
once per week to talk about what everyone is doing, what’s happening with the schools and what’s happening with non-profits among other things. I am often able
to give a little lens on what’s going on with business, small businesses in particular, because of the donor population. We’re really trying to help each other out in
terms of understanding what’s going on with public health to see how our testing is going, how our sicknesses, deaths and recoveries are going. And then we look
at the greater implications of the economic side. How do we help people register for health insurance if they lost their job and they had health care? This is a
qualifying events, so we can get them enrolled in Health Connect, for example. Also a lot of people who have never been enrolled in SNAP could get food benefits.”
And while many non-profits were providing relief to the area’s most vulnerable populations, nited Way also felt it had a responsibility to help keep the social and
human service delivery system weather the immediate crisis, especially since their services would be needed long-term to assist with the recovery.
“We want to make sure that we are continuing to raise funds to help non-profits stay whole,” Moe emphasized. “For those core service providers, we don’t want
people going out of business because they are really essential services. How do we keep non-profits and small businesses going so that there is an economy to
Part 2 of 2
By Jonathan Gramling
One of the roles that United Way of Dane County and its partner agencies play is emergency relief.
They have responded to the flooding in Madison and other communities a couple of summers ago
and the Sun Prairie explosion and fire in July 2018. They would be called upon to provide relief
when the stay-at-home orders were issued and families quickly depleted any financial resources
they may have had. Even though they may never have asked for public assistance, a diversity of
families in different circumstances turned to United Way.
“Our 2-1-1 calls are up over 300 percent,” said Renee Moe, CEO of United Way of Dane County.
“People are calling us asking us for food, rent assistance, and utilities. There have been a lot of
questions about health care. People are feeling sick and want to know where they should go.
There’s just a lot of general stress overall in terms of people navigating unemployment or non-
profit services for the first time. Many of them have never called 2-1-1 before or never used
come back to? That’s the work that we
are doing in the next phase, which is
around raising those funds to keep those
operations and systems going and
continue to work on the root causes and
systemic changes. We’re doing a policy
brief for non-profits once per week. We’
re letting them know what fundraising
resources are available, what policy is
available. The Madison Community
Foundation hired Melissa Schultz. They
were doing seminars to help agencies
apply for federal money like the PPP. We
are trying to help non-profits know what
resources are out there, so they can
grow capacity that way.”
Moe and other Madison/Dane County
actors are also starting to think about
what recovery will look like. The COVID-
19 revealed the huge structural
inequities in many systems in Dane
County. What should be done on the other
side of this?
“Looking at the systemic changes and
getting people ladders up and focusing in
on changing systems and root causes
that lead to those outcomes is
important,” Moe said. “This gives people
a chance to see who is getting sick, who
is dying, how it is affecting people, who
gets to stay at home and who doesn’t. I
think that kind of awareness for how
people are doing everything right and
still not able to save and have what they
need and a little bit more has been very
eye-opening for a lot of people. We have
to use this moment to help build on
compassion and build on awareness so
that people can really understand which
parts of the system are broken. And the
second part is really the opportunity to
build them back better. When everything
is broken, you have to have the
intentionality to figure out how we use
this moment in time to heal some of the
brokenness and to build back better than
what we’ve had before. Is this the time
where we can actually build an inclusive
economy that works for everyone?”
Just like better built homes after a
hurricane, better built systems are
possible after the ravages of COVID-19.
Only the future knows.