COVID-19 Community-Driven Support
with Brian Gallagher of United Way Worldwide
As the U.S. works to curb the spread of COVID-19, stay-at-home orders and business closures have impacted employment in all 50 states.
Brian Gallagher, President and CEO of United Way Worldwide, discusses community-driven initiatives that guide unemployed Americans on a pathway toward financial security.
Aug 03, 2020
Anderson: Stay-at-home orders, closed businesses, high unemployment rates, all of it due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and it has millions of Americans concerned about how they can educate their children, pay their bills and feed their families. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers. "I'm Tetiana Anderson. There is support available for many who are struggling. Brian Gallagher is president and CEO of United Way Worldwide, and he joins me now with more on where people can find help. And, Brian, thanks so much for being here.
Gallagher: Tetiana, it's great to be with you.
Anderson: So, first of all, just sort of set the stage quickly for us. How does the United Way work when it comes to connecting people with resources?
Gallagher: So we operate like a franchise business almost. We have 1,800 local United Way's in 41 countries around the world. We raise money. We raise about$5 billion every year and then recruit three million volunteers. We take those resources and we support other nonprofits and community initiatives that then provide services to people in those communities.
Anderson: And I know you've referred to this coronavirus response phase that much of the nation and the world is in right now as a sort of Super Bowl for the United Way. What do you mean by that?
Gallagher: Well, we were made for this is the way I think about it. We're 132 years old. We're a product of industrialization in the United States. That's when millions of people move from rural areas into the city for manufacturing jobs. We had no public welfare system. We had no safety net services. We really didn't have nonprofits. And so it was just businesses and citizens and religious organizations coming together to provide a plan to help all the people that had now descended on that community. You see it in floods. You see it in earthquakes. You saw it after 9/11.And COVID is like a category five hurricane hitting every community at the same time. So we were built to bring communities together to address issues you can only address together. And that's what I meant by that.
Anderson: And as a result, you're sort of building new ways to address the current problems that we're in now. And I know you've got something new. It's called the COVID-19 Invisible Problems campaign. What does it do and what are some of the problems that are coming to light?
Gallagher: Well, you know, one of the things that this kind of crisis exposes is what systems work well and what systems don't work well. You know, for instance, the health care systemin the United States is a just-in-time efficiency model, but it wasn't built for public health. It wasn't built in a way that's really accessible for a lot of people in a lot of communities. If you look at black communities and brown communities in the United States, they're suffering to a much greater extent because of the coronavirus than white communities. And so where are those invisible problems? Why do people not have access to health care? Which students at home don't have access to technology that allows them to learn at home? And so what we're doing is we're using digital technology to ask people in their communities to share with us what this crisis has meant for them, because it's one thing to have experts sitting around talking about what they think the problems are, way better to ask people, like, in real terms, in their real life what they're faced with. And then we're surfacing those and then trying to address them.
Anderson: So you're crowdsourcing information, basically, and it's something that the organization has done in a more traditional way with your 211 call line. And that's something that guides people to services in their own communities .But I know you've talked about that hotline as sort of being a bellwether of what's next, what's to come. Explain that to our viewers.
Gallagher: So 211 is a three-digit dial up. It's available to 96%of all Americans, over 300 million people. We either fund it or run it as United Way. You dial 211 if you need help. When the pandemic hit, we normally take about 11 million calls a year. We're on pace to take 20 million this year. 32 governors appointed all their non-emergency calls to 211. Initially, they were health questions. Should I get tested? What are the symptoms? So forth. Then it turned into economic distress and people started asking about rental assistance and food. And what were the bellwether, the barometer is we're now starting to see more and more calls asking about housing assistance. So on average,35% of our calls will call about rental assistance or utilities help. Since April, that's up now to 58%. And in some cities, Milwaukee, Jacksonville, parts of South Carolina, that's up almost 65%of all of our calls are about housing, and we think that's because the moratorium on eviction are starting to lapse. So we think we have a housing crisis coming in the United States right now.
Anderson: Such important information, especially if you can get ahead of that. How do you see United Way, which has such a broad reach, such deep connections, really helping the nation to come through what is a difficult time --there's no other way to put it --in a more empowered way?
Gallagher: Yeah. You know, it's --it is such a challenging time. The pandemic has --One of the phrases I really like that I've heard in this pandemic is that we're all in the same storm, but we have different boats. And the fact is that we've always worked at United Way on diversity and inclusion. But the murder of George Floyd live on tape I think was a splash in the face to all Americans who have a conscious that maybe what our black brothers and sisters have been telling us is something we need to listen to. So I think there are two things. First, we need to take on --call-out and take on institutional racism. Before you can unite, you have to identify the enemy, and the enemy, it's not that our institutions are necessarily run by racists, but there are racial bias embedded in our institutions. And so at United Way, we spend $5 billion a year. We're starting to now go the next step to make sure that every dollar we spend goes through a racial equity injustice lens, make sure that the institution doesn't have bias in it. Then you can start uniting people. Then you can start having those difficult conversations. We work with 65,000 corporations, labor unions, religious leaders, secular leaders, white people, people of color. Then you start trying to come together and say, "How do we reimagine policing in our community? How do we reimagine our education system, our health care system from an equity lens?" Our objective in terms of a country should be everybody succeeds. Not most of us. Everybody succeeds. And if institutional racism is a barrier that needs to be brought down, then let's identify it, attack it, take it down, and then unite behind equity.
Anderson: And if people want to find out more about how you're doing that, the work you're doing, where can they go online?
Gallagher: Simply go to UnitedWayWorldwide.org. It's an easy-to-navigate website. Look for anything that we've discussed herein this conversation today, Tetiana.
Anderson:Well, the job of United Way is to unite. Brian Gallagher, thank you so much for being here.
Gallagher: It was great to be with you. Thanks.
Anderson: And thanks to our viewers as well. For more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the nation, be sure to go to ComcastNewsmakers.com. I'm Tetiana Anderson.
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