Driving policy and participation

Driving policy and participation

Advocate united


The data shows that systemic inequities are the root causes of intergenerational poverty among people of color. Despite our best efforts through broad support of our communities in need, our progress to date has been hampered by these systemic inequities.

That’s why equity, particularly racial equity, needs to be at the forefront of decisions in municipal, state and federal policy. Until we can make sure everyone has an equal shot at the starting line, our work will never reach its full potential. Moreover, investments in the most critical areas of need in Rhode Island, such as housing and education, have seen dramatic reductions over the years, rather than improvements in line with the demand.



is how much a Black household earns in Rhode Island for every dollar a white household earns



is how much more likely it is for Black Rhode Islanders to be incarcerated compared to whites



is the fraction Rhode Island invests in affordable housing compared to Massachusetts


Driving systemic change via public policy and research

United Way of Rhode Island will continue to fight for access to critical services, as well as advocate for equitable representation on state boards and commissions. Additionally, we are proud to support community and neighborhood mobilizing organizations that are focused on breaking the barriers to racial equity.

United Way of Rhode Island has long been the leader and early funder of organizations that are bringing innovative ideas to our state. We are expanding these efforts, as well as expanding tools to scale these important missions.

We will also expand our data and research efforts to be a state leader in analyzing and evangelizing data pertinent to our mission. This year we’ll be refining data collection systems and funding research to improve the ability to disaggregate data by race and income level.

Larry Warner

Encouraging civic participation

United Way of Rhode Island is committed to creating spaces and support that help Rhode Islanders be the best community champions they can be. We are expanding existing programs like our Advocacy 101 empowerment program and creating new programs to inspire Rhode Islanders to vote, run for office and advocate for the platforms they are most passionate about. Our aim this year is to expand our Advocacy 101 training to be delivered in every city and town in Rhode Island. (Learn more about ways you can advocate today to support our mission.)

Reforming the criminal justice system

United Way of Rhode Island intends to work extensively to reduce the school-to-prison pipeline, as well as advocate for policies that help our neighbors get back on their feet during and after incarceration.

what our "ADVOCATE UNITED" goals are



participation in the 2025 presidential election



increase in the number of policies implemented that address equity and social justice



policy makers engaged in equity

2021 Legislative agenda

The LIVE UNITED 2025 strategic plan sets the agenda for United Way of Rhode Island’s next five years from 2021 until 2025. The Strategic Plan is ambitious and clearly articulates our priorities in each of its four focus areas.

Our priorities through this plan begin with reducing or eliminating disparities for Black Indigenous Persons of Color (BIPOC) communities.


Over the past decade, the cost of housing has outpaced earnings leaving nearly 50% of Rhode Islanders unable to afford the homes they live in. In 2020 when Rhode Island, like the rest of the world, came to a halt due to the pandemic, United Way of Rhode Island designed and lead the successful Yes on 3 campaign to provide $65 million dollars to increase affordable housing production and preservation. This represents the largest housing bond in Rhode Island history. Yes on 3 was approved by 66% of Rhode Islanders. This is important as only 1 out of the 39 cities and towns in our state are considered affordable. (HousingWorks RI)

We support increased state funding, that is both long term and consistent, for:

  • A permanent funding stream for affordable housing construction and preservation
  • Eliminating discrimination for rental subsidies for low and very low-income households
  • Necessary supportive services for those placed in permanent housing

We also support:

  • The passage of Source of Income Anti-Discrimination Legislation
  • The 2021 Special Election - $65 million housing bond campaign for construction and preservation of affordable homes
  • The removal of legal, administrative, regulatory, and economic barriers to quality housing
  • The Homes RI Coalition, a member-driven initiative that United Way helped to seed initial funding for, and continues to lead the policy work around effective and just affordable housing policy

This year, we’ll be campaigning to secure state funding for out-of-school time learning programs, specifically in areas with the greatest access needs. We will invest in and support programs focused on restorative justice practices, empowering young people, and trauma-informed care.

We support increased state funding that is both long term and consistent for:

  • $8 million dollars to OSTL Programs and Providers from the $23.5 million stimuli for Childcare and/or the Governors Emergency Education Relief Fund (see resolutions passed in Cranston, Central Falls, and Providence)
  • Double the access to OSTL Programs especially for BIPOC youth. 59,000 youth, out of 150,000 youth in the entire state, are on waiting lists in Rhode Island trying to get into an Afterschool Program according to America After 3 p.m. data released December 8, 2020 (afterschoolalliance.org)
  • $2 million in the 2022 budget under the R.I. Department of Education for afterschool and summer learning programs.
  • Representative Julie Casimiro filed House Bill 5211 in January 2021 in support of a permanent OSTL Commission and Senator Sandra Cano, chair of the Education Committee supports this strategy and is prepared to submit companion legislation.

We also support:

To sustain a funding stream, we want to look at the tax revenue from the legalization of recreational marijuana. Alaska Afterschool Network was able to secure 25% of the tax revenue from recreational marijuana because OSTL programs are proven prevention programs for substance abuse. Some of that language is below:

    1. The Marijuana Education Program applies a shared risk and protective factor approach in the development and implementation of strategies to reduce substance use/misuse, and their associated harms. Individual, relationship, community, and society level protective factors play an important role in preventing youth from using marijuana. For example, resiliency has been shown to be an individual-
      level protective factor, whereas family factors such as connectedness are a strong relationship-level protective factor for youth marijuana use prevention. Community and societal level protective factors include factors related to economic stability, social status, and community connectedness.
    2. Funding is allocated to support afterschool programs statewide to build protective factors related to substance misuse among youth in grades 5-8. To learn more about the Positive Youth Development Afterschool Program, visit Alaska Afterschool Network.
    3. The Marijuana Education Program also provides resources to support school districts to deliver targeted trauma-engaged prevention activities to at-risk students to improve behavioral health issues. Resources are also provided to support justice-involved youth through a partnership with the Alaska Division of Juvenile Justice.
Adult Education and Workforce Development

Poverty and deep poverty plague Rhode Island communities and the people
who live in them particularly for BIPOC populations. The poverty rate for Black Rhode Islanders (21.5%) is more than twice as high as the rate for White Rhode Islanders (9.0%). The rate for Latinx Rhode Islanders (27.1%) is three times as high and for Asian Rhode Islanders (15.9%) the rate is not quite twice as high compared to White residents. We support adult education, job training, and business and job creation by women and members of BIPOC communities are essential components of our strategic plan.

We support increased state funding, that is both long term and consistent, for:

  • Lift 2,500 families out of deep poverty and increase the RI Works benefit amount from 30% to 50% of the federal poverty level starting October 2021. Benefits will then be adjusted
    to keep pace with inflation. The cash assistance paid to 2,500 families receiving RI Works benefits has not been raised in 30 years and is 30% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL).
  • Expand access to adult education and job training programs, especially for multi-language learners. Ensure these programs train our neighbors for the livable wage jobs of tomorrow, as well as of today.
  • Raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour and adjusting it to keep pace with inflation to achieve a livable wage for Rhode Islanders at the lower end of the income spectrum.
  • Increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). The current EITC is at 15% of the federal credit. UWRI supports an increase of the EITC to 20%. Through our Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program (VITA), a program designed to help low- and moderate-income taxpayers complete their annual tax returns at no cost, working families can access the EITC, a powerful tool in enhancing a family’s financial stability. This year the federal government increased EITC via the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package. This will in essence increase the credit for RI families in the current year. We will work to make this increase permanent.

We also support:

  • Disaggregating data on the State of Rhode Island waitlist to determine which participants are English Language Learners (ELL) and need ELL courses (ELL) courses versus adult basic and ELL courses to better inform and prioritize registration.
  • Support the growth and stability of businesses owned by women and minorities in Rhode Island, which in turn will drive economic growth in our state.
Justice Reform

In order to achieve a more just society, we must look at racial equity and the systems that cause extreme disparities from both preventative and restorative perspectives. Our work focuses on the Out of School Time Learning spaces and adult education and workforce development opportunities while taking a very specific look at the criminal justice realm. Our aim is to mitigate the long-term negative impacts for BIPOC communities and design a new policy that helps Rhode Islanders return to a full life complete with inclusive and engaging prospects for home, work, and life.

We support:

  • Out of School Time Learning mitigates the school to prison pipeline and for every $1 spent on youth there is a $3 return on investment according to the Afterschool Alliance. This policy brief in 2020 shows that Rhode Island spends $263,750.00 on incarcerated youth per year. The Cost of Youth Incarceration — Justice Policy Institute. Let’s stop investing in incarcerations and start investing in prevention.
  • Cash Bail Reform – The U.S. jail population has grown dramatically in recent decades. This increase is due almost entirely to the rise of pretrial detention, the practice of holding a person in jail before a trial even while they are presumed innocent. A single factor drives most pretrial detention, confining an estimated 2.5 million people each year behind bars: unaffordable cash bail.

We also support:

  • Disaggregating data on the State of Rhode Island waitlist to determine which participants are English Language Learners (ELL) and need ELL courses (ELL) courses versus adult basic and ELL courses to better inform and prioritize registration.
  • Support the growth and stability of businesses owned by women and minorities in Rhode Island, which in turn will drive economic growth in our state.


Democracy is not a spectator sport. Join us.


Sign our equity pledge to join us in eliminating policies that disadvantage Rhode Islanders of color.


Advocate alongside us or sign up for Advocacy 101.


Support our work with a tax-deductible charitable contribution.

Featured image for Providence Journal Opinion Logo

Invest in after-school and summer learning

The Providence Journal

"As Rhode Island’s policymakers allocate [American Rescue Plan Act] funding for education recovery and school districts determine how to spend those funds, it’s crucial that they partner with and fund after-school and summer learning programs," share Roshni Darnal, director of community investments at United Way of Rhode Island, and Maryclaire Knight.

Read on site

Justin Thomas has made large strides toward building a new life in Rhode Island during and after his time in prison, but he remains saddled with court-related debt that will weigh on him for many years. He is among many people who may benefit from a new program that can reduce fines and fees, but not restitution. David DelPoio/The Providence Journal

RI opens path to break cycle of court fees

The Providence Journal

"Long after Rhode Islanders serve their time in prison, many are saddled with thousands of dollars in court fees and fines, even as they struggle to rebuild fractured lives... On Thursday, Nov. 18, a first-of-its kind event will take place to help people navigate their way back into society."


Two Youthbuild Preparatory Academy students sealing a wooden floor. Youthbuild is one of many organizations that make up Rhode Island's nonprofit sector. YOUTHBUILD PREPARATORY ACADEMY

R.I. can no longer overlook nonprofit sector

The Boston Globe

"The pandemic has highlighted the essential, irreplaceable roles played by Rhode Island's nonprofit sector. And our state investments and attention to the sector needs to reflect that."


United Way Welcomes New Board Members

“United Way of Rhode Island has appointed a total of 10 community leaders across its board of directors and its Community Advisory Board, while also naming a new board chair. Assuming leadership of the board of directors is Dolph Johnson, EVP, Chief Global Human Resources Officer for Hasbro, Inc.”

Starkweather & Shepley: Annual Celebration Honoree

“Here at United Way of Rhode Island… we take great pride in our role as a convener, bringing community stakeholders together to address our state’s most important issues. And we are tremendously fortunate to have partners that support not only our work, but also our vision for a Rhode Island that is the best it can be.”

Homes RI: Annual Celebration Honoree

“It’s no secret that Rhode Island is in the midst of a housing crisis — one that began prior to COVID-19 and that’s since reached epic proportions over the past 18 months. As it’s estimated the Ocean State is short some 20,000+ units of affordable housing… one group in particular is leading the charge toward flipping the script.”


Embracing Equitable Practices in OSTL

Join the Rhode Island Afterschool Network for our fall 2021 professional development conference, Embracing Equitable Practices in OSTL, on Friday, Dec. 3, and Saturday, Dec. 4. You'll learn strategies from experts in our field and receive tools to help mitigate the impact of racism and inequities on our youth. This is a virtual event.


Learn with Leaders ft. Steven O’Donnell

Join United Way of Rhode Island's Young Leaders Circle for Learn with Leaders featuring Steven O'Donnell on Wednesday, Dec. 8, from 6 – 7 p.m. You'll hear how Steve has risen through the ranks in public safety and now paves the way so underserved youth in Rhode Island can reach their full potential. This is a free, virtual event.


Community Learning Partners

Join United Way of Rhode Island's Women United for our next Community Learning Partners event on Thursday, Dec. 9, from noon – 1 p.m. You'll hear from Camp RYSE, Meeting Street, and Mt. Hope Learning Center — three Women United grantee partners doing exceptional work to support childhood learning. This is a free, virtual event.


YLC Holiday Event and Stocking Drive

Join United Way of Rhode Island's Young Leaders Circle (YLC) in spreading holiday cheer as we collect stuffed stockings for underserved youth in Rhode Island. Bring a stocking filled with gloves, gift cards, and other goodies to the Narragansett Beer Taproom in Providence on Thursday, Dec. 16, from 6 – 7 p.m. and receive a complimentary beer ticket for up to three beers.