For many people around the country, California is synonymous with Hollywood glamour, high tech start-ups, wealth and opportunity, and while that may be true for some, let us not forget that California also has the highest poverty rate in the nation.

With 8.9 million Californians finding it difficult to afford housing, food, and some of the basic necessities needed to survive, California’s United Ways, working through their United Ways of California state network, have embarked on an ambitious plan to reverse some of the damage done during the Great Recession. Non-profits have an important role to play in the policy discussion as they are on the front lines daily and see the affect of decisions in Sacramento on their communities. United Way approaches this work in a strongly non-partisan manner, bringing research, facts and stories about communities to all policymakers.

California United Ways collectively raise and invest close to $200 million annually and mobilize thousands of volunteers each year to increase education, health and financial opportunity for low-income families. This year, the United Ways of California state network is sponsoring legislation that creates a state earned income tax credit program to rebuild the middle class and fight poverty, and also supports legislation that expands availability of healthcare coverage for undocumented residents (SB 4 – Lara).

Assembly Bill 43 (Stone) creates a state Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for low- and moderate-income workers, as twenty-five other states have done. Over the last 40 years, productivity has increased by approximately 74%, yet wages for most low- and moderate-income people have not kept pace, with median hourly compensation rising only 9% over that period. The EITC is one bright spot, however; from 2010 to 2012, the federal EITC pulled 1.3 million people, including 629,000 children, above the federal poverty line in California. A California credit would encourage work, provide some much needed relief for working families by helping them secure an apartment or repair a car, and spur demand for goods and services by increasing purchasing power for tax filers in local economies that need it most.

Senate Bill 4 (Lara) expands access to healthcare by directing the state of California to seek permission from the federal government to allow undocumented Californians to purchase their own health coverage through the Covered California Health Insurance Exchange. This legislation also expands Medi-Cal to include individuals who qualify for enrollment in Medi-Cal but are currently denied access solely based on their immigration status.

SB 4 would help provide health access for up to 1.5 million people, including 170,000 children. It is far more cost-effective to prevent illness or treat illness early, and SB 4 would reduce health care costs for state and local taxpayers by decreasing the use of emergency room visits for minor health problems and encouraging treatment of conditions before they become severe.

United Ways of California is focused on helping struggling Californians and their communities by promoting asset building and financial stability; by increasing access to health coverage and care for all low to moderate income families; and helping children achieve their potential through parent and community engagement in education. Senate Bill 4 and Assembly Bill 43 go a long way towards reaching those goals.

United Ways of California advances the health, education and financial sustainability goals of local United Ways through education and advocacy. As a nonpartisan state organization, we believe the involvement of all sectors— business, nonprofits, philanthropy, government, and an engaged citizenry—are required to make progress on vital challenges facing low-income children and families. We see our role as bringing diverse (and sometimes unlikely) groupings of stakeholders together to address common social problems and work closely with local United Ways to create innovative opportunities to address them.