United Way Suncoast connects during 2023 Capital Days

United Way Suncoast CEO Jessica Muroff and senior education manager Alma Ovalle composed part of the contingent that met with State Rep. James Buchanan and other legislators during United Way Capital Days.

TALLAHASSEE — United Way Suncoast vice president Doug Griesenauer stood during a presentation at United Way of Florida’s Capital Days on Wednesday and posed a question to Meredith Ivey, the acting CEO for Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity.

United Way Suncoast community impact vice president Doug Griesenauer speaks with Meredith Ivey, acting CEO for the Department of Economic Opportunity at United Way Capital Days in Tallahassee.

Griesenauer, who leads United Way Suncoast’s community impact efforts, asked Ivey if she would consider enhancing the statewide Volunteer Income Tax Assistance and Bank On Suncoast programs with CareerSource, Florida’s workforce development program. DEO helps oversee CareerSource and with Ivey speaking passionately about wanting to help state residents with housing crisis issues, the proposal seems like a natural fit. The idea clearly left Ivey intrigued and she sought out Griesenauer after speaking to more than 70 United Way members from around the state. The connection made between the two could shift Griesenauer’s ideation into implementation, and it’s a clear example of why the advocacy efforts of United Way Suncoast and United Way Florida continue to be a core principle for both organizations.

‘You Absolutely Make A Difference’

United Way Capital Days provide the state and local organizations the opportunity to raise awareness of critical issues and solutions that can help ALICE (Asset-Limited, Income-Constrained, Employed) families and buoy communities. The series of legislators and state agency leaders who came before the group, including State Rep. Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa, and Department of Business and Professional Regulation Secretary Melanie Griffin, responded to such moments with a clear message.

Keep advocating.

“To me, it’s so important to communicate with people on a human level … and you do that at United Way,” said Driskell, encouraging the United Way members to be polite but persistent in connecting with leaders. “You have to connect with people’s values. It’s not unlike anything else you would encounter when trying to make a new friend.”

Legislators prove receptive

Driskell, the state house minority leader, was just one of several area legislators who made time for United Way Suncoast team members. Led by CEO Jessica Muroff and Public Policy chair Mike Daigle, the organization brought 13 team members to Tallahassee. With the help of the RSA Consulting firm, one of the organizers for Capital Days, the Suncoast contingent met with state house members James Buchanan, R-Sarasota; Berny Jacques, R-Clearwater; Susan Valdes, D-Tampa; Kim Berfield, R-Clearwater; and Lindsay Cross, D-St. Petersburg. State Sen. Jay Collins, R-Tampa, also took a meeting with select members of the team.

The lawmakers proved receptive, and the moments allowed team members to speak passionately about both the United Way of Florida consensus policy agenda and United Way Suncoast’s local issues of concern. The local policy concerns include early learning, workforce development and transportation.

KidCare, Housing take centerstage
Department of Business and Professional Regulation Secretary Melanie Griffin speaks with United Way Suncoast CEO Jessica Muroff and Individual Philanthropy Senior Manager Jessica Maxon-Berrier.

That agenda includes advocating for KidCare, the state’s child healthcare initiative that needs a revision. State Rep. Dana Trabulsy, R-Fort Pierce, made an impassioned plea for United Way members to champion House Bill 121a proposal that mitigates the fiscal benefits cliff for those receiving KidCare child health insurance by creating a glide path for those who earn salary increases and move above eligibility standards for the program.  “Healthcare is considered a Tier 2 necessity,” said Trabulsy, the bill’s prime co-sponsor. “But when it comes to your children, what’s more important than their health.”

Griffin, the head of Business and Professional Regulation, spoke of her office’s efforts to create greater efficiency. Since taking over the department, she’s reduced the turnaround on applications and the call-wait time by nearly 60 percent. Like almost every policy maker who addressed the group, she also spoke of her agency’s efforts to assist with Florida’s housing crisis. Both Griffin and Trabulsy touted the value of United Way’s advocacy efforts with words of encouragement. “When you get on the radar with legislators here, you can make a difference,” Griffin said. “These representatives, whether elected or appointed, don’t walk in your shoes. They don’t know what you know.

“Just remember, many times it’s about incremental change. You have to take the little wins and build on them. It’s often a multi-year process. … But you absolutely make a difference.”

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