In 2008, the Bucks County Women’s Fund’s (BCWF) conducted a series of Listening Year public forums and distributed an opinion survey across the county. Leading up to the Listening Year, the Women’s Fund gave a grant to the Coalition for Women’s Economic Justice (WEJ), a project of A Woman’s Place, to develop a series of white papers “Charting a Course to Women’s Economic Self-Sufficiency: Recommendations on Housing, Health Care, Education, Employment, Child Care and Transportation.” The WEJ Report and the results of the BCWF Listening Year culminated in a highly successful “Conversation with Legislators” in October 2008. The collaboration that was built around that event transitioned into an extended and growing collaboration known as the Bucks County Women’s Advocacy Coalition.
In 2009, leading and administrating this Coalition was the BCWF’s key advocacy and collaborative strategy. Partners in the Coalition developed a mission statement and came together to speak powerfully, with one voice, with and for the women and girls of Bucks County. The result is the coordination and true collaboration among the women-serving nonprofit organizations in Bucks County. Health care reform was the Coalition’s first priority issue. They sent letters to the editor and went to Washington, DC and met with the staff of our Congressman and Senators in November. The Coalition also held a workshop to learn about advocacy, its techniques and its risks.
In 2010, the Coalition expanded its partner list to include individuals and additional partner organizations. The Coalition held a series of “Train-the-Trainers” meeting in various part of county to inform Executive Directors, their staff and Board members about its mission and vision using the PowerPoint presentation developed for the 2010 “Conversation with Legislators.” The second “Conversation with Legislators” was held in January. A special Priority Setting Session # 1 workshop took place to develop a set of “Principles and Components for Economic Self-Sufficiency in Bucks County”, which were adopted in May. In February the Coalition sent another letter to our Senators and Congressman to push for passage of principle based comprehensive health care reform. After the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act passed in March, child care became the Coalition’s priority issue. The Coalition members worked closely with State Senator Chuck McIlhinney to frame a discussion to address the “cliff effect” in child care subsidies. In the late Fall a Priority Setting Session # 2 brought together Coalition and non-Coalition persons to discuss Child Care, Elder Care and Caregiver Support. In November 2010, the Coalition also adopted its own by-laws, policies, job descriptions, and partner commitment form to prepare it for the future. A brochure was developed for distribution at A Day for All Women and handed out to others at meetings and events into the next year.
In 2011, the Coalition accepted the offer of A Woman’s Place to come under its umbrella until the Coalition reaches a stage where it is stronger and able to incorporate separately with less risk. This will allow the Coalition to focus more on its advocacy work and branding. In June a memo of understanding was signed with AWP. For the first time the Coalition solicited its partners for both individual and organizational donations. They adopted the FY 2011-12 budget that began on July 1. The Steering Committee was expanded from five to nine members. Throughout the year, various members of the Steering Committee had introductory meetings with a number of our county, state and federal elected officials or staff to explore areas where the Coalition and the official could collaborate or assist with our priorities. A “white paper” on options for ameliorating the cliff effect in childcare subsidies was produced by a working group in which the Coalition and members of Senator McIlhinney’s staff participated. In April, the Coalition held its third annual “Conversation with Legislators” that focused on the impact of the federal, state and local budgetary decisions. Partner organizations presented data and real stories to highlight the human impact. The Health Care Subcommittee worked on strategies they developed for implementation of the Health Care Principles. Members of the Subcommittee met with elected officials and the Director of the Bucks County Health Department concerning the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, as well as graded the Act against the Coalition Principles. The Subcommittee brought to the full Coalition, a statement (which was adopted on 2/25/11) on reproductive health, which in turn was sent to Bucks County legislators. In addition, the Subcommittee led an effort to survey all organizational partners in March 2011 as to their public funding streams (level, source, eligibility requirements, # of clients served, etc.). The Communications Subcommittee developed goals, scope and deliverables for its work. Agreement on the contents of the Coalition’s new website was achieved and the domain name www.BCWAC.org is registered. The new web-site launch was announced in November. The Subcommittee proposed to the Coalition a sign on process for opt-in/opt-out to communications with officials, the press, and similar public statements and a communications tracking system was established. In September the Coalition met for a day in “Base Camp” to develop short, medium and long range goals for its advocacy work; in October the partners committed to the FY 2011-12 high priority efforts for education about the new health care act, mitigation of the cliff effect, and reduction in home foreclosures.
In 2012, the Coalition achieved many firsts, perhaps the most important of which was holding an Advocacy Day in May. We developed talking points and personally spoke with all of the Bucks County state legislators, either in Harrisburg or at home, throughout their process of developing the PA. budget. This effort was a follow-up to the Coalition’s fourth annual Conversation with Legislators at the end of March, which featured presentations by executives of the PA Budget and Policy Center and Keystone Research Center about the proposed Governor’s budget. We became a Sponsoring Organization of the Bucks County Women’s History Month Award. The Coalition continued its work on the identified priorities throughout the year. The Steering Committee met 13 times to give direction to the work of the Coalition. The Health Care Subcommittee prepared a one-pager for all Partners and others explaining how the Affordable Care Act helps women; met with legislative staff about the PA Health Exchanges; and issued a press release on the Supreme Court’s decision. The Committee advocated against many attacks on women’s reproductive freedom. The Communications Subcommittee collected stories of women and their families affected by Federal and state programs and fiscal cuts; researched a proposed blog; and reviewed communications from the Coalition to the press/media; and conducted two surveys of Partners to determine areas of interest and concern. The Cliff Effect Subcommittee met with staff to the PA Secretary of Welfare, and with Senator McIlhinney who moved to draft legislation to ameliorate the cliff effect in child care subsidies. The Coalition had a briefing from Career Link officials, and maintained its interest in improved housing in the county. The Coalition was active throughout the year in partnering for advocacy on a range of issues impacting our Principles, and in issuing a variety of press releases, letters to the editor, and guest opinions. We communicated regularly by letter, email, personal visits and telephone with all our elected Federal and state lawmakers conveying our concerns about proposed legislation or action that would impede the implementation of our Principles. Of particular note was the impact of our many calls and e-mails to our Bucks County PA Senators and Legislators about the PayDay Lending Bill (HB-2191) that was sailing through to passage. Our efforts and explanations of what it really would mean for women and families got our representatives’ attention. A number of legislators pulled their name from the bill and, although it squeaked through the House by six votes, it stalled in the Senate committee thanks to Senators Greenleaf, Mensch and others. All in all, we solidified our credibility this year.
Each year, the Coalition partners communicate and implement a focused strategy for positive change built on its principles and components for institutional/systemic reform.