Social safety net in Kansas is, sadly, now a private-sector responsibility, 2017 United Way Campaign co-chairs say

Lawrence residents Wint and Mary Winter will be the chairs of this year's United Way campaign. The couple are pictured, Tuesday, April 18, 2017 in their Lawrence home. Enlarge photo

April 19, 2017

On Tuesday — the deadline for filing taxes — Wint Winter Jr. touched on the political as he spoke of the challenge that he and his wife, Mary, accepted on behalf of United Way of Douglas County.

The former state senator and his wife have been selected to be the United Way Campaign co-chairs for 2017.

Wint Winter, an attorney and CEO of Peoples Bank, said Gov. Sam Brownback’s tax policies and political philosophy, which view the social safety net as more of a private-sector than a governmental concern, should lead people to support United Way.

“We used to think about the social safety net for people with needs,” he said. “That’s going away. The responsibility for the social safety net has shifted from the government to the private sector. If you care about taking care of people, you have to take action to engage. The way to engage in this community is United Way.”

Wint Winter also noted that many people who have benefited from Brownback’s political philosophy should consider that the community’s needs didn’t disappear with the tax breaks.

“In this state, there are 130,000 people who pay zero income tax, not less income tax but zero,” he said. “I think you could argue in Brownback’s view people who save money on taxes should look to support a safety net through private agencies.”

Tax savings haven’t flowed to United Way yet, Wint Winter said. It will be his and his wife’s task to make the case in the coming year for giving to United Way and the agencies it supports.

Cuts in social services the past six years have created a large and growing need in Douglas County. Peggy Johnson, United Way of Douglas County board member, said to address the needs the United Way’s 2017 goals were to raise $1.55 million and increase volunteerism for the 29 agencies it provides financial support for and others with which it partners.

The Winters are no strangers to United Way. As well as being faithful United Way donors, Wint Winter has been a longtime member of the United Way Allocation Committee, and Mary Winter works with the agency’s Spirit of Giving programs.

They have also witnessed how United Way makes a difference in the county. Mary Winter said that as a volunteer for Catholic Charities she saw how donations helped those in need, while her husband said an experience of representing a client brought home to him the power of United Way-supported agencies to improve lives.

“I remember as a lawyer representing a woman who came to me wanting protection from abuse,” he said. “After years in a traumatic relationship, she was looking to go in a different direction. I knew how to get her a restraining order and provide her legal needs, but what she really needed was a safe place to stay for her and her two kids.”

Women’s Transitional Care Services, which is now Willow Domestic Violence Center, was able to provide his client with that vital assistance.

“That was far more important than the legal work I did for her,” he said.

His long tenure on the United Way’s Allocation Committee provided more motivation to accept the campaign chair challenge, Wint Winter said. A few years back, he witnessed an action of inspiring altruism when the director of the Douglas County AIDS Project proposed merging with Heartland Community Health. The proposal accorded with the United Way’s encouragement of such mergers as a way to increase efficiency and reduce overhead, he said.

“That was great,” Wint Winter said. “The AIDS Project director made about $50,000 a year in his position, but he merged himself out of a job.”

This year’s United Way campaign will kick off in September, but Felecia Cunningham, United Way workplace campaign manager, said leaders of businesses and institutions could expect to hear from volunteers much sooner about their groups participating in the annual campaign. Volunteers are now receiving training in making the calls, she said.

Originally published at: http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2017/apr/19/shouldering-load-social-safety-need-now-private-se/