You’ve been reading amazing updates all year long about our local and state-based efforts across the United Today, Stronger Tomorrow turf in MT, IA, and UT. In addition, we continue to work with partners in our other states like South Dakota to fight to eliminate the food tax and win wage increases for workers in select industries. What you may not know is that all of our organizing and campaigns have also had an incredible impact beyond the regional boundaries of our turf. In fact, bookended by the Small Town Summit in June and our recent visit to Washington DC - with 25 members/leaders like you - we’ve had a pretty remarkable year on the national and regional front as well. Here are some highlights:
Again, we look forward to sharing more updates with you soon. Until then, on behalf of the UTST core team, happy holidays, stay safe, and we'll see you in 2024!
In Eastern Iowa, we held our second town hall this month with the Iowa Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO in Jasper County, where we aim to identify opportunities for communities to work with unions to tackle local issues of similar concern. After the New Year, we will be revisiting Jasper and Marshall counties to hear from the folks in rural areas.
At the state level, conversations with the Iowa Environmental Council and others about home energy rebates programs and implementation are beginning to take place. We will keep you updated on what this could mean for you and your home as we expand in the new year.
In 2023 we started to have conversations with allied organizations and Wyoming residents about how to move the state forward more quickly in accessing essential HEERA and HOMES funds. The need for energy efficiency upgrades is urgent as electricity rates continue to rise this year; and energy efficiency jobs continue to provide thousands of Wyoming residents with stable, good employment. We will be launching a targeted campaign in January in support of bringing HEERA and HOMES dollars into our local communities to ensure our low- and moderate-income neighbors aren't left behind.
This past year in the Flathead, Montana has been a year of building connections, identifying issues, and exploring possibilities. Before 2023 there was no UTST presence in Montana, and as the year comes to a close, it's clear we have left an undeniable mark.
We started the year with the legislative session, advocating for the Child Tax Credit and SB15 Property Tax Credit for working class homeowners and renters. Early in the year we also conducted an issue ID campaign that led to a Town Hall in Kalispell with over 40 community members in attendance. Top issues of concern were affordable housing, mental health care, and community infrastructure.
Over the summer, we continued to dig into the issues and build connections with partners such as Northwest Montana Land Trust, Shelter WF, New Now Village, Valley Neighbors Welcome, Community Action Partnership of NW Montana, Forward MT and many others. Our director Paul visited over the summer to conduct a training on campaign development and we also brought 7 community members with us to the Small Town Summit in June.
In August, we began outreach and education about the Future Generations Commission which has been meeting to decide how to spend state funds to improve mental health care in Montana. We engaged a dozen community members to attend meetings and give public testimony regarding how those funds should be spent to improve mental health care in Northwest Montana. This work is ongoing as the commission continues to meet.
In October we organized a small, focused campaign in Whitefish, MT to address the housing crisis in our communities. A dedicated group of community members called HousingFor___ teamed up with UTST to plan a campaign to crackdown on illegal Airbnbs. The community came out in support to ask the Whitefish city council to hire an enforcement officer to enforce the city's rules on Airbnbs. There was a rally and a march on city hall, as well as 16 folks submitting public testimony and 16 folks submitting written testimony. The city council unanimously approved hiring an enforcement position!
In Utah this year, our focus was twofold: the growth of our robust steering committee, and the development of our base-building program with a particular emphasis on rural areas, known as the ‘435’ by many of our leaders. The steering committee continued tracking the implementation of federal programs and funding with the intent of ensuring that policies align with the needs of our community. Through our partnership development, we remain committed to holding policymakers accountable through the implementation of IRA and IIJA funds while raising awareness about the opportunities they present.
After months of surveys and conversations, it became clear that roads and public transit are top priorities for folks living outside of the Wasatch Front. With most of our town specific issues, it’s also clear that we have less power at the state level for leveraging our community needs. A significant milestone was the successful organization of a town hall on rural public transit, drawing over 60 participants, where we delved into specific issues faced by our communities in the 435 including highway safety, enhanced bus services for medical accessibility, and the creation of safer streets. This effort underscores the group’s commitment to inclusivity in transit options. By coming together across counties, we strengthened our collective voice. As a committee dedicated to public transit in the 435, we’re gearing up for 2024 to demonstrate to agencies in the Wasatch Front that rural Utah will not be overlooked in federal investments.
This year in Western Iowa has been primarily about getting new people interested in taking action. In the Summer, we brought a brand-new organizer to the team - Nathanael!
In the Autumn, we held two Town Halls for Pottawattamie County, which brought many new faces with new ideas into the same room as the more experienced folks. Between everyone, we recognized many different issues facing the county and chose to focus on a couple that we thought we could make a real impact on - one in Council Bluffs, and one in the rural parts of the county. For CB, we are researching how to best address the train and semi traffic in the south end that keeps people from being able to get to and from their homes or jobs for long periods of time. Outside of the city, we are looking to see if federal funding can help to provide a Mobile Health Clinic that would service the eastern parts of the county, where there are not a lot of options (if any) when it comes to health care. Moving into the new year, these will be the first of many projects we will tackle.
This year, we also deepened our connection with local labor and helped with turnout for some events hosted by the Western Iowa Labor Federation, like the action around Starbucks Red Cup Day that was in support of Starbucks Workers’ rights - including the right to organize. Looking to the future in Woodbury County, we are working directly with labor to find ways to increase support for programs that would help folks in prisons to begin apprenticeships that would work towards trade certificates and long-term careers once they get out.