Column: Helping the vulnerable move from survival to stability

Carol Braden-Clarke - Guest Spot

This is the time year people stop and reflect on the many blessing they have and try to help others. Whether it is providing toys for a child or a holiday meal for a struggling family, this season brings out the kindness and generous spirit of people.

Many hard-working employed people in our community are known as ALICE, which stands for “Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed.” They earn above the federal poverty level, but do not make enough to meet the basic cost to survive. In the short term, immediate assistance helps. However, it is not a long term solution to moving beyond survival.

The cost to just survive in Allen County with the basics of housing, food, transportation, health care, child care, taxes and miscellaneous costs, which would include cleaning supplies and work clothes:

• $17,964 a year for a single person;

• $61,080 a year, or $30.54 an hour, for a family of four with two adults, an infant and a preschooler.

Government programs are intended to fill short-term needs but are not designed to help households achieve financial stability. Many crucial resources are targeted to households that are at or near the Federal Poverty Level; so many ALICE households don’t qualify for assistance. Assistance programs are often structured to end when a person’s income increases, but they have not reached financial stability. This is known as the “cliff effect.” For example: if a family of four that is receiving SNAP benefits(formerly known as food stamps) income reaches $31,590 which is slightly more than half of what it costs to survive — the SNAP benefits decrease.

In the ALICE Report the basic survival budget for a family of four, housing accounts for 14 percent of the budget; child care accounts for 29 percent; food accounts for 12 percent; transportation accounts for 14 percent and taxes account for 9 percent. Even with federal government assistance for Section 8 Housing vouchers and Low Income Energy Assistance and other housing assistance programs of an estimated $1.2 billion for housing and an estimated $198 million in nonprofit housing assistance in Ohio, there is still a 40 percent gap in resources for all households to meet the ALICE threshold. The ALICE threshold is the basic survival budget and households earning less than the ALICE threshold include ALICE and poverty households.

For childcare, 29 percent of an ALICE household budget is not enough to pay for the least expensive option of organized care of home-based child care. In Ohio the federal government spends $293 million for Head Start that provides early care and education for children and allows parents to work. With government spending and what the nonprofit sector provides for child care there is still a 50 percent gap in resources for all households to meet the basic ALICE Threshold for child care.

The 12 percent for food of the ALICE Household Survival Budget for a family of four is insufficient to afford even the USDA Thrifty Food Plan. The federal government spends about $717 million for food assistance for Ohio Households for SNAP (formerly know as food stamps), school breakfast and lunch programs and WIC- Nutrition for women, infants and children. Even with the government programs and nonprofit programs such as food pantries, food banks and soup kitchens combined there is still a 42 percent gap in resources for all households to meet the ALICE Threshold for food.

United Way’s role is to bring people together from all sectors of the community to address community issues. We are currently convening groups around education and financial stability to develop strategies to get ALICE beyond survival.

In this season of giving, the struggles ALICE families face will be lessened but as a community the greatest gift we can give is to find solutions to move ALICE from survival to stability. If you would like to learn more or get involved please go to our website or call 419-227-6341.

Carol Braden-Clarke

Guest Spot

Carol Braden-Clarke is the president of United Way of Greater Lima.

Carol Braden-Clarke is the president of United Way of Greater Lima.

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