United Way's ALICE shines light on employed, but struggling to pay bills

Updated: Jul 31, 2019

By Justin Strawser Jun 19, 2019

More than a quarter of households in the four-county region are just above the poverty line but are still struggling to survive financially.

The Greater Susquehanna Valley United Way along with United Way of Pennsylvania this week released the ALICE report, which stands for Asset-Limited, Income-Constrained, Employed. It is an initiative of the Pennsylvania network of United Ways to raise awareness of the challenges faced by working families and to mobilize organizations and individuals who want to support strategies and policies that move ALICE along their journey to financial stability.

The data shows that:

-- In Northumberland County, 40 percent of the population lives below the ALICE threshold; 25 percent are considered ALICE households and 15 percent of households are living in poverty.

-- In Snyder County, 41 percent of the population lives below the ALICE threshold; 30 percent are considered ALICE households, while 11 percent of these households are living in poverty.

-- In Union County, 47 percent of the population lives below the ALICE threshold; 36 percent are considered ALICE households and 11 percent are living in poverty.

-- In Montour County, 37 percent of the population lives below the ALICE threshold; 28 percent are considered ALICE households and 11 percent are living in poverty.

“The Greater Susquehanna Valley United Way is committed to recognizing and assessing the needs of all the communities we serve. In order for us to establish lasting effects on these communities, we need to first address the root problems that ALICE households face,” said GSVUW CEO Joanne Troutman, whose organization serves Northumberland, Snyder and Union counties. “ALICE represents a large portion of hard-working Pennsylvanians who are essential to the local and state economy. ALICE individuals are relied upon to be the backbones of corporations, offering their support on a daily basis. Understanding the struggles and needs of ALICE is crucial in achieving permanent financial stability.”

The report shows that 1.2 million Pennsylvania households earn more than the federal poverty level but still not enough to pay for essentials such as housing, food, transportation and child care. When the number of households that live below the federal poverty level are added, the result is 1.8 million, or 37 percent, of Pennsylvania households are struggling to survive.

UWP’s report defines the cost of a bare-minimum household budget for each county in the state. Referred to as the survival budget, it is not sustainable but is a more realistic measure than the federal poverty level. Any Pennsylvanian who is not earning enough to afford the survival budget is ALICE. Even those who earn more than the cost of the household survival budget are at risk, and the ALICE stability budget is a representation of a sustainable family budget in the modern economy, with a few extras and a 10-percent savings commitment every month.

As part of Priorities for Impact, the United Way focuses on financial stability by meeting the basic needs of Valley residents with a focus on self-sufficiency. With the emergence of the ALICE report, one of the United Way's sub-goals will include a 10-year goal to reduce the ALICE population by 2 percent. The United Way supports the ALICE population through support of financial stability community partners, Basic Needs Task Force and Local Vision project. For those who are interested in finding out more about who ALICE is and how to help, visit www.gsvuw.org/alice or https://www.unitedforalice.org/.

Other ways the United Way members are addressing those in the ALICE report are through the Local Vision Project, seeking grants and promoting workforce development.

"The biggest problem is these families do not qualify for services," said Troutman. "The Local Vision Project is privately funded. It's something that helps serve basic needs of families in crisis situations, such as the closure of Wood-Mode, or someone who has a heart attack or on maternity leave but has no short-term disability of savings. How many of us can go without a paycheck or two?"

The United Way works with individuals to evaluate life goals and financial goals, she said. 

Union-Snyder Community Action Agency's Emily Mrusko said members of the agency have been discussing the ALICE report this week. The agency's mission is to reduce poverty in Union and Snyder counties through self-sufficiency initiatives for families and individuals in collaboration with our community partners.

"It really is interesting," said Mrusko. "The United Way is doing a lot of groundbreaking work and we're following closely. It's similar to what we're doing."

The Cliff Effect refers to those families who are employed, but not making ends meet. The classic example is a single mother working a job with public help, but she gets a $1 raise and she's bumped out of those services, Mrusko said.

"She's making more, but getting less because she's not getting food stamps and benefits that come with WIC," she said. 

Troutman said people are incentivized not to work or move up the promotional ladder.

"When it comes down to it, it doesn't benefit them to move up the pay scale," said Troutman. "When you're going to have work that much harder to get ahead, what's the motivation?"

Unrestricted funding without eligibility is "crucial," Mrusko said. "It allows us to be more flexible with resources and serve people who fall outside those poverty lines. We are trying to create a space for people to get what they need when they need it. We help them navigate through services and remove barriers."

Source: https://www.dailyitem.com/news/snyder_county/united-way-s-alice-shines-light-on-employed-but-struggling/article_94a90199-48a9-5990-a537-c34555964d30.html

Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed

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