MANY Virginians have been adversely affected by the coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent financial and emotional devastation caused by the months-long lockdown, from front-line health care workers to owners of small businesses to parents unable to send their children to school.
But those classified as Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed (ALICE) have been hit particularly hard. These are the people who stock grocery shelves, clean places of business, take care of children and old people, and perform much of the necessary, but poorly paid work that keeps society functioning. Because ALICE households were already struggling to keep their heads above water before the pandemic and had fewer financial resources to fall back on, they’ve suffered the worst impact from widespread closures.
According to Clayton Smith, board chairman of Rappahannock United Way, the charitable group has already spent over $100,000 so far this year helping 55 households in the region, 22 of which were grappling with COVID-related financial stress.
The latest ALICE report released last week by a coalition of United Ways found that 29 percent of all households in Virginia make more than the federal poverty level, but less than what they need to afford basic living expenses. Smith said ALICE families have the most trouble paying for housing, transportation and child care in high-cost areas. But that’s where many of the jobs are.
The report also found that a single working adult in Virginia needs to make $53,400 per year to be able to afford basic necessities and also save 10 percent of annual income to pay for unexpected expenses. That amount increases to $128,784 for a family of four with small children needing child care. Since nearly a third of Virginians do not make even close to that threshold amount, it’s not surprising that they took the biggest hit when a perfect public health and economic storm like COVID-19 came along.
Programs that help working people weather such storms are better than welfare programs for one simple reason: a job is more than a mere paycheck. Employment provides valuable skills, a sense of accomplishment, a stabilizing connection to the community, and a stepping stone to something better. It’s in the entire community’s best interest to have as many residents working as possible, and to help them during times of crisis when circumstances beyond their control threaten to plunge them into poverty.
Unfortunately, due to increased demand created by COVID-19, RUW expects its ALICE Assistance Fund, which has received federal and state grants, to run dry by the fall. Meanwhile, the many local businesses that employ ALICE are also struggling to stay afloat. Businesses need customers in order to provide jobs, so targeting assistance to both employer and employee is a delicate balancing act. But both are needed for a healthy regional economy.
Fredericksburg area residents who are able to help should do so by patronizing locally-owned enterprises and contributing generously to RUW at www.rappahanockunitedway.org/give/ALICE/.
Consider it a wise investment in your community’s future—as well as your own.