The state of emergency created by the coronavirus pandemic, or COVID-19, is exposing critical shortcomings in our economy, health care system, and public education. The top prescription for combatting the spread of the virus — social distancing — demands working from home, keeping children out of school, and limiting person-to-person contact. These actions, while necessary for fighting the virus, put a substantial segment of our working population at serious financial risk. These are workers who don’t have health insurance, are afraid to call out sick for fear of losing their job, and whose children receive daily meals at school.
This vulnerable population is called ALICE, an acronym for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. ALICE households earn above the Federal Poverty Level, but not enough to afford household necessities. With little ability to save, there is no room in their budgets for such an emergency. They often earn too much to qualify for government assistance and have no safety net. In Collier County, nearly 42,756 households — 30 percent — are ALICE. When combined with the 9% families living in poverty, 39% percent of the 144,172 Collier County households walking a financial tightrope.
Recent government actions will provide important support for states and businesses as well as those already eligible for public assistance. Fast-tracking unemployment insurance and expanding benefits such as paid sick and medical leave will help many ALICE workers, but unmet needs will remain. The most significant gap will be for households ineligible for public assistance, self-employed/independent contractors, and those who incur additional expenses or reduced work schedules. The strain on these already fragile households will surpass the short-term crisis.
United Way is a cornerstone of the community and trusted leader in times of crisis. Our primary focus is to ensure the stability of our social service infrastructure and gaps in assistance don’t jeopardize the stability of ALICE households. The overwhelming majority of critical community-based organizations rely on philanthropy and public funds — both of which are in short supply — to provide services. As COVID-19’s economic impact grows, those dollars will be even more difficult to come by as budgets are pinched. Worse still, the need for these services will increase as people miss
work and miss paychecks.
Through the establishment of a COMMUNITY CORONAVIRUS FUND, we will be prepared to help ALICE endure the short- and long-term challenges ahead.
Government assistance alone will not stem the impact of this crisis; nonprofits and the philanthropic sector have an equally important role. Potential areas of focus for this effort could include:
Different segments of the ALICE demographic face unique challenges that will impact how our response is structured and delivered to meet the needs of our state. The following information will inform our strategy and rollout plan:
ALICE KEEPS OUR ECONOMY HUMMING: ALICE workers play an essential role in the economy, building and repairing our infrastructure and educating and caring for our current and future workforce. ALICE health care workers are especially needed to care for COVID-19 patients. Yet many ALICE workers do not have basic employee protections – such as annual salary, health coverage, and other benefits.
ALICE FAMILIES WITH CHILDREN FACE ADDITIONAL HARDSHIPS: Nearly one-third of families with children in Collier County have income below the ALICE Threshold. They are especially vulnerable to the disruptions that accompany child care, school, and university closures.
ALICE SENIORS FACE GREATER RISKS: The age group most susceptible to serious illness from COVID-19 is people over 60 years old. Many of them have income below the ALICE Threshold with little or no savings to cover extra health care costs.