United Way of Greater Waterbury Live United

ALICE in the News

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

 Reprinted with permission from our valued Platinum Media Corporate Sponsors Republican-American

Newsmaker: Joann Reynolds-Balanda
United Way VP crosses poverty line to aid working poor

ALICE - an acronym for Asset Limited Income Constrained Employed - put a name to the face of the working poor in 2015 and became a new focus for the United Way after commissioning a report on their plight.

ALICE might be your neighbor, co-worker, even your relative. They're the folks who earn above the federal poverty level, but still don't have enough income to afford the basic necessities of life, such as food, child care and housing.

We spoke with JoAnn Reynolds-Balanda, the United Way of Greater Waterbury's vice president of community impact, and Richard Porth, chief executive officer of the United Way of Connecticut, about ALICE.

Q: How does the ALICE study better equip the United Way and other charities to serve the people it identifies as in need?

Reynolds-Balanda: "We've always known anecdotally about the ALICE population ... but this report really puts the data behind it, especially in our suburban towns. When you look at the data on that level, it provides us with much richer information on how to respond."

Q: Didn't we always know about the working poor? What new information is provided in the ALICE study?

Reynolds-Balanda: "We did have census information and policy information, but we really didn't have great data on those folks' struggles. We knew food stamp use was going up, we knew we were seeing more people at our food pantries ... but we didn't know the specific numbers in our suburban areas. It really gave us a different measure for looking at the story behind the problem."

Richard Porth: "Number one, it shows that the traditional 40- or 50-year-old federal poverty line which has been sued as the main measure of 'poor' is outdated and we need more modern, more comprehensive ways to understand what financial struggles look like, what financial insecurity looks like ... It's not only the 10 percent of households in Connecticut below the poverty line, but another 25 percent who are above the poverty line, working hard but still struggling to make ends meet."

Q: Are the working poor less likely to reach out to charities for help, and why? Is there a stigma?

Reynolds-Balanda: "Sometimes this time of year we get calls for help with Christmas presents or food or something like that and we say, 'Go to this church or go to this food pantry. Oftentimes they'll stop us and say, 'I contributed to that church or given to that food pantry. I can't go in there now and ask for help. Give me something two towns over.' "

Q: Does being described as "ALICE" encourage them to seek that help, or has there been any resentment over the label?

Reynolds-Balanda: "We haven't heard a backlash. It's given people an opportunity to think about their own situation, that they're not isolated and they might be part of a larger group in their community that is struggling, and there are services here that are helpful to them. We've had people actually say after a presentation, 'I am ALICE. I'm part of this group. I had no voice and now I have a voice.' "

Q: Doesn't the ALICE study significantly increase the number of people the United Way needs to serve, at a time when financial resources may not be as strong?

Reynolds-Balanda: "The United Way has been serving this population. I think we've identified them a little bit better and can speak to their needs better ... I think this has given us an opportunity to engage our donors and explain the what needs of the community are in a better way."

Richard Porth: "It does, but United Way does its work not only by fundraising and allocating funds toward specific outcomes in the community, but we also ask people to volunteer and to advocate. We've really been, along with the ALICE work, trying to open peoples eyes to not only helping ALICE families with immediate basic needs ... but also thinking how to advocate for things that would lead to more affordable housing or more affordable child care."

Q: Does this new focus on ALICE represent a shift in priority at the United Way in terms of the needy populations it serves?

Reynolds-Balanda: "I wouldn't say it's a shift, but it is giving us an opportunity to consider strategies in a different way. For example, we are considering this two-generation approach. There's legislation passed in Connecticut by the Commission on Children that is a focus on intentionally working with young people, children and their families at the same time, so we can lift families and kids out of poverty ... It may not mean more money; it may mean different strategies and approaches by programs to working with families."

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