The Far-Reaching Effects of the Coronavirus Crisis on Struggling Families in Our Region

United Way of Western CT helps ALICE during the COVID-19 crisis

“My children are at home eating three meals a day and I have no money left on my SNAP Card. I’m not getting a paycheck this week, and I’m not eligible for unemployment.”—Mom living paycheck-to-paycheck

Like all of you, this past week has thrown my family and my organization, United Way of Western Connecticut, into uncharted territory.  While this time of upheaval will greatly negatively impact many of our neighbors, United Way’s primary concern is for the health of the people who live in the region we serve, and we are in agreement with the measures being taken to ensure the public health of the whole community. It goes without saying that we urge all residents to follow the guidelines and procedures recommended by local, state, and national officials to prevent the virus’s spread.

For Theresa, quoted above, the coronavirus emergency is as much about her family’s financial health as it is about their physical health. Theresa is a member of United Way of Western Connecticut’s Advisory Board made up of people who work hard but struggle to get by, a population we call ALICE® (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed).

Theresa works as a substitute school aide. When schools are closed, she doesn’t get paid—and, for now, she’s not eligible for unemployment. The devastating effects this crisis is having on her household income are compounded by the fact that her children, who usually eat breakfast and lunch at school, are now at home, putting a strain on her household food budget. To get the meals usually provided by the school, she’ll have to pile the kids in the car and use precious gas to pick up those meals. With no income and no money left on her SNAP Card, she doesn’t know how far those school meals can be stretched. All the other bills will have to be put on hold. “I’m very stressed about the uncertainty,” she says.

For many of us, this “new normal”—working from home and attending school remotely—is not much more than an aggravation. Many professionals can work remotely with barely a glitch in their schedules or income.

Not so for most people who fall into the ALICE income threshold. ALICE jobs tend to be “hands-on.” They are school bus drivers, school aides, waiters, waitresses, maintenance workers, home health care workers, and gig economy workers. Many of these people will either be out of work for weeks or possibly months, or they will have to go to work despite being in a very tight child-care bind—as the schools and centers they depend on to watch their kids are closed.

ALICE and people living in poverty have no “cushion” to help protect them in times of a public crisis. They didn’t have the money to stockpile food and supplies in advance of this crisis. They have no savings to get them through a few weeks without a paycheck or tips. More than ever, they will need to rely on social support networks to keep them afloat.

What can you do to help?
We are all in this together, and there are ways that each of us can help. The following are a few ideas:
Consider donating to a United Way fund or other nonprofit.

  • Connecticut United Ways have created a common fund that will allow us to deliver help quickly to those in need. This fund is a way to get money for necessities into the hands of those suffering financial losses, as soon as possible. To donate to the Connecticut United Ways COVID-19 Response Fund go to www.CTUWCovid19ResponseFund.org.
     
  • If you want to make sure your donation only benefits those is the region served by United Way of Western Connecticut, donate to our ALICE Emergency Fund at https://www.uwwesternct.org/aliceemergencyfund    Initially, this fund will be used to help local residents purchase healthy food.
     
  • Continue to support and consider increasing your gift to local nonprofit agencies. You can support local social service agencies as you have in the past—or at even greater levels as your pocketbook allows. Many nonprofits that serve people in poverty or in the ALICE income threshold have had to cancel their fundraisers. If you regularly attend one of these fundraisers and write a check, make sure you write the check anyway. Agencies that provide basic needs—like food and utility assistance—will depend more heavily on your support as their clients face new hardships.

If you are healthy and able, consider filling the volunteering gap. Many food-delivery programs, such as Meals on Wheels, depend on volunteers to provide their services. But many of their volunteers are older adults who are vulnerable to the virus and will not be able to continue volunteering while the virus continues to spread. Volunteer needs may arise that younger, healthier adults can fill. We’ll try to keep you posted on our website about these needs.

Reach out to your neighbors and find ways to stay connected. Seemingly overnight, we have been forced to pause our daily routines, and this offers us the opportunity to focus on our family and community. There are people who are scared, and don’t know if they will have the resources they need. Offer hope, and maybe some toilet paper if that is what is needed!

As the crisis began to unfold on Monday, March 16, I convened a conference call with members of our ALICE Advisory Board, the group that Theresa (quoted at the outset of this piece) is a member of. This board is comprised of Connecticut residents living paycheck-to-paycheck. I wanted to learn what might be most helpful to them as the reality of this crises began to unfold. What resonated most with me as I listened to their stories was that each one ended with,“I’m grateful for the support that does exist, and we will get through this.”

I am confident that we will get through this together and we will emerge stronger. To get there, I ask you to join us in being an outstretched hand to your own neighbors.  We will continue to update you on the efforts the philanthropic community are making to alleviate the pain of so many of our neighbors as we weather this crisis together.

Kim Morgan, CEO, United Way of Western CT

Kimberly A. Morgan
CEO, United Way of Western CT