I recently had an opportunity to attend a presentation at The Long Island Children and Families Leadership Summit at Hofstra University, where my colleague Theresa Regnanti, President and CEO of United Way of Long Island described a new acronym known as “ALICE” to those in attendance. ALICE stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained and Employed households. Although the acronym was new to me, the description of the families that can be considered ALICE families is not. In fact, these are working households on Long Island where the family members don’t earn enough to meet their basic needs for food, transportation, housing, health care, taxes and in some instances child care, and they represent nearly 65% of the population on Long Island who regularly turn to their local community food pantries for emergency or ongoing food assistance.
For these families their annual income is far above the federal poverty level of approximately $24,300 for a family of four so they can’t qualify for critical government entitlement programs such as SNAP, Medicaid or Section 8 housing vouchers. In many cases, these families have two people employed either full-time or part-time and often the head of the household is working more than one job in order to provide for the family’s needs and expenses. Approximately 31% of households in Nassau and 39% of households in Suffolk are considered to be ALICE families according to United Way. Combined these struggling households represent nearly one-third of the total Long Island population. ALICE households do not earn the $94,000 annually that most Long Island economists define as the amount needed to survive in our region. They may come up short by 20-30 thousand dollars a year, which is one of the major contributors to why 10% percent of our total population copes with daily food insecurity. As Regnante and United Way of Long Island accurately highlight, these families are “one small crisis away from falling below the federal poverty level.” It can only take one medical crisis, car repair, loss of child care, accident, or being laid-off from a job or experiencing a hurricane for these families to fall into a state of despair.
These families don’t live above their means, they often purposely try to live below their means so they have the resources to deal with an unforeseen emergency. They don’t view going to a food pantry or calling their regional food bank as something to be ashamed of. Most are proud people that are willing to work hard but appreciate that resources are available should they need help in paying a security deposit on a new apartment, buying a used car to get them to work, receiving a donation of new school supplies so their children can start the new school year prepared like the other students, or putting food on their table. These families can’t save for emergencies or for their children’s college education, nor do they think of retirement. They live small paycheck to small paycheck and they get by often with the help of others, especially not-for-profit organizations and government safety programs. So, if you want to know what it’s like to struggle to live on Long Island, go ask ALICE.
February 16, 2017