By Kevin Wilhelm
One of the reasons we embarked on the ALICE study is to influence policy as we educate our lawmakers about the financial realities facing families in Connecticut.
If you haven’t yet heard about the ALICE Report, it’s a look at financial hardship in Connecticut, particularly those who are above the federal poverty line but below a basic cost of living threshold. This represents one in four Connecticut families.
Fixing conditions in Connecticut would mean things like more jobs with family-sustaining wages and more affordable housing and childcare. Systematic change is hard and it takes time, but it can be done with partnership among private citizens, nonprofits, business and government. This past week, Connecticut United Ways and the Connecticut Commission on Children hosted a forum at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford. We had a conversation about what would move our communities and ALICE families forward and created policy recommendations to share with our state lawmakers.
“We believe these are fixable problems with smart, focused strategies,” said Rick Porth, CEO of United Way of Connecticut. “Strategies aimed at career advancement could work in Connecticut. We need to focus on building our strong base of managerial, technical and mechanical jobs. How do we deal with housing costs and childcare costs while protecting middle-skill jobs?”
State Senator Gayle Slossberg, chair of the education committee remarked on educating children when families are struggling to afford basic needs. In schools, she said, we can’t think about educating kids when they’re shoes don’t fit, or they don’t have a stable place to live, or they aren’t getting enough to eat. “It’s hard to think when you’re hungry,” she said. “We obviously have a lot of work to do in this area. We’re real people with real problems and we have an obligation to do something about it.”
We heard from two ALICE families during the forum. Trish Kallman, of Milford, had to leave her job to care for her child who has special needs, putting her into the ALICE threshold, despite her husband making $40,000 a year. A call to United Way helped the Kallman family keep their house, but making ends meet is a constant struggle.
Chandler Howard, president and CEO of Liberty Bank, spoke about the WorkPath Fund, a public-private partnership that helps parents remove barriers to employment. The WorkPath Fund distributes small, one-time grants to help parents with dependent children defray the costs of uniforms, transportation, child care, licensing fees, and other expenses that would otherwise stand as barriers to employment. “With a little imagination, I think we can come up with other solutions as well,” Howard said.
We ended the forum with several policy recommendations, including recommendations to change the Care4Kids eligibility to support teen parents and parents pursuing higher education. Care4Kids offers subsidized childcare for lower-income working parents but does not cover teen parents unless they add their parents’ income nor does it cover parents who need childcare while they pursue higher education. Both of these policies discourage furthering a parent’s education, putting families further behind in their long-term earning potential, advocates argued.
We look forward to sharing more about the ALICE project with you in the future. If you’d like to download the report, please visit alice.ctunitedway.org.