Kevin Baile

Kevin Bailey

The United Way of Southeastern Idaho recently released its latest Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed report. We all know — or were once ourselves — ALICE. ALICE stocks our grocery shelves, provides child care, keeps our buildings and public spaces clean, and much more. ALICE households struggle to get by month to month and are forced to make tough choices, such as deciding between quality child care or paying the rent on time. The latest ALICE report (www.unitedwaysei.org/advocacy), shows that before the pandemic hit, 42 percent of Southeast Idahoans lived below the ALICE threshold, meaning that they were struggling to get by month to month.

Throughout the pandemic, we have heard a lot about essential workers. Many of us, however, were fortunate enough to be able to retreat to makeshift home offices while ALICE workers remained on the front lines, making sure our families were fed, clothed and had medical care.

When I think of ALICE, I think of the local grocery worker who called our office in late March, seeking housing and shelter options because the family members she was couch-surfing with were afraid they would be exposed to the virus due to her level of exposure at work.

As our community moves forward, we must make sure we are addressing ALICE’s needs in an even more concentrated way. That is why, as the United Way of Southeastern Idaho prepares for its annual fall fundraising campaign, we have decided to focus on the four greatest needs that can lift ALICE families up during this time: 1) access to mental and basic health care, 2) housing stability and shelter, 3) addressing food insecurity, especially for school-aged children and seniors, and 4) investing in programs and strategies that improve educational outcomes from cradle to career.

According to a recent survey we put out on the impacts of COVID-19 on Southeast Idaho families, over 80 percent of ALICE families had immediate financial needs as a result of the pandemic. Additionally, ALICE was three times as likely to use a food pantry and applied for unemployment at twice the rate as Southeast Idahoans in general. It’s time to focus on building systems and community support that lift these essential families up. Lifting ALICE households up is a path toward community recovery that ultimately makes Southeast Idaho a better, more thriving and economically viable place to live.

Kevin Bailey has been the CEO of the United Way of Southeastern Idaho since February 2019. The United Way of SE Idaho lives out its mission by building powerful partnerships that improve outcomes for children, families and individuals in need. Visit unitedwaysei.org to learn how you can make a difference.