lisa tepper bates
Lisa Tepper Bates, United Way of Connecticut president and CEO Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

A report released Tuesday by the Connecticut United Way found 39% of the state’s 1.4 million households are struggling to cover the costs of basic necessities like food, housing, medical treatment and child care. 

The Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed report, known as ALICE, is released every year by the United Way and United for ALICE. The groups assess how many families fall beneath the so-called ALICE threshold — not earning enough to make ends meet even if their income puts them above the federal poverty level. 

This year’s report was based largely on figures from 2021 and found 552,710 Connecticut households fell below the financial hardship threshold. That’s an increase of more than 54,000 families compared to 2019, United Way officials said during a morning press conference in the Legislative Office Building in Hartford. 

“These are people who are employed,” Lisa Tepper Bates, United Way of Connecticut president and CEO, said. “ALICE is our friends, our neighbors, our family members… ALICE is the bus driver, who gets your kids to school. ALICE is the nursing assistant who takes care of one of your elderly family members. ALICE is the grocery clerk who checks you out when you need to buy food for your own family. ALICE is all around us and all of these families are struggling, even as we depend on them and our economy depends on them.” 

The groups calculated the ALICE “survival budget” based on the composition of households and where they lived. For instance, the report expected that a single adult would require around $33,120 to cover the bare minimum necessities while a family of four with one infant and one preschooler would need to make more than $106,600 just to make ends meet. 

During Tuesday’s press conference, Hadassah Velez, a single mom from Manchester, described the hardship of choosing between buying toilet paper and making necessary repairs to her vehicle or cooking dinner and buying fast food in order to spend more of her limited time with her daughter. 

Hadassah Velez
Hadassah Velez, a single mom from Manchester Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

“I could take the time to cook but sometimes I just want to spend time with my daughter because I’m working so much and I just want that time with her,” Velez said through tears. “It can be draining because it’s like I’m living to pay bills and not living to live. That’s no way to live,” she said later.

The report identified gender and racial disparities in the number of households which fell below the threshold: 68% of households headed by single mothers, 57% of Hispanic households and 54% of Black households made less than enough to cover necessities compared to 34% of white households. 

Growth in the number of families struggling to cover essential costs comes as pandemic-related assistance benefits have been discontinued. The United Way excluded the now-expired federal Child Tax Credit and the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit from this year’s assessment. 

Those two credits alone contributed more than $15,000 to some households with two working adults and two young children, the report found. Other now-expired benefit programs included emergency rental assistance, Economic Impact Payments, emergency unemployment benefits and a now-defunct eviction moratorium. 

The report expects that the burden on low-income households has increased by a projected 18.2% since 2021, in part due to recent hikes in inflation. 

Tepper Bates called for policymakers to take steps to reduce poverty including taking another look at the recently expired federal child tax credit. 

Meanwhile, Steven Hernández, executive director for the Commission on Women, Children, Seniors, Equity & Opportunity, recommended easing so-called “benefit cliffs,” where households can become ineligible for benefits if they manage to bring in more income.

“A family can make one more dolland and lose three on their way to self-sufficiency,” Hernández said.

New Britain mom Jessica Vargas called for more flexible remote work options and greater public outreach to inform struggling families of the benefits and services that are already available to them. 

“I wish that someone would have told me about food pantries because I could have probably got a better selection of food. I wish someone would have told me that, although I worked, my children still qualified for HUSKY, which would have saved me thousands of dollars in medical bills,” she said. “When someone has to decide between food or meds, what do you think they will choose? Where do you think they will end up? In the hospital. And who pays for that bill?”