United Way of Northwest Louisiana supports the health and safety of our region, which makes us especially concerned about the Coronavirus disease’s (COVID19) progression in our region. We fight for the most vulnerable among us, which today includes those susceptible to the virus and its economic impacts.
We are all aware of the primary effects of a public health crisis of this nature, but it is the secondary consequences that possess the potential to cause significant harm to the core of United Way’s work and the individuals we serve.
Older adults and people with chronic medical conditions are high-risk population. This is why we’re encouraging all individuals to take preventative action to avoid exposure and transmission.
These preventative actions are designed to address the immediate threat of COVID-19; however, the long-term outcomes are of these preventative actions are not known and pose a major threat to ALICE® (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed).
ALICE®: A Vulnerable Population
ALICE households work hard – often at multiple jobs – but still struggle to afford even their most basic needs, including housing, food, transportation, child care, and health care.
Cash-strapped households are often forced to make impossible choices, like deciding between purchasing medication or paying the rent. These short-term decisions have long-term consequences not only for ALICE families, which make up 53% of the households in Northwest Louisiana, but for all of us.
When you factor in the size of the service, hospitality, and event economies in our region, and the low wages they provide, it is clear that a large portion of our population is teetering on the edge of financial ruin and are unable to withstand much time out of work. At the recommendation of the Louisiana Governor’s office, we will close our office through April 13th and cancel our events through June 2020. As it is in the best interest of public health to cancel large events, many organizations will be forced to make this decision. Unfortunately, these cancellations will have a negative impact on the ALICE employees who were scheduled to provide services for these events.
There is a role for smart public policy to support ALICE to limit this instability, including implementing paid leave and a living wage, but those are decisions for the long-term. Any steps employers can take in the intermediary to offer assistance should be considered with the same thoughtfulness as similar measures already deployed to slow the virus’s spread.
Postponing events, modifying educational offerings, and offering flexible work options are prudent and necessary, but the resulting effects on ALICE will be sudden and sharp. That is why United Way is focused on supporting households living below the ALICE threshold, who stand to face increased economic instability. Through our advocacy and financial stability work, we are committed to helping ALICE endure the long-term challenges ahead.
Coronavirus and the Nonprofit Community
Our region is fortunate to have an intricate system of safety-net organizations, many of which are United Way partners, which sustain the stability of our community. Without their support, many individuals who live below the federal poverty level or are ALICE would struggle to survive as they battle hunger, homelessness, poor health, and similar challenges that come with life in poverty.
The overwhelming majority of these organizations rely on philanthropy and public funds – both of which are in short supply – to provide services. As COVID-19’s economic impact grows across Northwest Louisiana, those dollars will be more difficult to access as budgets are tightened. The need for these services will simultaneously increase as people miss work and paychecks, and then struggle to pay bills or obtain medical care.
An Uncertain Path Ahead
A growing chorus is echoing across the nation; viruses don’t discriminate.
The chances of contracting COVID-19 in our region will likely have little to do with income, race, or other dimensions of diversity. Even with conservative forecasting, many people will be affected by either the virus or related financial losses.
These short-term effects will have lasting consequences on the community as we face the reality of a region with a weakened economy and growing needs. United Way is actively working with our partners to determine the most effective way to support ALICE households throughout our service area. We encourage you to seek to join our fight.
Dr. Bruce Willson, Jr.
President and CEO