The Value of Community-Based Social Services: Empowering ALICE to Thrive
Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed (ALICE) individuals represent a significant portion of our society. These are people who work hard at jobs that are integral to our economy, yet do not earn enough to afford basic necessities and have difficulty accessing the kinds of resources that are necessary for building financial success and well-being.
Community-based social services programs are vital lifelines that provide support to these populations, and in doing so, mitigate many systemic inequities in America. The value of these programs extends beyond immediate aid, fostering long-term stability and empowerment not just for ALICE households, but for their communities as a whole.
ALICE, a term coined by United Way, refers to populations of Americans who earn above the federal poverty level but less than what's needed to survive in the modern economy. They often include service workers, retail employees, and others whose wages do not keep pace with the cost of living. Despite their employment, these individuals and families struggle to afford housing, food, healthcare, and education.
Why Community-Based Social Services?
Community-based organizations (CBOs) offer unique advantages that complement the broader reach of state and federal programs by providing localized, culturally sensitive, and immediately responsive support tailored to the specific needs of the community. While state and federal social services offer important structural benefits and a wide safety net, community services offer nuanced understanding and agility in addressing the particular challenges ALICE populations face where they live.
These local programs can quickly adapt to changing community needs, provide personalized support, and create a sense of trust and familiarity that larger governmental entities may struggle to establish. They act as a crucial bridge between the individual and the often complex web of available social services, ensuring that the assistance provided is not only accessible but also relevant and effective in meeting the immediate needs of the community members they serve.
In addition, CBOs often also collaborate with similar or related local organizations to offer their beneficiaries a more streamlined experience. This often involves a great deal of work, including holding multiple community conferences or summits and engaging in conversations with community constituents who have lived experience with the challenges at hand.
This grassroots approach allows for a more holistic and integrated support system that can work in concert with state and federal services to create a comprehensive safety net.
How Community-Based Social Services Empower ALICE
Community-based services play a crucial role in supporting ALICE populations by providing services that meet these Americans where they are in the context of their geographic space, culture, and economy. These programs offer access to a range of essential building blocks for wellness and prosperity, including the following:
- Financial literacy education and counseling
- Tax preparation assistance
- Food assistance
- Affordable housing
- Utility bill assistance
- Medical and mental healthcare services and affordable prescription medications
- Literacy and other forms of educational support for children
- Employment and re-entry assistance
- Support for seniors, veterans, and Americans with disabilities
- Disaster services
- Substance use disorder counseling
- Affordable, high-quality childcare
- Reliable transportation
Here are just a few examples of how these kinds of support help ALICE individuals and families build a present and future in which they can thrive.
Financial Counseling and Tools for Stability
Financial counseling services help ALICE individuals manage their limited resources more effectively, which is especially important given that most Americans receive very little financial literacy education. Programs like the Financial Stability Partnership of the United Way provide tools and education on budgeting, debt management, and savings strategies, which are critical for ALICE populations to navigate financial challenges and plan for the future.
Food insecurity is a pressing issue for ALICE populations. Local programs like food banks and emergency meal services ensure that individuals and families have access to nutritious food. This support is not only essential for survival (and for children, proper growth and development), but is also the foundation for other successes in life. Adequate nutrition enables adults to reach their potential at work and children to focus on learning without the distraction of hunger.
Housing affordability is a significant challenge for ALICE populations. Community housing programs offer various forms of assistance, from temporary shelters to long-term affordable housing solutions. These programs work to prevent homelessness and provide a stable living environment, which is foundational for a healthy family and work life.
Access to Healthcare
ALICE populations often lack sufficient healthcare coverage. Community health centers provide low-cost medical, dental, and mental health services, ensuring that ALICE families can receive preventive care and treatment for illnesses without the burden of unmanageable medical bills.
Education is a powerful tool for economic mobility. Community educational programs, including adult education, job training, and child development programs, equip ALICE individuals with the skills needed to secure better-paying jobs and provide their children with a strong start in life.
Why Community-Based Services Are Beneficial to Everyone
Investing in community-based social services for ALICE populations has far-reaching benefits. It leads to stronger, more prosperous communities, as individuals who have access to basic necessities and services are able to contribute more effectively to society. Moreover, when ALICE populations are supported, they are less likely to require emergency services, reducing the strain on local government resources. Here are a few examples of how supporting ALICE groups ultimately benefits everyone around them.
When ALICE populations thrive, local economies benefit. With access to necessary services, individuals can maintain employment, improve their job skills, and contribute to workforce and economic growth. This, in turn, can lead to a broader tax base and increased consumer spending, which supports local businesses.
Reduced Healthcare Costs
By providing preventive healthcare services, community programs can reduce the incidence of chronic diseases and the need for expensive emergency care, leading to lower healthcare costs for the entire community.
Improved Educational Outcomes
Educational programs for children and adults lead to better job prospects, higher earning potential, and more educated workers and voters. This not only benefits the individuals directly involved, but also contributes to a more engaged workforce and civic body that are motivated to invest in and give back to the community as a whole.
Get High-Quality Community-Based Services With United Way of York County
United Way of York County in Pennsylvania assists working households in our community to achieve financial stability by collaboratively and equitably reducing barriers to prosperity. Through PA 211 and other programs, we offer access to free health and human services, affordable prescription medications, assistance with tax preparation, and more to fight for education, health, and economic mobility for all members of our community.
Contact us to get the services you need for a financially successful future. Alternatively, consider supporting us by making a donation today!