The United Way of Florida released a report in November indicating that about a third of Florida households are above the federal poverty line but struggled to meet basic necessities. The Assets Limited Income Constrained Employed – ALICE — study found that 15 percent of families live on less than the poverty line of $23,000 for a family of four and another 30 percent on less than $47,000 – enough to pay for six basic needs and have a little left over.
Ted Granger, president of the United Way of Florida, discussed the report and the upcoming 2015 legislative session Thursday.
Q: Why the ALICE Report?
TED GRANGER: Number one; there was a need for the research. Number two; we had a feeling that there were a lot of people struggling. And we got some misperceptions out there that the United Way really provides its funding to organizations, nonprofits, that help people who are not working, people who are too lazy to work, people who don’t have jobs. What this report showed us is that the vast majority of folks that we assist are working people who are struggling to pay their bills.
Q: What can the United Way do to reduce the number of households (15 percent) living below the poverty level of $23,000 for a family of four, and the number (30 percent) struggling to make it paycheck to paycheck?
GRANGER: Well, one of the biggest things that the ALICE Report shows us is that we can do a lot of things that can keep those folks in the 30 percent from falling into poverty.
Helping them to get their Earned Income Tax Credit, which research shows is one of the best ways to help lift people out of that situation; something most United Ways are working on in their communities. Providing quality child care so they don’t have to worry where their children are during the day while they are working. All of that 30 percent are hardworking people; they are cashiers, folks working at 7-11s, the waiters and waitresses, our hairdressers and barbers.
We see them everyday in our personal lives and they are fundamental to our economy. That’s going to be our big push. We’re obviously maintaining our safety-net services for the folks already in poverty and trying to assist them but keeping that 30 percent from falling into poverty and helping them climb a ladder of success is something that we are refocusing on.
Q: When 45 percent of a population is struggling is the problem human or systematic; is what’s driving the numbers the system humans have constructed?
GRANGER: It’s a little bit of everything but it is really the system issue that we need to address. The transportation issue here in Tallahassee is not really a benefit to a great number of folks who need it to get to work.
Our health-care system is very expensive and it is hard for people to get health care. Childcare; it’s hard to afford quality childcare. If we can address those systemic issues that are draining the budgets of these folks then that’s what we need to work on.
Q: What is the biggest misconception that the public may have about the work the United Way does?
GRANGER: I think a lot of it is that folks don’t know what the United Way does; which is that we raise money, we provide it to agencies but we have transformed ourselves to not just fund agencies but to work with community members to identify the major issues and challenges those communities are facing. And then working with the communities to make sure that we are providing funding to move the need on those issues — funding agencies that are going to solve the problem.
Q: The three things on the United Way 2015 legislative agenda are?
GRANGER: We’re asking the Legislature for $1.2 million so we can assist 41,000 ALICE families get the earned income tax credit; we’re leaving about a billion dollars of tax refunds on the table in Washington each year, and that’s money these folks earned.
Health care is a huge issue. Immigrant children who are here legally have to wait five years to get into the Kid Care program, which your child and my child can get in tomorrow.
There are a lot of those children that need that health care so that they can succeed in school.
And in Early Learning we’re focusing in on quality early learning and trying to make sure that we move our state to funding quality.