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Nearly one in four Cumberland County households live in the gap between the federal poverty level and the income they need to be able to afford basic expenses.

The United Way of Carlisle & Cumberland County introduced the public to this often overlooked population by focusing on ALICE during its Wednesday kickoff to its 2019 fundraising campaign.

The ALICE report was released earlier this year by the United Way of Pennsylvania to tell the story of community members who are going to work but still struggling. The report used standardized methodology to assess the cost of living in each county and provides a comprehensive measure of financial hardship, according to the United Way’s ALICE website.

The report better positions the United Way to advocate for the community and to work with partners to maximize donations and volunteer service.

ALICE is an acronym for “Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed,” which is exactly where Carlisle’s Preston Stackfield found himself as he tried to balance work with financial setbacks.

Stackfield shared his story at the kickoff event held at the Meeting House on Walnut Bottom Road in South Middleton Township. He talked about growing up in Carlisle, meeting the woman who became his wife when the two were juniors in high school and heading off to college.

“This is when we had our first unexpected event when she found out she was pregnant with our first son who actually turned 10 a month ago,” Stackfield said.

He quit school and came home to provide for his family, but over the years, he encountered problems with finding affordable child care and dealing with car issues.

Acting on a recommendation from a mentor, Stackfield found an entry level job at a bank, learning all he could and using the knowledge to improve his family’s financial situation by increasing his and his wife’s credit scores, setting up 529 plans for the children’s education and investing in a 401K.

“I know we are not where we want to be in our careers or financially, but I know we are on the right track,” he said.

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According to the ALICE report, there are 1.2 million households in Pennsylvania that earn incomes above the poverty level, but less than what they need to afford basic expenses.

In Cumberland County, Shippensburg Borough has the highest number of households that fall in the gap at 45%. Newville ranks second at 44%, Mount Holly Springs third at 40%, Shippensburg Township fourth at 37% and Carlisle fifth at 32%.

When combined with the percentage of people living in poverty, 56% of Newville households struggle to make ends meet while the number is at 47% in Carlisle and 45% in Mount Holly Springs.

At the other end of the scale, Dickinson Township at 18% has the lowest percentage of households living in poverty or below the ALICE threshold. In Hampden Township, 23% of households live in poverty or below the ALICE threshold.

Mindy Loftus, who co-chairs this year’s campaign with Reed VanDerlyke, said the ALICE survival budgets are “bare bones and conservative,” leaving out items like going out to eat or buying diapers or formula for a child.

A video shown at the kickoff to introduce ALICE said these households are “proud, hardworking Pennsylvanians who pay taxes and are vital to our economy.” They typically hold jobs that build and repair infrastructure or educate and care for the general workforce. Many hold multiple jobs.

To reach what is termed the ALICE threshold, or the ability to meet a basic survival budget, a single working adult needs to make about $10.38 per hour or $20,760 per year. A family of four needs a combined income of $29.67 per hour or $59,340 a year, the video said.

At the same time, 59% of jobs in the state pay less than $20 per hour with more than half paying $10-$15 per hour. Expenses have risen by 26% for a single adult over the past 10 years and by 33% for a family of four over the same period.

The 39 programs funded by the United Way of Carlisle and Cumberland County help stabilize ALICE families now and into the future, Loftus said.

“This includes child care, medical care, financial security and basic need programs. United Way is working to raise awareness about ALICE and the need to help ALICE become and stay financially secure,” she said.

The kickoff also honored the pacesetter companies that started their campaigns early to give the United Way $186,795 toward the $1.455 million goal. When combined with early campaign pledges, the overall amount raised to date is $225,382, or 15% of the goal.

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Email Tammie at tgitt@cumberlink.com. Follow her on Twitter @TammieGitt.

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