United Way expands grant program for working families
DANBURY — This time last year, a family in which both parents worked, but still struggled to make ends meet might have seemed like an anomaly.
But since a 2016 United Way study found 27 percent of Connecticut working families live paycheck to paycheck, donations have been coming into the nonprofit to help.
“A huge proportion of our neighbors are working but have a difficult time meeting basic needs, and that resonates with people,” said Bridget Fox, executive vice president of community development for United Way of Western Connecticut. “Everybody knows someone (in this category) and we have definitely seen an increase in donations based on our focus on (this) population.”
As a result, United Way of Western Connecticut has awarded $635,000 in grants to help working families pay for their children’s educational enrichment programs — after-school or music programs, for example — in the Danbury and New Milford areas and Stamford.
The grants are the latest round in a series of investments United Way has made to assist families classified as ALICE — asset-limited, income-constrained and employed.
The definition applies to 360,000 families statewide, and 31 percent of families in Danbury, the United Way said.
The money follows a $100,000 round of grants United Way awarded in April to help working families pay for kids’ extracurricular activities.
“These programs help to relieve financial stress in families that would otherwise have to go into debt to give their children the same opportunities that other children have,” said Julie Schmitter, executive director of Danbury Youth Services, one of the agencies that distributes the United Way money. “The financial pressure on these families is huge, so if we can lift some of that burden, it helps the whole family get along better.”
In Newtown, Bethel, Brookfield, New Fairfield, Ridgefield and Redding, the United Way grant will be distributed to families through local social services departments. In New Milford, Bridgewater, Kent, Roxbury, Sherman, Warren and Washington, the money will be administered through an agency called MVP-SOS.
The United Way grant is meant to take the stress off working families ineligible for government subsidy programs because the parents’ incomes are above the federal poverty limit of $24,000 for a family of four.
The grant is part of a larger United Way response to the crisis in working families. United Way mobile food pantry trucks attract as many as 200 people every month in each of three Danbury-area locations. United Way has launched a novel incentive program that pays families a nominal match to encourage opening of savings accounts.
“We are trying to alleviate stress at different pressure points in the family budget, based on our research and our outreach,” Fox said. “Our goal is to raise as much community awareness and financial support as we can to help these families push themselves into the middle class.”