Have you ever wondered how you’re going to pay rent while also covering daycare? Have you ever faced choosing between making critical car repairs instead of paying your electric bill?

For over 35% of our community, the answer is yes. Meet your neighbor . . . ALICE.

ALICE is an acronym for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed — households that earn more than the Federal Poverty Level, but less than the basic cost of living. ALICE is you, me, our neighbors and our family members. Today we may be the ones providing help, but tomorrow it could be us that needs support.

I remember how my husband and I struggled early in our marriage. He had returned to college to finish his degree and we were scraping by on one salary and financial aid. It was common to roll spare change to stretch our food budget and an unplanned car repair spelled disaster. We didn’t qualify for assistance and were blessed to have family that provided a safety net. The struggle was real, but it was temporary. The struggle is still very real for many hardworking families, but it is often just a chapter in their story, not their final destination.

Last week, the much-anticipated ALICE Report was released. It provides our first glimpse at the extent of the financial hardship our community faced since the Covid-19 pandemic and catastrophic 500-year flooding event. These hardworking families, who are often one emergency away from falling into poverty, are more vulnerable to economic disruptions.

While conditions have improved for some households, many continue to struggle, especially as wages fail to keep pace with the rising cost of household essentials (housing, child care, food, transportation, health care and a basic smartphone plan). Households below the ALICE Threshold — ALICE households plus those in poverty — can’t afford the essentials and historically many don’t qualify for help.


Early in the pandemic, United Way and their partners predicted an impending “basic needs cliff” that would impact this vulnerable population. With government stimulus and assistance programs, bans on foreclosure, eviction and utility shut-offs, many families were able to weather the storm temporarily, but all of those benefits had an end date. Instead of waiting for this cliff to happen, we went to work to incubate an innovative, collaborative, long-term solution.

We anticipated the need and predicted a double-digit increase in our local ALICE population. The recent report confirms our predictions, seeing a more than 37% increase in those falling below the ALICE Threshold in Midland County. From 2019 to 2021, those living in poverty went from 10% to 11%, but the ALICE population rose from 18% to 24%. The reports showed that 35% of Midland County residents fall below the ALICE Threshold–the highest number since we began tracking this vital index in 2010. In rural areas that number rose to 44% and in the City of Coleman it is 60%.


There is good news. Our vision to build a solution to a problem that didn’t yet exist became a reality, just when it was needed most.

Our friends at the Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Foundation and the Charles J. Strosacker Foundation saw the vision. Their generous and timely investments were the foundation for what is now the LIFTSM (Leveraging Income for Tomorrow) program. In addition, local ARPA dollars were also invested in LIFTSM. Their commitment has literally changed lives.

The collective impact program is anchored at 211, where a Connections Manager serves as the navigator and case manager for ALICE families. It leverages access to the 211 database of human service supports, while adding a relational component to help ALICE families navigate existing and new resources and stay connected over time to ensure they weather an emergency and explore ways to support them long-term.

Since the pilot, launched in late 2021, over 404 people from over 170 households have received financial support through LIFTSM for a variety of needed supports like rental and mortgage assistance; home repairs; appliance vouchers, dental, utilities assistance and car repairs. But that data only tells a part of the story. Here are some statements from a few who have been helped.

“Everything went great! I am very grateful that LIFTSM was able to assist with my car repairs. I was worried about losing my job.”

“This is too good to be true. I have been told no several times and hearing that I can finally get assistance with my rent and not fall behind makes me want to cry. Thank you so much!”

“Everything went beautifully! Can’t say enough about the support Midland has done for me. I was able to keep my home insurance since you guys were able to assist with my roof. Everyone went above and beyond! I can’t even tell you how appreciative I am.”

“It was a huge help! Since you guys have assisted me with my rent, I have been able to get everything caught and I have my life back on track. Thank you so much for all your help!”


The LIFTSM program is just the beginning. United Way of Midland County and their partners rose to the challenge of creating a way to sustain our ALICE population through the crisis. We have now set our sights on helping them move from crisis to flourishing, connecting them to services like budgeting, workforce development, credentialing, post-secondary aspirations and much more.

We are committed to building relationships and empathy between employers and employees and ensuring people know there are resources available to help them on their journey. We are working to normalize asking for help. By listening to employers and hard-working ALICE families and exploring bold new approaches, we meet families where they are, but we don’t leave them there.

The recent legislation that amplified the state match for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) increased the credit from 6% to 30%. With bi-partisan support, this legislation puts much-needed dollars into the pockets of hardworking families.

The ALICE report illustrates the impact on many families during the tumultuous months between 2019 to 2021. I predict that our next report will tell a story about how programs like LIFTSM and the increase in the EITC not only sustained them through the emergency, but lifted them into a more sustainable future.

Impact is always achieved through collaboration. Change is always bigger than a single program, person or organization. The power of United Way is in the ways we can bring the community together to create transformation. That is how we were forged over 100 years ago and remains our commitment today.

Click here to learn more about the ALICE Report.

LIFT (Leveraging Income for Tomorrow) is a program of United Way of Midland County (UWMC), 211 of NE Michigan and its named partners. The LIFT program is the intellectual property of UWMC. No part of this document or program can be reproduced or leveraged without the expressed written permission of United Way of Midland County, 115 Jerome Street, Midland, MI 48640.

© 2023 United Way of Midland County