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Volunteer Janis Thomas loads a box of food into a car at Cajun Field during a distribution by the United Way of Acadiana, Second Harvest Food Bank and UL Lafayette to those who are experiencing food insecurity caused by COVID-19 or other disasters, Saturday, February 20, 2021 in Lafayette, La.

Social conditions that lead to health disparities, including place of residence, education and economic stability, were discussed Friday during the South Louisiana Community Health Summit.

The event was held at the Acadiana Center for the Arts and hosted by the non-profit group Beacon Community Connections.

Around 33% of Louisiana households are economically challenged to pay for items in a bare-bones "survival" budget that doesn't include disposable diapers for infants, Sarah Berthelot, Louisiana Association of United Ways president and CEO, said. 

These are not households that fall below the federal poverty line, but who are just above that line, people who are "asset limited, income constrained and employed," or Alice.

United Ways in Louisiana calculate the cost of items or services needed to survive today, including housing, child care, food, transportation, health care, technology such as smart phones, miscellaneous and taxes. Fifty-one percent of Louisiana households, including those below the poverty level, don't meet the survival budget. Eighteen percent are below the poverty level, while 33%, about 576,000 families are above the poverty line but in the Alice category, she said.

Alice families struggle to meet all the costs in the survival budget, Berthelot said, compromising on one thing like the quality of child care in order to feed their family. They don't have the luxury of a "nest egg" for emergencies and are one event away from disaster, she said

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Louisiana's employment rate is low and its poverty rate is stable, Berthelot said, but the number of families in the Alice category is increasing in part because job growth in Louisiana has been faster among low-wage jobs, leaving families employed but struggling.

Report shows 'working poor' households increasing in Louisiana as low-wage jobs grow

The current report is based on 2018 data, before devastating hurricanes in 2020 and 2021 and before the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2018 data, Berthelot said, predicted about 12% of Louisiana households were on the brink of falling below the poverty line. 

The state of Louisiana launched a pilot Unite Louisiana platform for health care and social service providers to better address the needs of residents, especially those in the Alice category or below the poverty line, said Terri Ricks, deputy secretary of the Louisiana Department of Child and Family Services.

The closed-loop referral system allows one provider who recognizes a client's needs to connect him with others who can address those needs. For instance, if an agency is assisting a resident with DSNAP benefits but learns the person has housing needs, they can use the platform to find housing assistance. It also allows for the provider to easily follow-up with the client to see if they received the help they needed, she said.

"No one agency has the answer," Bently Senegal, director of community services for Our Lady of Lourdes Regional Medical Center said. "But together we can do the work."


Email Claire Taylor at ctaylor@theadvocate.com.