BOISE, Idaho — It's normal to cut items off the grocery list and delay big purchases when money is tight. But for those whose income was limited before the pandemic, inflation, and Idaho's affordable housing crisis, further trimming a budget can mean choosing one basic need over another.
When finances are constrained, items like shampoo and food are put on the back burner, United Way of Treasure Valley CEO/President Nora Carpenter said.
"First you have to pay the rent or mortgage, then try and feed your family and put gasoline in the vehicle to get to work," Carpenter said. "(Basic hygiene items) are the things the budget just doesn't stretch to."
According to the United Way of Treasure Valley, a local nonprofit organization, 40% of working Idahoans are Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed individuals (ALICE). According to United Way, the ALICE population are those with an average income below what is necessary to afford essential goods in their area of residency. Idahoans who fall into the ALICE population may have a job, but the pay is not enough to support the cost of housing, child care, food, transportation, or health care.
Based on the ALICE Wage Tool, any single adult living in Ada County who earns less than $13.58 per hour could not financially support themselves. The legal minimum wage in Idaho is $7.25.
What's more, the median sales price of an Ada County home continues to climb year to year. According to the Intermountain Multiple Listing Service, the median price was $575,000 in March — a 4.7% increase from February and a 23% increase from a year ago.
Now, with inflation hitting 8.5% — the highest since 1981 – paychecks don't cover the same amount of expenses.
To ensure every child has access to essential supplies, the United Way of Treasure Valley's Women United group launched the Homeless Student Basic Needs Pantry.
On Wednesday, Emma Laird, a school social worker at Future Public School in Garden City, visited the pantry. Laird frequently visits the pantry, she said. On Wednesday, she grabbed food, teeth cleaning supplies, soap, socks and underwear for her students.
"It's a daily occurrence that we see kids whose basic needs are not being met," Laird told Idaho News 6. "Having something like the pantry available is useful (and helps us) connect them with those items when we as a school maybe don't have the capacity to provide a lot of those resources."
Laird said the top resources she sees families and children need are food and hygiene products like shampoo and conditioner. When a student's needs are met, Laird said they have more confidence and can function better in class.
"They are so excited. You can see a weight lift off their shoulders because they are so relieved to have access to the things they need," Laird said. "When they know they're going to have food available and have soap at home, they can succeed at school."
The pantry first opened two years ago in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and regional affordable housing crisis — when income concerns were highest.
Today, Carpenter said it serves over 60 schools in Idaho and Oregon.
Next Thursday, the community can help keep the pantry shelves full at United Way's Pack the Pantry event. The event is in-person at United Way's Boise location and online through an Amazon and Walmart wish list.
"This is our opportunity for the community to lend a little extra," Carpenter said. "(By) adding a few extra items in their weekly grocery list, kids can have immediate access to the items that keep them clean, healthy, free from bullying and give them a little extra boost if they're hungry."