Melissa Hedden’s household income is above the poverty line, but she struggles to afford housing and healthcare.

Melissa Hedden, 41, struggles to afford housing and moves between Airbnbs and hotels.Hedden’s family are ALICEs  — Americans who are asset-limited, income-constrained, and employed. Pandemic unemployment checks briefly helped Hedden, but her financial stability was short-lived.

Melissa Hedden has been living in an Airbnb in Wilmington, North Carolina for over a month. It’s a studio-size garage apartment that she shares with her partner, her 11-year-old daughter, and their dog. The space is cramped, but they make it work the best they can.

The Airbnb is the third place in southeastern North Carolina where Hedden and her family have lived since mid-January. The 41-year-old said she was evicted from her apartment at the end of last year after the landlord raised the rent and she could no longer afford it. Since then, Hedden and her family have been staying in a hotel or spending between $900 and $1,200 a week for vacation rentals like Airbnb. It’s expensive — probably more expensive than a monthly rent payment — but she said they can’t afford the fees, utilities, or security deposit needed to lease a new apartment.

“My biggest fear is that I’m never going to get that small little break that my family needs,” she told Business Insider.

Hedden feels trapped. Her household brings home about $3,300 a month, according to documents reviewed by BI, and it isn’t enough to cover her family’s daily expenses. Hedden was previously employed as a bartender, but she hasn’t worked since quitting her job to care for her children during the pandemic. Her partner works full-time, and if he misses even a few hours of work, she said the couple won’t be able to make their Airbnb payment.

“I’m not homeless enough to get certain help because I have a roof over my head,” she said. “But I’m too homeless to get a job because I don’t know where I’m going to live in three weeks. What do you do?”

Her experience mirrors that of many Americans living paycheck to paycheck. A growing number of households, like Hedden’s, are also ALICEs — people who are asset-limited, income-constrained, and employed.

Twenty-nine percent of US households are ALICEs, compared to 13% of Americans who live below the federal poverty level, according to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey data and cost-of-living estimates analyzed by United Way’s United For ALICE program.

ALICEs often make too much money to qualify for government assistance, but not enough to comfortably afford food, housing, medicine, or transportation. They live just above the federal poverty line — which is $31,200 a year for a family of four and is not adjusted based on cost of living or location.

Pandemic funds helped Hedden find stability, but the help was short-lived

Before moving to North Carolina in March 2023, Hedden lived in Bradenton, Florida. She spent most of her life there, growing up with a single mother.

Hedden said she was raised in poverty and remembers being housing insecure in her childhood while her mother worked multiple jobs. As an adult, Hedden was also struggling to make ends meet, until the pandemic started.

Because Hedden’s son and daughter needed support during online school, she quit her job to stay with them. She said she began receiving pandemic reemployment assistance checks in May 2020. The checks totaled $15,901 that year, according to documents reviewed by BI, and Hedden said it was more than she would have earned if she stayed at her job.

The money offered her a financial safety net: she was able to start repairing her credit, go back to school, and become the valedictorian of her GED program. She was even on the path to a college degree.

Hedden’s family benefited, too. She said they were able to start going to the doctor when they needed it and could afford more nutritious food at the grocery store.

“I feel like my story is proof that, with just a little bit of help, people can reach their potential,” Hedden said.

But, when the checks stopped coming in July 2021, Hedden said she became less housing secure and stressed about family medical bills. Although Hedden had been a straight-A student, she later failed out of her college program in the fourth semester.

Her daughter was recently suspended from school because her medical records weren’t up to date — Hedden couldn’t afford to take her for a routine physical at the doctor’s office. Her daughter was previously on Florida Medicaid but Hedden doesn’t have health insurance in North Carolina.

She’s also worried her car will be repossessed soon because it broke down and she can’t pay for repairs. Her family has been taking Ubers when necessary, which she said has set them back even further financially.

“Just one thing can bring down your entire house of cards,” Hedden said. “The life that you thought you were building where you’re doing good — it can all come crashing down.”

Hedden is anxious about the future

In early May, Hedden said she checked with the owner of her Airbnb about a longer-term rental. She was hoping to keep her family in one place for a few more months. But again, Hedden can’t afford the utilities and fees necessary to sign for a long-term lease.

She doesn’t know what will happen next. Without help, Hedden said she’s “trying not to drown.”

“Right now, $1,000 a month for even 12 months would literally put me back to being a straight-A college student,” Hedden said. “It would mean not having to cry because I don’t know how to tell my daughter that I don’t know if we’re gonna be here in two weeks.”

Are you making above the poverty line but still struggling to afford daily life? Are you open to sharing your story? Reach out to this reporter at allisonkelly@insider.com.

Read the original article on Business Insider

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