My View with Heather Peeler: The pandemic’s ‘long tail’

My View with Heather Peeler: The pandemic’s ‘long tail’
(Photo Credit: ACT for Alexandria)

By Heather Peeler

In the past few weeks, reports from local nonprofits and studies from research institutions have presented sobering news. Despite our investments made in the social safety net and the progress we saw in child poverty over the last few years in response to the pandemic, too many people remain in a downward spiral of poverty. The Brookings Institution has ranked the Washington metropolitan area as one of the worst when it comes to inclusive growth. On nearly every measure of financial security, health and wellbeing, people of color fare worse than their white neighbors.

Many low-income families continue to face significant financial hurdles that were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Now that eviction moratoriums and state rent relief programs have ended, low-income families have few options for managing the region’s high cost of living. According to the City of Alexandria’s eviction dashboard, since the start of the year, 467 households have received a writ of eviction – meaning eviction is imminent. This is a 372% increase from the previous year. The average amount owed at eviction judgment is $9,319.

Researchers from the Brookings Institution found that in our region, more than 80% of people are burdened by housing costs; they spend more than a third of their income on housing leaving lit- tle left over for other essentials like food, transportation, childcare and other expenses. The City of Alexandria’s Housing Department reports that someone needs to earn more than $77,000 per year – or an hourly wage of $37/hour – to afford a one-bedroom apartment in our community.

To scrape together rent money, a family may forgo other expenses, namely food. Jennifer Ayers, Executive Director at ALIVE!, Alexandria’s primary food distributor, recently shared that they are experiencing a spike in demand. In January and February this year, 9,000 households representing 29,597 people received grocery bags of donated food – nearly the same levels of food distributed during the height of the pandemic. These numbers are likely to increase. This month, approximately 3,800 Alexandria households will see their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps, benefits decrease by $95 or more per month due to the end of emergency allotments started during the pandemic.

The City of Alexandria anticipated that the hardship brought on by the pandemic would have a long tail. They wisely invested federal American Rescue Plan Act Funds in efforts to help Alexandrians disproportionately impacted by the pandemic secure the resources they need to get back on their feet. One initiative is the Alexandria Recurring Income for Success and Equity guaranteed income pilot study. It provides 170 randomly selected low-income households with $500 in supplemental income for 24 months. If the Alexandria program follows the performance of dozens of other pilots around the country, participants will use the funds to buy basics, including food and gas, while also taking steps to improve their overall financial stability, such as obtain- ing a better paying job or securing professional credentials.

In addition, in partnership with ACT, the city launched the Community Access and Emergency Support program. This program funds community-based organizations to help residents navigate the complicated web of public benefits and community support and provide emergency financial assistance for people in urgent financial need. You can read more about the program and see a list of the grantees at

The Community Access Grantees provided one- to-one engagement and navigation assistance to more than 747 households in need in 2022. By the end of this month, Emergency Support grantees will have disbursed more than $1.3 million to people in need. The most common, urgent requests that grantees have received in recent months are support for the essentials: food and rent.

These programs provide peace of mind, compassion, and tangible support. One client of Lazarus Ministries, an emergency support ministry operated by Christ Church and St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, noted:

“Thank you so much for your help through this entire process! You were a blessing. My balance is paid in full. Once I get my savings back up, I would like to donate to your church to help someone else.”

I know the Community Access and Emergency Support grantees will continue to meet the needs of Alexandrians with dedication, commitment and resourcefulness in the face of growing demand and shrinking resources. And I am hopeful that our community will rise to the challenge like we always have to make sure all of our neighbors thrive.

You can help! Spring2ACTion, Alexandria’s Giving Day, is on April 26. Not only can you support your favorite nonprofit organizations, you can also give to the Alexandria Resilience Fund. This fund, established in 2020, is an opportunity for all of us to help our neighbors struggling to make ends meet and who are facing eviction from their home. Every donation counts. I hope you will join us at

The writer is president and CEO of ACT for Alexandria.