ARPA 101: How the American Rescue Plan Act can build a more equitable Alabama

The COVID-19 pandemic has stretched families, hospitals, schools, businesses and food banks across Alabama to their limits. Like tens of millions of other Americans, local and state officials have had to adapt to new challenges and respond to existing health and economic challenges exacerbated by the pandemic over the last two years.

Congress reacted to these challenges by passing several major recovery packages to provide relief to individuals, states and local governments. The most recent package was the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), a $1.9 trillion measure enacted in March 2021. One key provision of ARPA is known as State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (SLFRF). Congress allocated this money to help states and localities address the impact of the pandemic and promote equitable recovery.

How Alabama has used ARPA funding so far – and the opportunities that remain

Of the $195 billion of SLFRF money appropriated to states, Alabama will receive more than $2.1 billion. State and local governments can spend these dollars in four ways, according to the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Final Rule released in January 2022:

  1. Replace lost public sector revenue.
  2. Support the COVID-19 public health and economic response.
  3. Provide premium pay for eligible workers performing essential work.
  4. Invest in water, sewer and broadband infrastructure.

To date, Alabama has allocated more than $1.1 billion to various programs and projects through three special sessions. Lawmakers allocated $480 million for prison construction and health care during the first two sessions in September and November 2021. The Legislature appropriated another $772 million during the third special session in January 2022. Legislators devoted that money to a range of projects, including broadband, water and wastewater infrastructure and rural hospitals.

The Legislature has yet to appropriate the remaining $1 billion in state ARPA recovery funds. But legislators may return this summer or fall for a special session focused on the use of those funds. Alabama Arise is encouraging lawmakers to invest some of that money in affordable housing, public transportation and food security infrastructure. Each of those investments would provide long-term improvements in economic opportunity and quality of life for people across Alabama.

Top priorities: Affordable housing, public transportation and food security

Priorities for Alabama's remaining ARPA funds: Affordable housing, public transportation and food security.
The COVID-19 recession caused a wave of evictions and foreclosures across Alabama. The state could help address its housing shortage and resulting homelessness by providing $25 million for the state Housing Trust Fund. This investment would create and support jobs across the state. It also would reduce Alabama’s shortfall of more than 76,000 affordable homes for people with low incomes.

Essential work supports can help more Alabamians reenter and stay in the job market during and after the pandemic. One critical support is reliable transportation to and from work, school, child care or medical care. Legislators can help strengthen communities and expand economic opportunity by investing $20 million in the state Public Transportation Trust Fund. Arise partnered with 81 other organizations in June 2022 to urge lawmakers to take that important step forward.

Hunger was already a large and perpetual problem across Alabama even before the pandemic. Sudden income loss, rising prices and occasional shortages have made it much more difficult for many people to feed their children and families. Alabama’s food banks remain essential to feeding those in need, even as many have faced staff and volunteer shortages. Lawmakers can help ease this strain by distributing $5 million to the state’s food banks. This funding would empower food banks to maintain services by replacing and improving critical infrastructure like equipment, fleets and warehouses.

ARPA funding for affordable housing, public transportation and food security infrastructure will make life better for the Alabamians hit hardest by COVID-19 and the economic downturn it caused. And these investments will go a long way toward helping create a more equitable and prosperous future for every Alabamian.

For more on the American Rescue Plan Act, please visit our ARPA toolkit.

P-EBT in 2022: What Alabama parents need to know

No family should have to wonder how they will afford their next meal. But increased food costs during the COVID-19 pandemic have contributed to a second, quieter epidemic: hunger. Fortunately, a food assistance program called Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer (P-EBT) has helped hundreds of thousands of Alabamians and tens of millions of Americans keep food on the table.

During the pandemic’s early months, 13% of Alabama families with children told the Census Bureau that they either sometimes or often didn’t have enough food to eat. Hunger rates were more than two times higher for Black and Hispanic families in our state. In response to this challenge, the federal and state governments created P-EBT to help replace missed school meals. The program helped significantly. Thanks to P-EBT and other federal assistance, the share of Alabama families with children who sometimes or often didn’t have enough to eat declined to 9% by July 2021.

Summer P-EBT expands these efforts by reducing hunger while school is out. This program replaces missed school meals during the summer with cash assistance that families can spend on groceries. Summer P-EBT offers relief to families with children who otherwise sometimes would not have enough to eat.

In late May, Alabama became the first state to get approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to continue to receive Summer P-EBT benefits. Alabama Arise is working with the Alabama Department of Human Resources, which oversees and administers Summer P-EBT, to provide more information to help parents and families throughout the state.

What is P-EBT?

P-EBT is a federally funded, state-operated program that supplements and replaces missed school meals with benefits that families can spend on groceries for their children. P-EBT is delivered on a debit-like card (called an Electronic Benefits Transfer, or EBT, card). For households with children under age 6 who already receive food assistance under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), P-EBT is deposited onto their EBT card.

What is Summer P-EBT?

Summer P-EBT supplements meals for the summer months with benefits that families can use to purchase groceries for their children.

Describing aspects of Summer Pandemic EBT - Apply for free or reduced-price school meals for your children during open enrollment, July 1 through August 31, 2022; Children under age 6 in SNAP households including those newly eligible before August 31, 2022, will recieve Summer P-EBT benefits; Benefits will be deposited on the same P-EBT card. Call the P-EBT hotline (1-800-410-5827 M-F 7 a.m. - 6 p.m.) if you misplaced the card; Immigration status does NOT matter for P-EBT.

What is the difference? 

P-EBT (for the school year) and Summer P-EBT (for summer months) are separate programs, each with its own eligibility rules. Each child’s benefit amounts also may vary based on multiple factors, including status of the federal COVID-19 public health emergency.

Who is eligible for P-EBT?

  1. Children under age 6 living in families who received SNAP benefits anytime between August 2021 and May 2022. These children do not have to be enrolled in child care to receive P-EBT. Eligible children will receive both school-year and Summer P-EBT,  though benefit amounts may vary depending on the months for which they were eligible.
  2. Children under age 6 who live in households that became newly eligible for SNAP by Aug. 31, 2022. These children will receive only Summer P-EBT benefits.
  3. School-aged children who were eligible for free/reduced-price meals under the National School Lunch Program during the 2021-22 school year. This includes children who attended a school that has adopted either the Community Eligibility Provision or Provision 2. Receipt of free meals under another federal child nutrition program does not automatically make a child eligible for P-EBT. (See below for what parents should do to ensure their child is eligible.) These children will receive only Summer P-EBT benefits.
  4. School-aged children approved between July 1 and Aug. 31, 2022, for free/reduced-price meals under the National School Lunch Program. These children will receive only Summer P-EBT benefits.

Alabama’s school-aged children will not receive school-year P-EBT. This is because the USDA requires states to track and verify days that a child missed school because of COVID-19. Most states, including Alabama, do not track which specific illness resulted in missed school days.

What benefits will eligible children receive?

  1. Children under age 6 living in a household that received SNAP benefits will receive approximately $26 per month for each month that the child was receiving SNAP benefits between August 2021 and May 2022. They also will receive $391 in Summer P-EBT benefits.
  2. School-aged children approved for free/reduced-price National School Lunch Program meals will receive $391 in Summer P-EBT benefits.

How will children receive their benefits?

  1. Children under age 6 living in a household that receives SNAP will receive benefits automatically on their family’s SNAP EBT card (“blue card”).
  2. Eligible school-aged children who received P-EBT in 2021 and had no changes in name or address will receive benefits on the P-EBT card issued in 2021 (“white card”).
  3. Eligible school-aged children who did not receive P-EBT in 2021 or whose name or address has changed will receive a P-EBT card in the mail, along with instructions on how to activate it.

When will the benefits be issued?

  1. Eligible children under age 6 receiving school-year SNAP probably will receive half of their school-year benefits in June. The other half probably will come in July 2022.
  2. Eligible children under age 6 in SNAP households probably will receive summer benefits in September 2022. Summer P-EBT benefits will be issued retroactively to include newly eligible children and to prevent duplication and/or overissuance of benefits.
  3. Eligible school-aged children will receive Summer P-EBT benefits in September 2022. Summer P-EBT benefits will be issued retroactively beginning in September 2022 to include newly eligible children and to prevent duplication and/or overissuance of benefits.

What do parents have to do for their children to receive P-EBT?

Parents with children under age 6 who receive SNAP food assistance do not have to do anything to receive P-EBT. It automatically will be added to the SNAP EBT (“blue”) card.

Parents with school-aged children must ensure their child either (1) attends a school that provides universal free meals under the Community Eligibility Provision or Provision 2 or (2) has been approved for free/reduced-price meals under the National School Lunch Program. This is particularly complicated, because nearly every school in Alabama provided free school meals during the 2021-22 school year under a different child nutrition program (called Seamless Summer) that does not make a child eligible for P-EBT.

To ensure their school-aged child is eligible for P-EBT, parents should apply at their child’s school for free/reduced-price meals.

What if there is a problem?

Alabama has established a Customer Service Unit and hotline to answer and resolve problems, questions or concerns. The hotline number is 800-410-5827. It operates Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. until 6 p.m.

Alabama Arise resources for the 2022 runoff election

The 2022 runoff election is Tuesday, June 21. Alabamians will vote on Democratic and Republican nominees for a range of local, state and federal offices, including the Democratic nominee for governor and the Republican nominee for a U.S. Senate seat. Voters in some districts also will decide on nominees for the state Legislature.

Have you made a plan to vote? Alabama Arise has information below about how to vote in person Tuesday.

Here’s what you need to know for Election Day:

  • Check your registration and find your polling place here.
  • Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. If you’re a registered voter in line by 7 p.m., stay in line! You’ll be allowed to vote.
  • A valid photo ID is required to vote.
  • Find your sample ballot here (by county).
  • Alabamians can vote in either the Democratic or Republican primary, but not both.
  • State law forbids “crossover voting” in runoff elections. People who voted in the Democratic primary will be able to vote only in the Democratic runoff. People who voted in the Republican primary will be able to vote only in the Republican runoff. Voters who participated in neither party’s primary can choose to vote in either party’s runoff.
  • The crossover voting rule does not apply to the general election in November. Voters may vote for whomever they wish in the general election.
  • Voters’ party choice for this year’s primary or runoff election does not bind them for future years.
  • You can find more information and resources on the Alabama Secretary of State’s website.

If you face any intimidation, threats or other barriers to voting, trained volunteers are ready to help:

  • English: 866-OUR-VOTE (866-687-8683)
  • Spanish: 888-VE-Y-VOTA (888-839-8682)
  • Asian languages: 888-API-VOTE (888-274-8683)
  • Arabic: 844-YALLA-US (844-925-5287)

Community-driven ideas can improve health outcomes

Imagine a world where the people most harmed by hunger and food insecurity exercise their power to propose their own solutions to address this social determinant of health.

What might happen if health care systems were responsive to those solutions? And what if a group of dedicated community leaders, organizations and civic groups rallied together to implement those solutions? That’s what Alabama Arise and our partners resolved to find out near the Gulf Coast.

In Mobile and Baldwin counties, 55% of people live in food deserts. These are Census tracts with low or no access to healthy foods. So after convening more than 100 community members and their families for a series of listening sessions, our grassroots partners from Mobile’s Trinity Gardens neighborhood proposed launching a “produce prescription” project to benefit regional Medicaid participants. Thanks to community organizing, mobilization and partnership, their dream is becoming a reality.

Once a month, participants receive a box of fresh produce as part of a Produce Prescription Program developed by our partners at the American Heart Association and staffed by community partners and volunteers. The Heart Association’s data has shown that where this program has been implemented, participants experience measurable health improvements. Organizing and advocacy for community-based solutions improves health outcomes.

Arise continues to work with community leaders and partners to urge Medicaid to fund more community-led projects. When we facilitate getting resources to communities, they become hubs for equity and innovation. Community-driven ideas can help shape programs that improve overall health outcomes.

To learn more about this program and how you can help, email me at .

Donate today to keep our momentum going

Because of your support, we made some important gains during this legislative session that will benefit Alabamians with low incomes.

But we know we still have a long way to go. Will you donate today to keep up this momentum toward a more equitable Alabama?

Over the course of the session, we built more bipartisan support for untaxing groceries than ever before. We successfully extended postpartum Medicaid coverage from 60 days to a full year. And we stopped harmful legislation that would have made it more difficult for single parents to receive SNAP food assistance.

We know that with continued, concerted effort, we can expand SNAP benefits for people who need it. We can end the tax on groceries once and for all to make food more affordable for all Alabamians. And we can finally expand Medicaid statewide.

Will you join or renew your membership with Alabama Arise to support our year-round advocacy and organizing efforts? Together, we can make a difference in the lives of people with low incomes across our state. You can donate online today, or send a check to P.O. Box 1188, Montgomery, AL 36101.

Alabama needs to invest in our people

Do you know how hard it is to pass just one bill in the Alabama Legislature? We often measure progress on our issue priorities over periods of four-year quadrenniums, or even decades.

So it’s remarkable that during the 2022 regular session, Arise members helped pass numerous priority bills on everything from equitable tax reforms and adequate state budgets to criminal justice reforms.

Still, many of our lawmakers do not share our vision for a truly inclusive economic recovery.

When it comes to spending the remaining $1 billion in American Rescue Plan Act funds to build a lifeboat for all Alabamians hit hard by COVID-19, it’s our job to help them see the vision.

As we look ahead to another special session on ARPA funds, we’re working to tell lawmakers what you all know to be true: Investments in our people, our most valuable resource, are what matter most.

Check out our ARPA advocacy resources at al-arise.local/arpatoolkit. And tell your lawmakers now that you expect them to use this opportunity to address longstanding human needs.

Summer food service programs need to be preserved

The COVID-19 pandemic added to the hunger challenges already facing many Alabamians. In response came a wave of federal flexibilities and waivers for the nation’s programs that feed children. As a result, many Alabama students have received nutritious, often free meals with fewer administrative barriers.

However, many of these child nutrition waivers could be coming to an end soon ‒ unless state officials and concerned Alabamians act quickly.

For the past two summers, the Summer Food Service Program’s flexibilities have included permitting non-congregate meal service. This allows parents, guardians or children to take meals from the pickup site. It also allows meal provision for multiple days at once.

But unless the Alabama State Department of Education requests an extension, these flexibilities will end June 30. That would be in the middle of summer food service, causing undue stress and confusion to students, educators and families. Alabama Arise and other partners in the Hunger-Free Alabama coalition sent a letter to state school Superintendent Eric Mackey urging him to ask the U.S. Department of Agriculture for an extension for the rest of summer.

Above: Arise’s Celida Soto Garcia explains how community eligibility helps keep Alabama children fed.

The continued push for community eligibility

As we continue pushing for extended flexibility, it is important to keep building support for the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP). This option allows more than 450 high-poverty schools across Alabama to offer breakfast and lunch at no charge to all students. Arise members should contact their local school superintendents and urge them to opt into CEP if they haven’t already. Parents and guardians can take an extra step by submitting their school meal application to the appropriate school district.

Food insecurity is a challenge for 16.1% of Alabamians, including 20.4% of Alabama’s children, according to 2021 projections from Feeding America. These numbers are unacceptable and should not increase further because of preventable deadlines. Arise will continue to work proactively with local, state and national partners to expand food access across the state.

A life-saving move: Alabama extends postpartum Medicaid coverage

Alabama is on its way to reducing maternal mortality and improving health for families across the state ‒ but we can’t stop here.

Lawmakers and Gov. Kay Ivey last month enacted a budget that extends postpartum Medicaid coverage to a full year after childbirth. That is up from the previous cutoff of only 60 days after birth. Alabama Arise and other members of the Cover Alabama Coalition will continue to work with the governor’s administration and legislators to ensure this program is sustainable and permanent.

Alabama has the nation’s third-worst maternal death rate. Each year, nearly 40 new mothers in the state die within one year after delivery. The toll on Black mothers is nearly three times that of white moms.

Research shows that outcomes improve when moms have access to high-quality, equitable and uninterrupted care. Extending the Medicaid postpartum coverage period is a big step to save lives and improve the health and well-being of families, communities and the entire state.

Arise story collection coordinator Whit Sides speaks at a March 9 rally in Montgomery to support extending postpartum Medicaid coverage. Arise joined the American Heart Association and other Cover Alabama partners at the event.

The work that remains

This is an exciting win, but we know that one year of coverage is, ultimately, not enough. And we know the solution: The most effective way to reduce maternal deaths is to make sure people giving birth have access to care before, during and after pregnancy. We need full Medicaid expansion, and we won’t stop until we get it.

Medicaid restrictions are not affecting only new parents. More than 220,000 Alabamians are caught in our health coverage gap, earning too much to qualify for Medicaid and too little to afford private insurance. And another 120,000 are stretching to pay for coverage they cannot afford. Expanding Medicaid would give these Alabamians the health care that they need to survive and deserve to thrive.

Postpartum Medicaid extension will be only the first of many wins toward creating a more equitable state health care system. It’s been a long fight, but I know we can do this.

Community eligibility helps keep children fed in Alabama

Arise’s Celida Soto Garcia explains how the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) helps more than 450 high-poverty schools across Alabama offer breakfast and lunch to students at no charge. Now is the time to contact school superintendents and urge them to opt into CEP if their districts are eligible to participate.

A full transcript can be found below the video.

Hi. My name is Celida Soto Garcia, hunger policy advocate with Alabama Arise. Today I hope to share a few steps to make sure that children and families have ample food nutrition options this summer and during the upcoming school year.

I would also like to encourage parents and school administrators to join me in promoting the Community Eligibility Provision as dependable food and nutrition source during really uncertain times.

Community Eligibility Provision, or CEP for short, is a federal program that allows more than 450 high-poverty schools across Alabama to offer breakfast and lunch at no charge to all students. CEP reduces paperwork for schools so they can focus on providing healthy meals to help students learn and thrive.

CEP increases school meal participation by removing stigmas that are typically associated with having to pay for lunch and possibly not having the funds to do so that day. It maximizes federal reimbursement to schools with the highest rates of attending students living in low-income households.

CEP eliminates unpaid school meal fees and makes it easier to implement innovative service models such as breakfast in the classroom or some hearty snacks throughout the day.

Most notably, CEP saved the day in the early stages of the pandemic. When not participating, schools have to grapple with determining eligibility criteria before serving meals to families in need throughout the pandemic. Schools that had opted into CEP were best prepared to consistently meet food and nutrition needs. When so much more was uncertain for CEP schools, addressing hunger was a no-brainer, and school meals were made available to every child in need.

The pandemic taught us many lessons. Most notably, we learned that reliable sources of food and nutrition are vital to extending a sense of support and stability to communities. Temporary school meal waivers such as Seamless Summer Option, or SSO for short, and Summer Food Service Program, or SFP for short, strengthen the safety net during uncertain times. But these programs are ending soon. CEP offers a more dependable and enduring system for serving school meals to all children at no cost to families.

Also, students attending schools that opted into CEP were automatically eligible to receive Pandemic EBT. CEP facilitated feeding families during trying times, and it continues to be the most dependable support for ensuring all children receive the nutrition they need to survive and to thrive.

Now is the time to contact your local school superintendents and urge them to opt into the Community Eligibility Provision to secure a reliable source of food and nutrition for Alabama’s children.

Lastly, an urgent message to parents. Ending school meal waivers means that the parents and caregivers should ask your school administrator if your students school is adopting CEP in 2022-2023. If not, you will need to complete a school meal application for free or reduced-price meals as soon as possible. Thank you.

Feel free to submit any questions to or call 334-832-9060.

Join us for Town Hall Tuesdays!

Listening is key to shaping and advancing public policies that matter most to those marginalized by bad policies. Alabama Arise depends on what we hear to help guide our work toward our vision of a better Alabama for all.

Our online Town Hall Tuesdays will return once again this year. These events are a chance to hear issue updates and share your vision for our 2023 priorities.

Please join us this summer to help identify emerging issues and inform our actions. Registration is required for any or all of the sessions. You can register at the link in each session below.

July 12th, 6 p.m.Making the vision a reality: Food & health

Everyone should have access to food and the health care they need to live a long and healthy life. Join this session to discuss issue and advocacy opportunities in areas of access to food and health care. Click here to register for this session.

July 26th, 6 p.m. Making the vision a reality: Democracy & justice

We envision a state where all government leaders are responsive, inclusive and justice-serving. Voting rights barriers and an unjust justice system have hindered our vision. But together, we can move forward. Join us to discuss how to improve voting access and advance criminal justice reforms. Click here to register for this session.

August 9th, 6 p.m. Making the vision a reality: The path forward

Arise’s vision for Alabama can be realized because of our commitment and perseverance. We are committed to issues that matter to those marginalized by poverty, and we persevere in raising our voices together for change. Join this session to discuss issues already identified and to raise others. Click here to register for this session.