Arise legislative recap: Feb. 16, 2021

Arise executive director Robyn Hyden breaks down the first two weeks in the Alabama Legislature’s 2021 regular session and outlines Arise’s goals for this session. Legislators have prioritized protecting corporations over workers so far this month, even as hundreds of thousands of Alabamians continue to struggle with hunger and hardship during the COVID-19 recession.

Beyond hunger and poverty: An introduction to the Emerson Fellows at Alabama Arise

Kate Blankinship and Curtis Hills pause for a photo after completing a mile run.

This is a post by Kate Blankinship and Curtis Hills. Kate and Curtis are Emerson National Hunger Fellows from the Congressional Hunger Center. They have joined Alabama Arise to assist our work on policies to reduce hunger and poverty.

We only went in for porch lights and flowers, but we were met with stares of unease and disapproval. Both of us noticed the shoppers’ reactions, yet neither of us mentioned the shared experience until that evening, as we sat on the porch admiring our baby pine tree named “Piney” and the dim lights hanging above.

That night in Lowe’s was a stark reminder that our differences matter more to many people than any similarity. Kate is from Memphis but matriculated to Chicago for college at the University of Chicago. Curtis is from Lexington, Miss., and stayed in-state to attend the University of Mississippi. Kate is a white woman; Curtis is a Black man. She is spiritual; he is religious. She is queer; he is heterosexual.

The experiences and mission that bring us together

We moved to the Montgomery area in September, brought together by the Congressional Hunger Center as Emerson Fellows. For five months, we will partner with the nonprofit Alabama Arise to do research surrounding hunger and poverty.

Our passion for this work is only one of our many similarities. We both grew up in the South and fall seamlessly into thick, Southern drawls. We both attended public schools and lost a parent in adolescence. And we both have experienced times of poverty.

As we work on issues related to hunger and poverty, we are keenly aware of how each part of our own identity impacts our approach. We also keep in mind the identities of those with whom we work when researching social welfare programs, looking at policies and advocating for others. While at Arise, we will have separate but related projects.

What Kate is doing at Arise

Kate Blankinship

Kate is researching childhood nutrition. Specifically, she is talking to child nutrition professionals and community members about their experiences with the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) in Alabama public schools. Kate will place at the forefront of her research those who work directly with the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and benefit from NSLP and/or CEP. Using data as a backbone, she will let their voices drive the narrative.

Kate’s work will include developing a video to highlight CEP’s benefits and demystify its complexities through the storytelling of parents, policy researchers and School Child Nutrition Program directors. She will write a report on her CEP-related findings that will discuss the long-term mental health impacts of food insecurity. The report also will examine the lingering impact on current policies of NSLPs having started as a military readiness strategy. In addition, Kate will work with Arise staff to develop state policy proposals to minimize barriers to opting into CEP.

What Curtis is doing at Arise

Curtis Hills

Curtis will work to illuminate Alabamians’ voices through social media content creation and outreach. He will generate content that speaks to a range of current hunger-related issues affecting Alabamians. These issues include:

  • Data collection on Pandemic EBT (P-EBT).
  • The benefits of WIC enrollment for toddlers.
  • The role that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) plays in supporting Alabama’s food stores and systems.

Curtis also will draft social media messages for local hunger and education advocates to use in encouraging their local schools to take up the option. And he will develop a blog series highlighting Arise’s work, particularly his activities and those of his fellow Fellow, Kate.

Conversations are only the beginning of the work

Due to COVID-19, we do most of this work within the walls of our apartment and on our now-decked-out-in-fall porch. But it took only one night of living together before we started diving into conversations that extend beyond our work. These are deep conversations we believe many Americans aren’t yet willing to have. And we soon realized we were going to learn about much more than hunger and poverty.

If so much understanding can come from digesting conversations and experiences, then why do more people not use this model? We are learning from our ability to listen and willingness to engage in conversations. And we have decided not to shy away from the gazes we receive when we go out. Instead, we acknowledge them internally and return home and talk about it.

Curtis Hills takes a moment to reflect while visiting Shelby Farms Park in Memphis.

Yet our experience at Lowe’s that night also helped us realize further something that we already knew. Having conversations is a necessary component of our work, but it is by no means sufficient by itself to make the changes we hope to make one day in our lives, careers and society.

The conversations we’ve been having within our apartment will not change our experiences once we leave. That is going to take a lifetime of work.

How Alabama Arise is working to build a brighter future after the pandemic

After a year of darkness, the light at the end of the tunnel is finally in sight. Promising vaccine news offers hope that public health officials can rein in COVID-19 in the coming months. And as our state and nation seek policy solutions to rebuild from the pandemic’s health and economic devastation, Alabama Arise will seek to advance equity and shared prosperity for Alabamians who are marginalized and excluded.

That vital work won’t be fast or easy. In the meantime, the pandemic’s harrowing toll continues to grow. COVID-19 has killed more than 1.5 million people worldwide, including more than 3,900 Alabamians, and sickened tens of millions. It has fueled a deep recession, caused millions of layoffs and left more than 40% of U.S. children living in households struggling to make ends meet. It has stretched hospitals to the breaking point and disrupted education, commerce and social interactions in every community.

The Alabama Legislature will begin its 2021 regular session Feb. 2. As the health and economic tolls of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to mount, Alabama Arise will keep working hard to empower people who live in poverty and to lift up their voices in state policy debates.

COVID-19 has created suffering on a staggering scale. It also has highlighted long-standing economic and racial disparities and underscored the urgency of ending them. A new legislative session and a new presidency will offer new opportunities to right those wrongs in 2021 and beyond.

The federal and state work ahead

The most immediate needs will require federal action. Congress must extend state aid and additional unemployment insurance (UI) benefits before they expire this month. But those extensions should be just a down payment on a more comprehensive response.

Arise will urge further UI benefit increases and more federal relief to help states avoid layoffs and damaging cuts. We also will advocate for emergency rental and mortgage assistance and a 15% boost to food assistance under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). And we’ll support regulatory efforts to lift harmful Medicaid and SNAP barriers created in recent years.

Flyer on Alabama Arise's 2021 issue priorities. For more information, visit https://www.alarise.org/news-releases/alabama-arise-unveils-members-2021-roadmap-for-change.

We’ll also keep working for better state policies when the Legislature returns in February. Our top focus will be Medicaid expansion, which we’ll pursue along with partners in the Cover Alabama Coalition. Expansion would cover more than 340,000 Alabamians with low incomes and ease the financial strain on rural hospitals. It also would attack structural health care disparities that led COVID-19 to take a disproportionate toll on Black Alabamians.

Arise’s work won’t stop there. We’ll support legislation to expand voting rights and ensure broadband internet access for all Alabamians. We’ll seek to increase consumer protections and overhaul the state’s criminal justice system. And we’ll fight to untax groceries once and for all.

Breakthroughs on many of these issues won’t be fast or easy. But together, we’ll emerge from dark times into the light of a brighter, more inclusive future for Alabama.

Join us at Alabama Arise’s 2021 action briefings!

Alabama’s 2021 legislative session begins Feb. 2. It will not proceed as usual given the extraordinary times in which we live. But we still need to be prepared to move our issues forward. This series of briefings will both inform and equip us to act strategically to continue the work for a better Alabama for all.

Please join us at any or all of these sessions! Registration is required, so please register at the link under each description.

Tuesday, January 12, 6 p.m.Legislative advocacy in a pandemic

We will preview what we expect for the coming session, including what will be different. We also will share legislative advocacy tips for this (temporary) new normal. Click here to register for this session.

Tuesday, January 19, 6 p.m.Voting rights

More people are voting than ever before. We will talk about ways to protect and strengthen voting rights in Alabama. Click here to register for this session.

Tuesday, January 26, 6 p.m.Criminal justice and death penalty reform

We will discuss Alabama’s unjust criminal justice system – and how to fix it. Click here to register for this session.

Monday, February 1, 6 p.m.State budget priorities

Budgets are moral documents. Let’s put our money where our values are. Our budget priorities should reflect our commitment to advancing economic and racial justice. Click here to register for this session.

Alabama Arise action briefings flyer

Dignity, equity and opportunity for all Alabamians

Alabama Arise Giving Tuesday 2020 graphic

Giving Tuesday is a day devoted to supporting organizations that improve our communities. On this #GivingTuesday and in the weeks to come, I’d like to encourage you to consider joining Alabama Arise’s movement for a more just and inclusive Alabama.

So many people in our communities are struggling to stay healthy and provide for their families as COVID-19 ravages our state. Alabama Arise advocates for fairer public policies that will create safety, security and health for all of our neighbors, during this pandemic and beyond.

Many of the issues on your mind and in the news right now — like criminal justice reform, voting rights for marginalized communities, access to broadband internet for remote learning and affordable health care for all — are Arise’s top priorities, as chosen by our members. Your support will directly fund the work Arise does on these issues. And it also will add your voice to our growing chorus for change.

Our fantastic team of policy analysts, organizers and advocates use their years of experience to promote our vision of a better Alabama. We believe in a state where all people live with concern for the common good and respect for the humanity of every person. We also believe in a state that eliminates institutional racism and ensures dignity, equity and opportunity for everyone. And we believe that we can achieve those goals together.

Help Arise build a better Alabama

We need you with us as we work to turn our shared vision for a better Alabama into a reality. Here’s how you can help Arise further our mission:

Please stay safe and healthy during this holiday season. And please join us as we work together to build a better Alabama for all!

Join Alabama Arise today and make a difference!

Alabama Arise members are the force behind sustained advocacy for policies that improve the lives of Alabamians with low incomes. Our movement for change is growing, and we need you in it.

When we come together across lines of difference to demand fair and just policies for all Alabamians, we are able to hold our lawmakers accountable. Identifying yourself to an elected official as an Arise member makes a tremendous difference. It means you have a community of support as you work toward a more equitable Alabama.

As an indication of your personal commitment to Arise’s mission, individual membership requires a financial contribution each year. We suggest a donation of $15 or more, but we strive to ensure money is not a barrier to membership. You can keep your membership current with a gift in any amount with which you feel comfortable! Your contribution makes you eligible to vote during membership meetings, including our annual meetings, where members choose our issue priorities.

Our goal is to reach 2,020 individual members by the end of 2020. Please click here to join Arise or renew your membership today!

Get covered: 2021 ACA open enrollment ends Dec. 15, 2020

The deadline to #GetCovered is just weeks away! Open enrollment for 2021 Marketplace health coverage under the Affordable Care Act ends Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020. Don’t miss your chance to make sure you’re covered in case of accident or illness.

Visit healthcare.gov or call 800-318-2596 to explore your coverage options. And be sure to spread the word about this opportunity to your friends and family, too.

Welcome! HealthCare.gov is open. Sign up for affordable health coverage from Nov. 1 to Dec. 15.

Our friends at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities share why you should visit healthcare.gov during open enrollment. This resource discusses how to compare plans, seek financial help and ensure your insurance meets your needs.

Even if you already have Marketplace coverage, we still recommend that you log in and double-check your options. Another plan may better meet your needs in the coming year.

We also want to share resources from our partner organizations Enroll Alabama and the Cover Alabama Coalition around health care accessibility and advocacy.

Screenshot of Cover Alabama petition

More than 220,000 Alabamians are caught in the state’s health coverage gap, earning too much to qualify for Medicaid and too little to afford private insurance. Right now, more than ever, affordable health care is a necessity. Please sign this petition to Gov. Kay Ivey on behalf of Cover Alabama.

Enroll Alabama logo

Enroll Alabama answers questions and offers services for open enrollment. For more information and free in-person assistance, call toll free at 844-248-7698 or email enrollalabama@gmail.com today.

It’s Election Day! Check out Alabama Arise’s 2020 voting resources

We made it! Today is Election Day across the United States. More than 300,000 Alabamians have voted already, shattering the state’s previous record for votes cast before Election Day. And we’re likely to continue to break records today.

The presidential and U.S. Senate races are drawing the biggest share of the attention in Alabama this year. But voters also will decide on their U.S. representatives, six statewide constitutional amendments and a host of state and local offices.

Have you made a plan to vote? Below, Alabama Arise has information about how to vote in person, what to do if you face barriers to voting, and why we urge Alabamians to vote YES on Amendment 4.

Vote!

Heres what you need to know for Election Day:

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)

Alabama Arise supports Amendment 4

Vote Yes on Amendment 4!

From our blog: “It’s past time for Alabama to tear down the policy legacies of slavery and segregation. And Alabamians can take an important step in that direction this fall by voting yes on Amendment 4. …

“Amendment 4 would allow the Legislature to remove racist language from the constitution. Examples of these provisions include references to separate schools for Black and white children and the prohibition of interracial marriages. This change would address one of the constitution’s original sins: its authors’ explicit intent to establish white supremacy in Alabama.”

Read more about Amendment 4 here.

Alabama Arise resources for the 2020 general election

Election Day is officially Nov. 3, but the 2020 general election is well underway. More than 206,000 Alabamians have voted already, shattering the state’s previous record for votes cast before Election Day.

The presidential and U.S. Senate races are drawing the biggest share of the attention in Alabama this year. But voters also will decide on their U.S. representatives, six statewide constitutional amendments and a host of state and local offices.

Have you made a plan to vote? Below, Alabama Arise has information about how to vote by mail or in person. And we explain why we urge Alabamians to vote YES on Amendment 4.

Vote!

It’s not too late for absentee voting!

  • The deadline to submit a standard absentee ballot application or to vote absentee in person this year is Thursday, Oct. 29.
  • The last day to postmark an absentee ballot is Monday, Nov. 2, the day before the election.
  • Due to potential mail delays, voters who are interested in voting absentee should consider safely doing so in person. Absentee ballots must arrive at the election manager’s office by no later than 5 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 2 (if hand-delivered) or by noon on Tuesday, Nov. 3 (if returned by mail).
  • Alabamians may vote absentee if they are worried about crowded polling places during the COVID-19 pandemic. On the application, they should check the box that says “I have a physical illness or infirmity which prevents my attendance at the polls.”
  • You can find much more information and resources on absentee voting on the Alabama Secretary of State’s website.

What you need to know for Election Day

Alabama Arise supports Amendment 4

Vote Yes on Amendment 4!

From our blog: “It’s past time for Alabama to tear down the policy legacies of slavery and segregation. And Alabamians can take an important step in that direction this fall by voting yes on Amendment 4. …

“Amendment 4 would allow the Legislature to remove racist language from the constitution. Examples of these provisions include references to separate schools for Black and white children and the prohibition of interracial marriages. This change would address one of the constitution’s original sins: its authors’ explicit intent to establish white supremacy in Alabama.”

Read more about Amendment 4 here.

Why Alabama Arise supports Amendment 4

It’s past time for Alabama to tear down the policy legacies of slavery and segregation. And Alabamians can take an important step in that direction this fall by voting yes on Amendment 4.

Alabama Arise favors an overhaul of the racist 1901 constitution, so adding new amendments is not something we take lightly. But Amendment 4 would improve the constitution by authorizing the Legislature to “recompile,” or clean up and reorganize, the document in certain limited ways during the 2022 regular session.

Most importantly, Amendment 4 would allow the Legislature to remove racist language from the constitution. Examples of these provisions include references to separate schools for Black and white children and the prohibition of interracial marriages. This change would address one of the constitution’s original sins: its authors’ explicit intent to establish white supremacy in Alabama.

Vote Yes on Amendment 4!

Amendment 4 would make other structural changes to the constitution as well. It would remove language that is repetitive or no longer applies. It would consolidate amendments related to economic development. And it would group local amendments by the county to which they apply.

How Amendment 4 differs from previous efforts

Two other efforts to modernize the constitution and remove racist language have lost statewide votes in recent years. In 2004, voters rejected a proposed amendment that also would have removed language saying Alabama children had no right to a publicly funded education. Some conservatives feared that change could force lawmakers to increase taxes and boost public school funding.

In 2012, Alabamians voted against another proposed amendment that many Black lawmakers opposed. The legislators cited concerns that it could undermine education funding and would not remove all racist language from the constitution.

This year’s amendment would allow the Legislature to identify racist language for removal. Voters still would have the final say on whether to approve the new revision of the constitution. Rep. Merika Coleman, D-Birmingham, sponsored the amendment, which the Legislature approved unanimously in 2019 for a public vote this year. Coleman worked as an Arise policy analyst before she was elected to the House.

More information on other proposed amendments

Voters in the 2020 general election will consider five other proposed amendments to Alabama’s constitution, already one of the longest in the world. Alabama Arise urges a Yes vote on Amendment 4 but does not have a position on the other amendments. We do, however, encourage you to learn more about them in this guide to all six amendments from the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama (PARCA). You also can read the state Fair Ballot Commission’s summaries of the measures on the secretary of state’s website.

Thank you for your commitment to Arise’s work to advance opportunity and justice in our state. And thank you for your interest in making wise policy choices for a better Alabama!