Join Alabama Arise in this season of gratitude

In this season of gratitude, I’m thankful for you – our members.

You lead our work by sharing your vision for building a better Alabama. And then you join Alabama Arise in getting to work by taking action and by giving financially.

More than 10% of our financial support comes from members like you. And your giving is important because it gives Arise the flexibility needed to focus on the issues you care about, like access to health care for all and a tax structure that promotes the common good.

Outgoing Alabama Arise board president Kathy Vincent, a white woman with a white shirt, hugs outgoing Alabama Arise board member Ana Delia Espino, a Hispanic woman with a red shirt and a black sweater.
Outgoing Alabama Arise board members Kathy Vincent and Ana Delia Espino received special recognition for their years of service to our organization during our Annual Meeting on Sept. 30, 2023, in Montgomery. (Photo by Julie Bennett)

Will you join us in this season of generosity? Join or renew your membership with a gift! There are so many ways to give:

  • A one-time or monthly gift online.
  • A check mailed to P.O. Box 1188, Montgomery, AL 36101.
  • A gift of stock.
  • A gift from an IRA, 401(k) or other tax-deferred savings account.

Once you’ve given, invite your friends, family and network to join you in making a difference! Be sure to share your vision for a better Alabama and how Arise works to make it a reality.

If you have any questions about membership giving or would like more information, please reach out to me at Thank you for your generosity in this end-of-year season.

Alabama Arise, worker advocates celebrate progress

Alabama Arise is working on multiple fronts to improve life for working Alabamians. As part of our ongoing Worker Power Project, we held an Oct. 26 convening in Montgomery with around 20 worker advocacy groups and organized labor partners from across the state. Attendees met to discuss building and implementing a state agenda to build the policy power of working-class Alabamians.

Unions highlighted organizing campaigns at various stages, including the United Mine Workers of America strike and United Auto Workers actions nationwide and in Alabama. They also discussed efforts to empower workers through the recent community benefits agreement at New Flyer, an electric bus manufacturer in Anniston.

State of Working Alabama logo

Arise previewed this year’s forthcoming State of Working Alabama report, which will focus on job quality in the auto industry. Attendees also discussed ways to advance worker-centered policies and defend against anti-worker bills in 2024. And advocates planned how to build and strengthen long-term, strong interorganizational relationships and power for worker organizations throughout Alabama to support growing the collective power of organized labor.

Medicaid ‘unwinding’ hits halfway mark in Alabama

In April, Medicaid ended a continuous coverage eligibility period brought on by the public health emergency during the COVID-19 pandemic. What followed was a return to traditional eligibility requirements. This return to normal rules is called “unwinding.” Coverage losses have begun, and tens of thousands of Alabamians likely will lose their Medicaid coverage by June 2024.

A little more than halfway through the unwinding process, Alabama Medicaid members have a renewal rate of 68%. Only 4% of Medicaid members have been determined to be ineligible, while 27% of members lost coverage for procedural reasons.

From this information, we know more than 70% of Medicaid members have responded to requests for eligibility information from Alabama Medicaid. This response rate can be credited to Alabama Medicaid having a clear and concise communication plan. It also is a testament to the strong support of health care advocates in communities across Alabama.

But this does leave many thousands of people who are disenrolled for procedural reasons. And these losses are especially harsh for those who still may be eligible for coverage. When coverage loss occurs for procedural reasons, enrollees may need to submit further information to keep or maintain coverage. To prevent unnecessary coverage loss, please return any application materials to Alabama Medicaid, even if you do not think you are eligible. Only Alabama Medicaid can determine eligibility status.

A graphic promoting an Alabama Arise toolkit. Headline: What you need to know about Alabama Medicaid's unwinding period. Text: Visit Between the headline and text is a close-cropped photo of a woman reaching out to accept an insurance card while handing a clipboard to them. The clipboard includes a paper with "health insurance" as the headline. An Arise logo is at the bottom of the image.

If you have lost coverage, you may reapply with Alabama Medicaid. You also can contact Enroll Alabama for information on options for Marketplace insurance under the Affordable Care Act. If you feel that Medicaid terminated your coverage in error, you may appeal that decision. Call our partners at ADAP at 800-826-1675 for help.

For more information, please check out Alabama Arise’s Alabama Medicaid unwinding toolkit.

Maternal, infant health care debuts as an Alabama Arise priority

Alabama Arise reached a new milestone in October when more than 500 members voted to determine Arise’s 2024 legislative priorities after our Annual Meeting. Nearly 100 members attended the meeting in person at the Equal Justice Initiative’s Legacy Institute in Montgomery, while almost 250 attended virtually. Outgoing board president Kathy Vincent led the meeting, which featured presentations from Arise staff and member group representatives.

Fifteen Alabama Arise staff members, all wearing either red or green shirts with the Arise logo, stand and smile for a group photo. To their left is a red brick wall, and behind them is a black wall with two framed photographs.
Alabama Arise was excited to have a record number of members voting on our legislative priorities this year! Above: Arise staff members pose for a group photo after our Annual Meeting on Sept. 30, 2023, in Montgomery. (Photo by Julie Bennett)

Six of the seven priorities are returning from our 2023 agenda:

  • Fully untaxing groceries
  • Expanding Medicaid
  • Voting rights
  • Criminal justice reform
  • Comprehensive maternal and infant health care
  • Dedicated funding for public transportation
  • Death penalty reform

Read our news release for more information about each priority.

A safer and healthier Alabama for parents and children

A notable newcomer to our roster is a comprehensive approach to maternal and infant health care, which was proposed by ACLU of Alabama. This priority certainly aligns with our ongoing work to expand Medicaid and close Alabama’s health coverage gap. And our members decided it was critical for this to become a named priority in its own right. We are starting off strong by hiring a maternal health fellow to support our work to protect coverage during the Medicaid unwinding period.

Advocates have a long road ahead on this issue. Alabama has the highest maternal mortality rate in the nation. And according to the March of Dimes, more than one-third of Alabama’s counties are “maternal care deserts.”

Two Alabama Arise members speak at our 2023 Annual Meeting. On the left is a white woman wearing glasses with a black blouse and a striped pink shirt over it. She has a purse over her shoulder and a bag in front of her. On the right is a Black man wearing a black hat and a cream-colored shirt with an Alabama Arise button. Both are wearing nametags.
Alabama Arise members Victoria Jenkins and Tem Samuel speak during the closing moments of our Annual Meeting on Sept. 30, 2023, in Montgomery. (Photo by Julie Bennett)

A safer Alabama for mothers will include access to high-quality maternal health care where patients live, removal of criminal penalties for doctors providing necessary care, and more freestanding maternal care centers across the state.

Alabama’s mothers and babies deserve so much better. Arise is committed to creating a safer and healthier state that will give parents, children and every Alabamian the chance to thrive and achieve their full potential.

Three strategies to boost Alabama’s workforce

State of Working Alabama logo

Alabama leaders and policymakers are stressing about one big issue going into the 2024 legislative session: labor force participation.

Alabama’s labor force participation rate is among the nation’s lowest. Only 57% of working-age adults reported they were actively working or looking for jobs as of September 2023. We also have a severe worker shortage, with nearly 100,000 more job openings than workers available to fill them.

This situation gives Alabama workers increased power to negotiate better wages, benefits and working conditions. It also leaves state leaders and employers scratching their heads. Aren’t we supposed to be among the most “business-friendly” states in the country? How can we attract and retain industry if businesses can’t hire workers? And why aren’t more people applying for openings as the cost of living continues to increase?

Consistent barriers to workforce participation

If you want to know why people are leaving the workforce, you need to ask them. Thankfully, we have data to understand what is happening.

Workers who are underemployed or dropped out of the workforce cited three major, consistent concerns, according to multiple recent surveys from the Governor’s Office of Education and Workforce Transformation:

  1. No transportation.
  2. Inadequate pay or work schedule. (Workers are looking for full-time work or higher pay.)
  3. Illness or disability prevented them from working. (Indeed, disability is one of the main driving forces in Alabama’s extremely low workforce participation rates.)

One would hope we would see more of this data informing the conversation about the workforce. But unfortunately, it appears many lawmakers still haven’t seen the data.

Alabama Arise worker policy advocate Dev Wakeley participated in a recent discussion with lawmakers about barriers to workforce entry. He shared Arise’s policy prescription to address this issue, based on clear and direct feedback we’ve heard from workers.

1. Fund the Public Transportation Trust Fund to help workers get to jobs.

Alabama is one of only three states that has no state funding set aside to support public transportation. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law of 2021 made massive federal boosts in public transit money available across the country. But with no local or state resources to match, cities and counties across Alabama cannot harness those federal matching funds.

Multiple survey groups cited transit access as their top barrier. It’s time for Alabama to join the rest of our Southeastern neighbors by boosting public transportation investments.

2. Stop incentivizing employers who fail to deliver on promises to provide good-paying jobs.

Alabama lawmakers passed “The Game Plan” earlier this year to renew several key economic incentive packages for large employers. Legislators also strengthened some reporting requirements via the Enhancing Transparency Act. These enhancements were critical, as Alabama still ranks among the least transparent states when it comes to economic incentives and tax expenditures.

We applaud efforts to hold businesses accountable for the promises they make when applying for these major tax breaks. But lawmakers must do more to enforce accountability and ensure the investment is paying off. While our state defers millions of dollars in tax revenue for vague incentives with unclear deliverables, many workers are still struggling to access the promised jobs because we have failed to invest in the necessary state infrastructure. And too often, the jobs simply don’t measure up to the promised wages and hiring goals.

3. Expand Medicaid to keep working-age adults healthy and in the workforce.

Investing in Alabama’s health care infrastructure is not just an avenue to create more health care jobs. It’s also a way to keep workers healthy and in the workforce.

Nearly 300,000 working Alabamians fall into the health coverage gap. Many are employed in high-demand but low-paying industries including service, retail, personal care or construction jobs. Consistent health care for low-wage workers can help prevent or control chronic disabling conditions. It also can give workers a lifeline when they are struggling with addiction, substance use disorders or mental illness.

Workers ideally would find good-paying jobs that provide flexible and inclusive family benefits. But they also should retain access to health coverage if they have to take a break from work to handle caregiving duties, manage a health or family crisis, go back to school or start their own business.

Temporarily losing a job with health coverage should not spiral further into permanent, preventable disability or untreated illness. Medicaid expansion would ensure many Alabamians still can get the health care they need during difficult times.

A prescription for a stronger workforce

We applaud House Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter and the House Commission on Labor Shortage for expressing an interest in looking more deeply into the data around labor force participation. We were also glad to hear multiple lawmakers cite issues including affordable housing, wages and child care. All of these are critical supports to empower people to obtain and maintain employment.

To us, the message is clear: Investing more in work supports like public transportation and health care while ensuring more transparency and accountability for workforce incentives is a key, data-supported strategy to keep more Alabamians working and thriving.

Arise legislative update: Update on Alabama’s new congressional map

Arise’s Mike Nicholson gives an update on the new congressional map that the U.S. District Court approved as a remedy in Alabama’s redistricting case last week. That order came after federal judges ruled that both the state’s original map and the revised one that the Legislature passed during a special session in July likely did not comply with the Voting Rights Act. Mike discusses why the court chose the new map and what it may mean for future elections.

Here’s what Alabama Arise heard from you in summer 2023!

Alabama Arise listens because we deeply value the input we get from members, partners and most importantly, those directly affected by the work we do together. We depend on what we hear to help guide our issue work and our strategies.

We held three statewide online events this summer: two Town Hall Tuesdays and one public transportation listening session. And we facilitated eight additional listening sessions around the state, engaging a total of about 375 people.

The town halls happened on July 18 and Aug. 8, and the public transit event was Aug. 9. Other meetings took place throughout the summer. This year we are sharing the direct notes and highlights from each of the meetings as recorded during the sessions.

Town Hall Tuesdays & Public Transportation Listening Session

  • Building on our vision: We had three breakout rooms during this session. We asked folks in each group to discuss their thoughts on current issues and to share other priorities they had. Here’s what we heard:

Group One: Participants generally thought Arise should continue working on the current issues. They noted that the issues are interconnected, and that makes it hard to prioritize. Concerns about criminal justice conviction practices were raised, along with the need for continued work on voting rights and Medicaid expansion. Other issues raised were the need for more affordable housing, paying a living wage versus a minimum wage, and the need to discuss the impact of the opioid epidemic on grandparents now raising children because their parents suffer with addiction. Participants also raised reapportionment as an important issue.

Group Two: Participants strongly believed all of the Arise priority issues are important and that we should continue to work on them. Some of the specific issues lifted up were transportation, voting rights, payday lending and Medicaid expansion. Some issues that are not current Arise priorities raised were housing, disability, mental health access and accountability and prison reform.

Group Three: Medicaid expansion received the most support for continued work. Several people voiced prisons and criminal justice as a concern, including the need for prison reform and bail reform. Voting rights and the concern about the many voter suppression bills was a high-priority topic. Participants discussed passionate concern about payday loans, and the group supported the present slate of issues.

  • Building on our hope: We had three breakout rooms during this session. We asked folks in each group to discuss what motivates them to act on issues and how Arise supports their actions. We also asked them to indicate their priority issues. Here’s what we heard:

Group One: 

  1. The discussion in the group was hot and heavy concerning voting rights and specifically the absentee ballot application. The group concluded that a no-excuse absentee ballot should be the norm and should be an Arise issue for 2024.
  2. The group felt strongly that the 2023 Arise slate of issues should all remain on the 2024 list of Arise priority issues. Medicaid is an issue we need to keep fighting for, they said.
  3. This group had a primary focus and lengthy discussion around voting rights.

Group Two: 

  1. All members of the group strongly believe all the Arise priority issues are important and that we should continue to work on them.
  2. Members also strongly believe affordable housing and public transportation should receive a strong voice like Medicaid expansion.
  3. Members said that to further our support of advocacy work, Arise can help unite nonprofits and grassroots organizations across the state to work together toward shared goals as opposed to working separately toward shared goals.
  4. Members lifted up our education and lobbying work as essential to connecting the people to those who represent them in the Legislature.

Group Three: Voting rights emerged as a strong theme from this group’s discussion. Participants stressed the importance of voter education and folks making the connection between voting and the policies elected officials make that impact their lives. Other voting themes included restoration of voting rights and engaging younger and BIPOC voters. Other issues raised were around public transportation and the need to fund mental health services. One participant expressed appreciation for the storytelling work Arise does related to Medicaid expansion and urged similar storytelling to help move elected officials around other Arise issues.

  • Public Transportation Listening Session: We had three breakout rooms during this session. We asked folks in each group to discuss what’s needed to improve public transit in Alabama, what strategies are needed to move the issue forward and how public transit impacts quality of life in their communities.

Group One: 

  1. Private companies like Uber and Lyft are not equipped to serve the disability community, group members said. This is very important when talking about transportation for the disability community wherever they may be, rural or urban. In other words, the private companies are not a viable resource, participants said.
  2. Rural linkage: Many rural counties have transportation-on-demand systems, but they only serve the county boundaries. Many health services reside in urban centers, and the rider needs to get from Blount County to UAB or Children’s Hospital in Birmingham. These riders are out of luck. Transfer hubs for rural to urban systems do not exist.
  3. A state transportation planning system is needed to coordinate all the existing public systems, rural and urban. Participants hoped Arise’s forthcoming transit study will shine some light on the need for a statewide public transportation planning entity.
  4. The group felt a need for massive public education around the benefits of public transportation. Somehow, Arise or a group of organizations should seek funding for an advertising budget, participants said.
  1. The real cost of owning a car versus using public transportation. This kind of information should be available to the public.
  2. The fact that public transportation is good for business development throughout the state should be targeted to legislators and local business councils and chambers of commerce.

Group Two: 

  1. This group believes public transportation is essential.
  2. There is a need for more hubs and covered stops for locations that already have public transportation in place.
  3. There is a need for more routes with more frequent buses each hour, as well as drivers who are paid livable wages.
  4. Specific strategies discussed included working with for-profits, chambers of commerce, small businesses and corporations to improve transportation for their employees. Participants also suggested surveying the need for transportation by including a question on applications to ask if transportation is needed.
  5. Public transportation impacts the quality of life across the board: health, food, employment, education, leisure, etc.
  6. People have a right to comfort, dignity, pride and independence that public transportation can provide.
  7. One member said reaching out to people who do not need or use public transportation is important to educate them that they can still benefit from it. It helps reduce traffic and road congestion, decreases likelihood of drinking and driving, and helps people out of desperate situations, which can help decrease poverty and crime.
  8. A member of the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind shared how losing the ability to drive caused depression. But oppression is felt when there are no options for transportation other than relying on friends or family if you have them, or simply being unable to go to doctor’s appointments, shop for groceries or pick up medications when needed.
  9. Some members suggested a public Lyft/Uber service.

Group Three: 

  1. Needs: Money/state funding, alternative models, transit-oriented development at local levels, accessibility, buy-in from agencies like ALDOT, changed perception of public transit.
  2. Strategies/tactics: Collect public transit stories, share statistics on earning power with vs. without good public transit and other data relevant to workforce development, and highlight workforce development as a theme for legislative lobbying. Participants discussed a license plate fee, tire fee or special license plate (like public schools have, for example).
  3. Quality of life: A visually impaired participant described how a trip to the grocery store or polling place only a couple miles away is a $25 Uber ride one way. Another participant who works with clients described how their lack of access to public transit affects not just work but health appointments, visiting DHR to secure SNAP, applications for housing, etc. They also mentioned that even “low-cost” transit can be a barrier to low-income folks who may not have a dollar for a ride.

Additional listening sessions

Following are the brief notes/summaries from eight other sessions our organizers held during the summer. In general, all participants strongly affirmed Arise’s work on the current issue priorities. They also highlighted some other issues of concern.

  • Cullman, July 26 (Stan Johnson) – This was a well-informed group with a lot of comments and questions concerning criminal justice, public transportation, death penalty and new prison construction.
  • Opelika, July 26 (Formeeca Tripp) – This group discussed issues surrounding housing, transportation, food insecurity, health care and the legal system. Housing was a top issue.
  • Zoom, Aug. 3 (Formeeca) A death penalty group discussed issues related to recent executions in Alabama, as well as upcoming executions nationwide. Participants said more attention and connections are necessary to bring more awareness to death penalty reform.
  • Tuscaloosa, Aug. 7 (Stan) – The most passionate suggestion from this meeting was the need for legislative action to provide funding for mental health.
  • Opelika, Aug. 17 (Formeeca) – Arise conducted listening sessions in the form of a series of small group meetings.

Group 1: Predominantly parents, people of the community and law enforcement. They supported all current issues but wanted to focus on housing and transportation.

Group 2: Predominantly school staff, counselors, superintendents, principals, resource providers, etc. They wanted resources for non-English-speaking families, housing, transportation and effective mental health services.

Group 3: Predominantly youth, teenagers and support staff. They wanted to learn more about their representatives and how to lift up their own voices, as well as better wages and job opportunities.

  • Montgomery, Aug. 17 (Formeeca) – This group discussed their strategic plan to add to the existing public transportation priority issue. They want to add a $1 fee to license plates to fund the Public Transportation Trust Fund.
  • Birmingham, Sept. 10 (Stan) – This group showed special interest in fair housing and criminal justice reform. Voting rights also was a concern to the group, specifically absentee voting bills that may be reintroduced in the upcoming session.
  • Auburn, Sept. 21 (Formeeca) Students from an Auburn University class filled out a 2024 issue proposal survey form asking them to rank issues of priority. The top three issues that seemed to rank the highest were public transportation, voting rights and criminal justice reform.

Alabama’s grocery tax reduction now in effect

Alabama has taken an important first step toward untaxing groceries. HB 479 took effect Sept. 1, reducing the state sales tax on groceries from 4% to 3%. The law will reduce the tax by another percentage point as soon as September 2024, as long as Education Trust Fund (ETF) revenues grow by at least 3.5% over the previous year. This policy change will help families keep food on the table and ease financial strain for Alabamians with low incomes.

Smiling Alabama Arise staff members and current and former legislators stand behind and to either side of Gov. Kay Ivey, who is seated at a desk in the Old House Chamber in the State Capitol in Montgomery.
Alabama Arise staff participated in the signing ceremony for HB 479 on July 20 at the State Capitol in Montgomery. The law will cut the state grocery tax in half as soon as September 2024. From left to right: Rep. TaShina Morris, D-Montgomery; Arise organizing director Presdelane Harris; Arise executive director Robyn Hyden; Rep. Penni McClammy, D-Montgomery; former Rep. John Knight, D-Montgomery; Rep. Danny Garrett, R-Trussville; Rep. Mary Moore, D-Birmingham; Gov. Kay Ivey; Alabama Grocers Association representative Pat McWhorter; Sen. Andrew Jones, R-Centre; Arise policy and advocacy director Akiesha Anderson; Arise communications director Chris Sanders; and Rep. Rolanda Hollis, D-Birmingham.

The law’s enactment came after decades of persistent advocacy by Alabama Arise members. Several Arise staff members celebrated at a ceremonial bill signing July 20 at the State Capitol in Montgomery. Numerous legislative champions also attended the event, including Sen. Andrew Jones, R-Centre; Reps. Danny Garrett, R-Trussville, and Penni McClammy, D-Montgomery; and former Rep. John Knight, D-Montgomery.

Arise remains committed to eliminating the rest of the state grocery tax responsibly and sustainably. Those efforts will include working with policymakers to protect ETF funding by closing tax loopholes skewed in favor of wealthy households and highly profitable corporations.

Arise legislative update: Update on Alabama redistricting case

The Alabama redistricting lawsuit continued this week as a federal court struck down the state’s congressional map once again. The Legislature approved the map in July after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that the state’s original map likely violated the Voting Rights Act. But federal judges this week said the new map still failed to comply with the act. Arise’s Akiesha Anderson gives an update on what happened and what’s to come in Alabama’s redistricting case.

An Arise tradition: the member-led agenda

Something interesting is happening in the world of policy organizations. After years of many think tanks working behind the scenes to set their policy agendas with little transparency or buy-in from regular people, many of our peer organizations are now realizing the best policies are those informed by the people closest to the problems.

Research and data analysis have important roles to play in any new policy formulation or advocacy campaign. But they alone can’t tell us what needs to happen to improve conditions on the ground.

Thankfully, Alabama Arise is ahead of the curve. Thirty-five years ago, Arise’s founders knew we couldn’t truly work to advance people-centered policies in Montgomery without actually working with and talking to, well, regular people. That is why we are unique among many of our peers in having a policy agenda driven and guided by our membership and directly impacted people across our state.

Driven and guided by the people

I’m proud that with your support, we’ve invested over the years in listening, fostering community conversations and seeking answers to address economic and social justice from everyday Alabamians. Our Annual Meeting and voting process are an important part of this tradition.

Public policy should not be only the purview of the wealthy, white, well-connected or well-heeled. That kind of thinking has created the problems and inequities we are fighting. Instead, the best policies to address economic hardship and poverty are those driven and guided by the people who are struggling just to get by, and by those working on the front lines to advance justice. Every year we invite you, our members, to vote on our annual legislative agenda to ensure our policy goals align with those of everyday Alabamians.

If you have not yet joined us in this process, I hope you will. Join our 2023 Annual Meeting on Sept. 30 to hear from volunteers and leaders across our state. Then participate in voting to select our 2024 legislative agenda!