COVID-19: 7 policy changes that would help protect Alabamians

The World Health Organization has labeled COVID-19 a global pandemic. And state officials announced the first confirmed case of the disease in Alabama on Friday. As the virus strains our health systems, schools and economy, we must ensure the most vulnerable Alabamians have the medical care, social supports and other protections they need to weather the crisis.

The Alabama Legislature will be on spring break for the next two weeks. We hope our state lawmakers and members of Congress will take time to examine the situation developing in their communities. And we hope they will act quickly and courageously to address these critical public health needs.

Here are seven actions that policymakers should take now to protect the well-being and security of all Alabamians:

1. Gov. Kay Ivey should expand Medicaid.

Medicaid expansion would extend health coverage to more than 223,000 uninsured Alabamians with low incomes. It also would ensure coverage for another 120,000 who struggle to afford the insurance they have.

Expansion would take several months to implement, but it would prepare us for the big challenges ahead. In the short term, Medicaid could take numerous other steps to protect families. Examples include streamlining enrollment, covering new mothers for one year after delivery and increasing our “bare-bones” income limit for parents.

Email Gov. Ivey to ask her to expand Medicaid and help address the coronavirus threat. Or if you’d prefer to reach out by phone, click here to call Gov. Ivey’s office.

2. Lawmakers should increase funding for public health to ensure adequate testing, preparation and prevention.

In addition, state and local agencies should take the lead on proactive policies and procedures to protect those who are most vulnerable to this virus. Read State Health Officer Scott Harris’ report to the Senate Health Committee.

3. Congress should authorize emergency food assistance increases.

Boosting the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) would help children get the food they need while they’re out of school. It also would promote food security for seniors, people who lose their jobs and other people at risk of hunger. Read additional recommendations to address critical food security issues from our partners at the Food Research and Action Center.

4. Policymakers should remove barriers to social support services.

Medicaid, SNAP, WIC and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) save and improve lives. Red-tape barriers to these services make it harder for struggling families to get the help they need during a crisis. Read Arise’s fact sheet to learn why state lawmakers should abandon efforts to reduce access to safety net programs.

5. State lawmakers should remove the state sales tax on groceries while protecting education funding.

As many people prepare for social distancing by purchasing enough food to last for several weeks, the grocery tax imposes the highest tax burden on the people who can least afford it. It’s yet another illustration of why this cruel tax must end. Click here to urge state legislators to untax groceries and replace the revenue by supporting SB 144.

6. Policymakers should look at options to extend paid medical and family leave to every worker.

States including Washington and Massachusetts have created affordable buy-in plans so that even smaller employers can provide extended medical or family leave. Read how paid family and medical leave was made affordable and available to every worker in the state of Washington. Then read more about federal discussions to provide short-term relief for paid leave.

7. Alabama should expand unemployment protections to mitigate the effects of job losses for individuals and communities.

Closures and layoffs in the coming months will leave many workers without essential income. Public officials must act now to reduce the financial toll on people who struggle to make ends meet. Read recommendations from the National Employment Law Project (NELP) about potential improvements to unemployment insurance coverage.

Looking ahead

The conversation about the best policy and social responses will continue to evolve over the coming days and weeks. And additional needs and solutions are likely to emerge. Throughout this crisis and beyond, Arise will continue to speak out for dignity, equity and justice for all Alabamians.