Federal relief funds could transform Alabama’s future

How often have we gotten to say that it’s raining money in Alabama? That’s the image that comes to mind as the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), passed in March, begins to direct more than $4 billion in new federal funds into the state over the next three years.

The funding could help Alabama make historic progress in public health, education, family well-being and community viability if spent wisely and equitably. It also offers generous incentives that would more than offset the state’s initial cost to expand Medicaid. This new COVID-19 relief comes on top of $1.9 billion Alabama got under the CARES Act last year.

The state government will receive more than $2 billion under ARPA. Counties will get nearly $1 billion. Alabama’s 21 largest cities will receive more than $400 million, and other municipalities will get nearly $400 million as well. Both the state and localities may use funds to offset the pandemic’s strains on families, small businesses, public health and infrastructure like water and sewer systems and high-speed broadband networks.

Portions of ARPA money are earmarked for direct payments to local school districts. Other funds are dedicated to provide rental assistance and make child care more affordable and accessible.

The act also temporarily boosts the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit and temporarily increases food aid under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and WIC. In addition to these supports, ARPA also provides one-time cash payments ($1,400 each for most Americans). And it provides direct assistance for health care, funeral expenses and other essential needs.

Arise will continue to follow these funding streams with the goal of ensuring equitable distribution and transparency. And we will advocate to make the temporary improvements permanent in the next round of federal relief.

Arise advances justice in a pandemic session

Advocacy barriers for Alabama Arise members were extraordinarily high during the Legislature’s 2021 regular session. The COVID-19 pandemic limited physical access to the State House and made a difficult policy landscape even rockier.

But Arise members were undeterred. They spoke out forcefully and repeatedly for justice and opportunity. And the result was real, meaningful progress on multiple issue priorities.

This year brought advances on criminal justice reform and internet access. It delivered stronger investment in early education and preserved funding for Medicaid and mental health care. And it saw efforts to chill free speech and erode the Department of Public Health’s effectiveness defeated.

Wins on expanding broadband, reforming civil asset forfeiture

Arise members made their presence known throughout the session. They gathered monthly for online Membership Monday events to stay engaged and connect with advocates across Alabama. On May 18, nearly 100 people attended a virtual recap event to debrief the session and prepare for next steps. And throughout the year, our supporters flooded email inboxes and rang phones off the hook, contacting legislators and Gov. Kay Ivey more than 14,000 times.

Arise action alerts by the numbers This year, Arise’s dedicated members and supporters consistently reached out to lawmakers when we asked. It’s impossible to overstate just how critical it is for our legislators to know what their constituents want. We’re so grateful to everyone who sent messages from our action alerts during this session. Here are a few examples of just how many messages you sent to legislators and the governor in response to Arise and Cover Alabama action alerts during the 2021 regular session: Medicaid expansion: 12,442 Voting rights and protecting free speech: 597 Protecting public health: 406 Civil asset forfeiture reform: 266 Other criminal justice reforms: 389

 

That advocacy worked. Lawmakers passed SB 215 by Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, to promote broadband expansion to rural communities and other underserved areas. And legislators finally began to rein in civil asset forfeiture, a practice that allows law enforcement to seize property without a criminal conviction.

SB 210 by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, doesn’t end civil asset forfeiture, but it makes some important initial improvements. Those changes include exempting some property from forfeiture and strengthening protections for innocent owners.

Successful defense against public health threats, anti-protest bill

Arise advocacy helped stop harmful proposals as well. Our members played a key role in blocking a plan to limit the governor and public health officials’ ability to respond to emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic. After our members sounded the alarm, SB 97 by Sen. Tom Whatley, R-Auburn, lost a House procedural vote in the session’s final hours.

Arise members also helped halt a threat to free speech. HB 445 by Rep. Allen Treadaway, R-Morris, would have expanded law enforcement’s powers to arrest protesters for “rioting” and imposed harsh mandatory minimum sentences on people convicted under the law. The bill passed in the House but died in the Senate.

The Legislature likely isn’t done this year. Lawmakers expect one or more special sessions to address unfinished business like redistricting, prison overcrowding and allocating federal relief funds. Whenever the next session may be, Arise members will be ready, advocating as always for a better, more inclusive Alabama.

You’re invited to Arise’s 2021 Town Hall Tuesdays!

Arise’s statewide online summer listening sessions are a chance to hear what’s happening on key state policy issues and share your vision for our 2022 policy agenda. Register now to help identify emerging issues and inform our work to build a better Alabama.

We’d love to see you at any or all of these sessions! Registration is required, so please register at the link under each description.

June 15th, 6 p.m. A better Alabama for all

If you could wave a magic wand and fix one issue that addresses poverty in Alabama, what would that issue be? Join this session to discuss the issue you would choose. Click here to register for this session.

June 29th, 6 p.m.Health care for all

Everyone should have access to the health care they need to live a long and healthy life. Yet thousands in Alabama are caught in a health insurance coverage gap. Join this session to talk about closing that gap by expanding Medicaid in Alabama. Click here to register for this session.

July 13th, 6 p.m.Justice for all

Voting rights barriers and an unjust criminal justice system have disenfranchised many of our neighbors. Join this session to discuss your priorities for improving access to voting and reforming our criminal justice system. Click here to register for this session.

Flyer for Alabama Arise's 2021 Town Hall Tuesdays. Learn more and sign up at alarise.org/2021townhalltuesdays.

American Rescue Plan Act offers path to recovery

As vaccinations continue across Alabama, COVID-19’s viselike grip on our lives is loosening. The pandemic has caused immense physical, emotional and economic suffering, and those aftereffects will not fade quickly. But the American Rescue Plan Act – the federal relief package that President Joe Biden signed March 11 – includes many important policies to begin the healing.

Some of the most crucial investments come in health care. The law increases subsidies for marketplace health coverage under the Affordable Care Act. It also creates new incentives that would more than offset the cost of Medicaid expansion. The incentives would remove Alabama’s last financial barrier to extending coverage to more than 340,000 adults with low incomes.

If Gov. Kay Ivey agrees to expand Medicaid, Alabama would receive between $740 million and $940 million over two years. That would result from a 5-percentage-point federal funding increase for traditional Medicaid coverage.

Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery

“Medicaid expansion is the single biggest step Alabama can take to recover from the pandemic,” Alabama Arise campaign director Jane Adams said.

“Congress did their job. Now it’s time for the governor and state lawmakers to do theirs.”

The act also slashes poverty by boosting unemployment insurance and nutrition assistance benefits and expanding the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit. It funds rental and mortgage assistance to help prevent evictions and foreclosures. And it provides Alabama’s state and local governments with $4 billion of federal assistance to help avoid cuts to education and other vital services.

Persistent disparities – and how to end them

The relief package provides opportunities to begin dismantling longtime structural barriers in Alabama. Arise offers many such policy recommendations in our recent report, The State of Working Alabama 2021, which details how COVID-19 cost hundreds of thousands of Alabamians their jobs and fueled a rapid surge of hunger and hardship across our state.

COVID-19’s toll has been especially heavy for women and people of color, the report finds. The pandemic exacerbated Alabama’s preexisting racial, gender and regional disparities in health care, housing, nutrition and economic opportunity. These inequities – the legacy of bad policy decisions – prevent Alabama from reaching its full potential.

“Alabama’s economic, racial and gender inequities are preventable and reversible,” Arise policy director Jim Carnes said. “By making better policy choices now and in the future, we can chart a path toward a more equitable economy.”

Federal relief package will reduce Alabamians’ unmet health needs, hunger, housing instability and other hardships

The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 will reduce poverty while expanding health care, housing and nutrition protections across Alabama, according to analyses by Alabama Arise and other research organizations. President Joe Biden signed the new federal COVID-19 relief package into law Thursday.

The law will slash poverty by expanding tax credits to struggling households and boosting unemployment insurance (UI) benefits. It also will provide Alabama $2.3 billion of federal assistance to help avoid cuts to education and other vital services. Local governments in Alabama will receive another $1.7 billion in federal funding.

Some of the relief package’s most transformative investments will come in health care. The law will increase the affordability of health coverage through the marketplace created under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). And it will create new federal incentives that would more than offset the state’s cost to expand Medicaid, providing health coverage to hundreds of thousands of Alabama adults with low incomes.

“The American Rescue Plan Act throws Alabama’s struggling families a much needed lifeline,” Alabama Arise executive director Robyn Hyden said. “And it offers budgetary breathing room for policymakers to tackle chronic problems, address longstanding racial and gender inequities and build an economy that works for every Alabamian. Medicaid expansion should be at the very top of our legislators’ to-do list.”

A new pathway to Medicaid expansion in Alabama

The relief package could bring overdue peace of mind to some 300,000 Alabamians living in the health coverage gap. They earn too much to qualify for Medicaid under the state’s stringent income limit but too little to qualify for subsidized ACA marketplace plans.

Nearly seven in 10 Alabamians support expanding Medicaid to cover these adults, a statewide poll found last month. If Gov. Kay Ivey agrees to expansion, the law would give the state a 5-percentage-point increase in federal funding for its traditional Medicaid coverage for two years.

That would bring Alabama an additional $940 million over two years, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) estimates. And it would remove any remaining financial barrier to Medicaid expansion, said Jane Adams, the Cover Alabama campaign director for Alabama Arise.

“This law is a much-needed step toward closing the health coverage gap in Alabama. We have no time to waste,” Adams said. “Tens of thousands of people have died in the South ‒ my home ‒ because they couldn’t afford to get the health care they needed.

“Medicaid expansion is the single biggest step Alabama can take to weather and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and move our state forward. Congress did their job. Now it is time for Governor Ivey and our state lawmakers to do theirs and immediately expand Medicaid in Alabama.”

Enhancements to existing Medicaid, marketplace coverage

The relief package also makes multiple coverage improvements for tens of millions of Americans with Medicaid or ACA marketplace plans. Among other changes, the law:

  • Reduces or eliminates marketplace premiums through 2022. Subsidies will increase across the board, and no one will pay more than 8.5% of income for their health plan.
  • Eliminates COBRA premiums through September 2021.
  • Protects against tax liability on premium assistance because of income fluctuation.
  • Increases funding for COVID-19 testing and vaccine distribution.
  • Gives Alabama the option to increase the income limit and coverage period for postpartum Medicaid coverage.
  • Increases federal funding for home- and community-based Medicaid long-term care services.
  • Increases federal funding for substance abuse prevention and treatment and a broad spectrum of mental health services.

Child Tax Credit, EITC expansions will reduce poverty across Alabama

Poverty rates will fall nationwide thanks to tax credits and stimulus payments in the American Rescue Plan Act, studies predict. One of the greatest gains will result from a Child Tax Credit (CTC) expansion that could cut the U.S. child poverty rate in half, a Columbia University analysis found.

The relief package makes the full CTC available to children living in families with low or no earnings. It increases the credit’s maximum amount to $3,000 per child and $3,600 for children under age 6. And it extends the credit to 17-year-olds. This CTC expansion will help four in five Alabama children (or nearly 1.1 million), as well as nearly 1 million adults, the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) estimates.

Direct payments and expanded tax credits will help Alabamians make ends meet as well. Among other changes, the law:

  • Provides a one-time payment of $1,400 per person for individuals making up to $75,000 and couples making up to $150,000. Individuals with incomes up to $80,000 and couples with incomes up to $160,000 are eligible for partial payments. These stimulus payments will benefit 91% of adults (3.1 million) and 92% of children in Alabama, ITEP estimates.
  • Raises the maximum Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for working adults without children from roughly $530 to roughly $1,500. The law also increases the income limit for these adults to qualify from about $16,000 to at least $21,000.
  • Expands the age range of EITC-eligible workers without children. Younger adults aged 19-24 who are not full-time students can qualify now, as can people 65 and over.
  • Helps more than 280,000 Alabamians with the EITC improvements mentioned above, CBPP estimates. The vast majority of the Alabamians who will benefit (205,200) have annual incomes below $20,400, according to ITEP.

Boosts to SNAP, unemployment, housing assistance to help Alabamians make ends meet

The American Rescue Plan Act includes additional provisions to keep more households fed and housed. Most urgently, it extends until Sept. 6 the supplemental $300 federal UI benefits that were set to expire this weekend. This extension more than doubles Alabama’s maximum total weekly benefit to $575, or roughly 60% of median household income.

The law also provides $37 billion nationwide in rental and mortgage assistance to help prevent evictions and foreclosures. For Alabama, this would mean an increase of more than 1,400% from 2020 Emergency Solutions Grant funding if states receive funding proportionate to their populations.

In addition, the package continues a 15% boost to food assistance under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) through September. This increase will help nearly 800,000 Alabamians and bring $64 million in additional SNAP benefits into Alabama, CBPP finds.

The plan takes many other steps to alleviate hardship. Among other changes, the law:

  • Provides Alabama with $10 million in emergency pandemic Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funding. This money is usable for one-time benefits like cash assistance, rental assistance or clothing allowances.
  • Allows states to continue Pandemic EBT (P-EBT) benefits through early September. P-EBT replaces the value of meals that children miss when schools are closed.
  • Increases the monthly allocation for fruits and vegetables in the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program from $9 to $35 for four months.
  • Makes the first $10,200 of UI benefits non-taxable for households with incomes below $150,000.
  • Excludes discharged student loan amounts from taxable income calculation through 2026.

“Everyone should know the security of having food on the table and a roof overhead,” Hyden said. “The American Rescue Plan Act will help ease Alabamians’ suffering during the COVID-19 pandemic. And it will lay a foundation to build a stronger, more inclusive Alabama in its aftermath.”

Arise legislative recap: Feb. 26, 2021

Arise’s Jim Carnes discusses our new report, “The State of Working Alabama 2021,” which looks at the COVID-19 pandemic’s devastating impact on working Alabamians. The report also recommends Medicaid expansion, guaranteed paid sick leave, funding for the Alabama Housing Trust Fund and other policy changes that would chart a course forward toward an Alabama built on shared prosperity and opportunity.

Policies to advance racial, gender equity key to Alabama workforce’s COVID-19 recovery, new Alabama Arise report shows

State of Working Alabama logo

Alabama should rebuild from the COVID-19 recession by lifting policy barriers to economic opportunity and charting a path toward a more equitable and inclusive future, according to The State of Working Alabama 2021, a new report that Alabama Arise released Monday.

Medicaid expansion and a state law guaranteeing paid sick leave both would help strengthen Alabama’s workforce, the report says. Other policy recommendations include higher funding for nutrition and housing assistance and improvements to the state’s unemployment insurance (UI) system.

The Alabama Legislature moved quickly to pass “pro-business” bills in the opening days of the 2021 regular session. These measures included a new law providing a broad range of civil immunity against claims related to coronavirus exposure. As lawmakers return to Montgomery after a weeklong break, their policymaking focus should shift toward addressing their constituents’ urgent needs during and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, Alabama Arise executive director Robyn Hyden said.

“Legislators spent the first two weeks of this session protecting the interests of corporations,” Hyden said. “They should spend the rest of the session protecting the interests of the people of Alabama. And Arise’s State of Working Alabama report provides a blueprint for how to do just that.”

COVID-19’s toll has fallen heavily on women, Black and Hispanic/Latinx Alabamians

Arise’s seven-section report examines economic challenges – both old and new – that Alabamians have faced over the last year. Health coverage, housing, hunger, wages and working conditions for front-line workers are among the topics covered in The State of Working Alabama 2021. The report also highlights how the pandemic has exacerbated preexisting racial, gender and regional disparities in our state.

COVID-19 job losses hit Black workers nearly twice as hard as other Alabamians. Black workers made up 25% of Alabama's workforce in 2020 but 47% of Alabama's unemployment insurance claimants in 2020.

“When the COVID-19 pandemic hit Alabama in March 2020, it didn’t just cause massive human suffering and economic disruption,” the Arise report says. “It also revealed suffering and disruption that have long existed and that policymakers have long neglected – or even perpetuated.”

Past policy decisions left Alabama inadequately prepared to respond to the pandemic, the report finds. They also created and maintained racial and gender disparities that prevent our state from reaching its full potential. Among the report’s major findings:

  • Alabama’s “essential workers,” hailed as pandemic heroes, often lack the basic protections of a living wage, health insurance, paid sick leave and family medical leave.
  • COVID-19 has caused disproportionate unemployment for Black people and women in Alabama. Economically disadvantaged counties in the Black Belt and other parts of Alabama also have lagged behind in unemployment recovery.
  • Before the pandemic, 62.2% of Alabama’s white workers had health insurance through their jobs. The same was true for only 46.4% of Black workers and just 35.5% of Hispanic/Latinx workers. The pandemic has widened those racial/ethnic disparities in health coverage.
  • Hunger has been widespread in Alabama’s communities of color during the COVID-19 recession. Early in the pandemic, nearly 21% of Black residents and 19% of Hispanic/Latinx residents said they didn’t have enough food.
  • Black and Hispanic/Latinx Alabamians are at higher risk of eviction for inability to pay rent. Even basic apartments are out of financial reach for low-wage workers everywhere in Alabama.

Policies to increase equity, expand economic opportunity for working Alabamians

Alabama’s policy legacy has exacerbated the damage that COVID-19 has wreaked on working people across the state, the report finds. The State of Working Alabama 2021 outlines a policy agenda to repair that damage and promote broadly shared prosperity. Among the report’s key recommendations:

  • Expand Medicaid to ensure more than 300,000 Alabamians with low incomes can afford treatment for COVID-19 and other health problems.
  • Guarantee permanent paid sick leave for all working Alabamians, so that no one has to choose between earning a paycheck and going to work sick.
  • Roll back the 2019 cuts to Alabama’s UI benefits and create a modernized claims system capable of handling future crises.
  • Provide state support for the Alabama Housing Trust Fund and abandon efforts to impose harmful limits on safety net programs.
  • Expand high-speed, affordable broadband technology, targeting rural and low-income communities and explicitly addressing racial equity in broadband access.

Hispanic and Black Alabamians are more likely to lack health coverage. 32.8% of Hispanic/Latinx residents were uninsured in the spring/early summer stage of the pandemic, and 20.7% were uninsured in the late summer/fall stage. The corresponding rates for Black residents were 17.8% and 13.5%. For white residents, the rates were 11.7% and 11.5%.

“The economic, racial and gender inequities in Alabama are preventable and reversible,” Alabama Arise policy director Jim Carnes said. “These disparities are the direct result of bad policy choices in the past. By making better choices now and in the future, we can chart a path toward a more equitable economy. The power to build a stronger, more inclusive Alabama is in the hands of our lawmakers – and all of us.”

About The State of Working Alabama 2021

Click here to read the executive summary of The State of Working Alabama 2021. Links to each of the report’s seven sections are available at the bottom of the page. You also can jump directly to a section using the links below.

  1. Introduction: The high cost of failing to protect the common good
  2. Unequal by design: COVID-19 and Alabama’s policy legacy
  3. Assessing the damage: COVID-19 and Alabama’s labor market
  4. Praised but underprotected: Front-line workers in the pandemic
  5. Why coverage matters: Health care in the time of COVID-19
  6. The ugly reality: Alabama’s hunger problem during the pandemic
  7. No place to call home: Housing insecurity amid COVID-19

The State of Working Alabama 2021

State of Working Alabama logo next to a portrait of a young woman wearing a face mask and protective workwear in a warehouse

Introduction

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit Alabama in March 2020, it didn’t just cause massive human suffering and economic disruption. It also revealed suffering and disruption that have long existed and that policymakers have long neglected – or even perpetuated.

COVID-19 has laid bare deep racial inequities in Alabama’s economy and social system that have left our state unprepared to meet the needs of its people in this disaster. As the workers predominantly on the front lines, women and people of color bore the brunt of the economic meltdown. They also simultaneously have suffered greater exposure to the virus that caused it.

Alabama has a weak safety net for struggling families and an approach to economic growth that all too often leaves workers underprotected and underpaid. This ongoing policy legacy has exacerbated the damage that the virus has wreaked on the state’s working people.

In The State of Working Alabama 2021, Alabama Arise explores COVID-19’s significant and negative impacts on the state’s workforce. We also look ahead to outline a state and federal policy agenda for repairing the damage – not by repeating the policy mistakes of the past, but by charting a new path toward a more equitable economy marked by broadly shared prosperity.

Report navigation

You can read all seven sections of the report by clicking on the corresponding section’s icon at the bottom of this page. The executive summary of each section and of some of the report’s key policy recommendations is below, as are the report acknowledgments.

You can click any image in this report to enlarge it. To download a printable version of the executive summary, click here. To read our news release on the report, click here.

COVID-19 and Alabama’s policy legacy

COVID-19 struck Alabama’s families and communities hard, and the toll has been especially high for Alabamians of color. The virus and the shutdown exacerbated massive underlying disparities in health care, economic security and access to essential resources that policymakers have long ignored. And they revealed how our neglect of the common good – through low wages for average working people, low taxes for rich people and racially discriminatory policies for our entire state – has left many Alabamians unable to weather a crisis and hindered the entire state’s ability to rebound.

  • The “essential workers” hailed as pandemic heroes often lack the basic protections of a living wage, health insurance, paid sick leave and family medical leave.
  • Alabama’s fundamental state policies have been unequal by design, including its explicitly racist 1901 constitution. Right-to-work laws, preemption and other measures have blocked efforts to protect and support working families.
  • Working Alabamians without health coverage are at even greater risk during the pandemic due to extension of broad liability protection to corporations and other entities for damages related to COVID-19.

Labor market

The COVID-19 recession hit vulnerable Alabama workers hard and fast, disproportionately affecting women and workers of color.

Rural Black Belt counties were slower to recover from peak unemployment. The percentage of peak unemployment in Black Belt counties (excluding Montgomery) did not return to the statewide average until October.

  • Alabamians working in already low-wage industries suffered immediate and severe job losses, which fell hardest on women and people of color. By December 2020 – nine months into the pandemic – Alabama still had a net loss of 35,400 jobs, a 1.7% decline from pre-pandemic levels. The hardest hit industry was leisure and hospitality, including entertainment and food service establishments where workers were already struggling.
  • Unemployment insurance (UI), designed for just such a moment, was inadequate and insufficient to meet working people’s needs because of Alabama’s policy choices. In 2019, the state cut compensable weeks of UI and tied benefit extensions to longer-term statewide unemployment rates. This framework is wholly unsuited to catastrophe response.
  • COVID-19 has caused disproportionate unemployment for Black people and women. Economically disadvantaged counties in the Black Belt and other parts of Alabama also have lagged behind in unemployment recovery.
  • Alabama’s lack of investment in updated claim processing systems has caused harmful lags in paying out UI claims. The state’s failure to modernize claim processing damages the well-being of people who drive the economy. Modernization would be quick, efficient and helpful to Alabamians.
  • Alabama’s failure to invest in rural broadband made it even more difficult for people in large swaths of the state to work or attend school remotely. This “digital divide” is depriving many Alabamians of opportunities to learn and earn.

COVID-19 job losses hit Black workers nearly twice as hard as other Alabamians. Black workers made up 25% of Alabama's workforce in 2020 but 47% of Alabama's unemployment insurance claimants in 2020.

Recommendations

  • Establish a state minimum wage significantly higher than the current federal minimum wage. The pandemic recession’s impacts have fallen hardest on people who were already struggling to make ends meet.
  • Roll back the harmful 2019 cuts to UI benefits. Those changes reflected a shortsighted approach to UI and demonstrated counterproductive hostility to working people who have lost their jobs.
  • Invest in support structures to allow communities that are at an economic disadvantage to participate fully in the workforce.
  • Create a reliable, modernized claims system capable of handling a crisis with claims significantly exceeding peak UI claims resulting from the pandemic.
  • Expand high-speed, affordable broadband technology, targeting rural and low-income communities and explicitly addressing racial equity in broadband access.

Front-line workers 

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Alabamians have come to recognize a new category of “heroes.” Front-line workers in grocery stores, hospitals, pharmacies and other settings perform necessary tasks to keep our communities functioning during the public health emergency.

  • Front-line workers, who face greater exposure to COVID-19 than the general population, are disproportionately women and people of color. Because of barriers to health care, Black and Hispanic/Latinx workers also are more likely to have underlying conditions that worsen COVID-19 outcomes. State and national policy failures on the pandemic response, especially inadequate supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE), are more likely to hit front-line workers the hardest.
  • Thousands of working Alabamians were left out of paid sick days protections. Between half and three-quarters of all Alabamians were left out of the paid sick days protections in the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act. This omission places entire workplaces at risk of exposure to the virus.

Recommendations

  • Implement hazard pay for front-line workers during the pandemic.
  • Guarantee permanent paid sick leave for all working Alabamians, regardless of employer size, so that no one has to choose between earning a paycheck and going to work sick.
  • Expand Medicaid so front-line workers have affordable, timely access to treatment for health risks that worsen COVID-19 outcomes.

Health care

While the COVID-19 pandemic has slammed all segments of our economy and society in one way or another, health care is where most of these effects converge.

  • Alabama had the 11th highest COVID-19 death rate among states in mid-February 2021. That means a higher share of Alabamians have died from the virus than in most other parts of the country. By mid-February, Alabama’s COVID-19 deaths in less than a year had surpassed 9,200, far more than the number of Alabamians who died in World War II and all subsequent wars (8,215).
  • COVID-19 has exposed a shameful legacy of unequal access to health care. In the early days of the pandemic, Black Alabamians accounted for as many as 55.2% of Alabama’s daily COVID-19 deaths, more than double their 26.8% share of the population.
  • The pandemic widened racial/ethnic disparities in health coverage. Before the pandemic, 62.2% of Alabama’s white workers had health insurance through their jobs. The same was true for only 46.4% of Black workers and just 35.5% of Hispanic/Latinx workers. Early in the COVID-19 shutdown, Hispanic/Latinx Alabamians reported lack of insurance at nearly three times the rate of white residents.
  • COVID-19’s disparate impact on communities of color has opened a new conversation about health equity. A smart recovery will take a broader approach to building a healthy workforce by adopting policies that address food security, adequate housing and other social determinants of health.

Hispanic and Black Alabamians are more likely to lack health coverage. 32.8% of Hispanic/Latinx residents were uninsured in the spring/early summer stage of the pandemic, and 20.7% were uninsured in the late summer/fall stage. The corresponding rates for Black residents were 17.8% and 13.5%. For white residents, the rates were 11.7% and 11.5%.

Recommendations

  • Expand Medicaid to cover more than 300,000 Alabama adults with low incomes. This health coverage expansion would facilitate COVID-19 testing, treatment and vaccination; allow working people to stay healthier and more productive; and strengthen Alabama’s health care system, especially rural hospitals. The Legislature’s eagerness to provide businesses with immunity against COVID-19 liability claims only makes the need for worker protections like health coverage more urgent.
  • Make reducing health disparities a state priority. Alabama should adopt a rigorous program of data collection across state agencies to identify disparities in health outcomes related to race/ethnicity, income and geography. This effort should engage research universities and state health agencies in developing and implementing a strategic plan to reduce targeted health disparities and give all Alabamians a chance to thrive.

Hunger

Job and income losses during the pandemic have contributed to widespread hunger in Alabama.

  • Too many people struggled to keep food on the table during the COVID-19 pandemic. During the spring/early summer stage of the pandemic (April through July 2020), 12% of all Alabama families and 13% of Alabama families with children either sometimes or often didn’t have enough food to eat.
  • Hunger was much more widespread in communities of color. Nearly 21% of Black residents and 19% of Hispanic/Latinx residents said they didn’t have enough food.
  • Proven safety net programs played a critical role in alleviating hunger. Food assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) was key to helping hundreds of thousands of Alabamians keep food on the table during this recession. And emergency food and child nutrition services eased hardship among Alabama’s children as schools closed or went virtual.

Recommendations

  • Alabama lawmakers should abandon efforts to slash the state’s safety net. Past proposals to restrict SNAP and other safety net programs would have made the recent hunger and hardship in Alabama even more dire.
  • Congress should move quickly to institutionalize recently increased UI, child nutrition and SNAP assistance. Hunger has grown during the pandemic, reaching crisis proportions. Boosts to UI, child nutrition and SNAP benefits have been essential tools to help struggling Alabamians meet their basic needs.
  • Congress should provide additional cash assistance, similar to the earlier relief payments, targeted specifically to families with low incomes. Targeted relief should include a fully refundable Child Tax Credit and an expanded Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). Relief payments were a significant source of cash for food and other basic needs during early stages of the recession. And federal assistance will remain important as struggling Alabamians rebuild in the aftermath of the COVID-19 recession.

Housing

Thousands of Alabamians face potential eviction and homelessness because of inadequate response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its associated recession.

  • Alabamians can’t afford adequate housing. Many Alabamians in the workforce face housing insecurity because low wages burden renters heavily. Even basic apartments are out of reach for low-wage workers everywhere in the state.
  • COVID-19 has caused increased housing insecurity. Alabamians face high risk of eviction during the COVID-19 pandemic, largely because of insufficient state-level protections.
  • Housing insecurity is significantly racially disparate. Black and Hispanic/Latinx Alabamians face far higher risk of eviction for inability to pay rent. Long-standing inequities in the state’s economic structure have caused Black and Hispanic/Latinx communities to have fewer resources in reserve for weathering hard times.

Recommendations

  • Fund the Alabama Housing Trust Fund (AHTF). Lawmakers in 2012 created the AHTF as a vehicle to promote safe, affordable homes for people with extremely low incomes. A small increase in the recording fee for mortgages could boost the AHTF and significantly increase housing availability. This would facilitate more construction of affordable homes in the Black Belt and other rural areas.
  • Renew the state moratorium on evictions. Job losses amid the pandemic recession are causing evictions that otherwise would not have happened. The current limited federal moratorium fails to cover all Alabamians and requires administrative hurdles that leave holes in the system. By restricting evictions during the pandemic to reasons directly related to public safety, the governor could protect thousands of Alabamians from higher risk of COVID-19 transmission and from devastating long-term economic consequences.

Acknowledgments

This Alabama Arise report was made possible by a generous grant from EARN in the South. The findings and conclusions presented in this report are those of Arise and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of EARN in the South.

The report’s authors are Arise policy director Jim Carnes, policy analysts Carol Gundlach and Dev Wakeley, visiting fellow Allan Freyer and intern Resha Swanson. Arise communications director Chris Sanders was the report’s primary editor. Arise communications associate Matt Okarmus designed the charts and graphs and provided online design for the report. Bixler Creative designed the report logo and provided print design for the executive summary. Other report editors and contributors included Arise executive director Robyn Hyden and organizer Mike Nicholson.

Special thanks to Adelante Alabama Worker Center for producing a companion report to The State of Working Alabama 2021 and to Marie-Pier Frigon at New Mexico Voices for Children for providing guidance on chart and graph design.


The State of Working Alabama 2021

Introduction: The high cost of failing to protect the common good (Section 1)
Unequal by design: COVID-19 and Alabama’s policy legacy (Section 2)
Assessing the damage: COVID-19 and Alabama’s labor market (Section 3)
Praised but underprotected: Front-line workers in the pandemic (Section 4)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why coverage matters: Health care in the time of COVID-19 (Section 5)
The ugly reality: Alabama’s hunger problem during the pandemic (Section 6)
No place to call home: Housing insecurity amid COVID-19 (Section 7)

The State of Working Alabama 2021, Section 1 – Introduction: The high cost of failing to protect the common good

State of Working Alabama logo

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit Alabama in March 2020, it didn’t just cause massive human suffering and economic disruption. It also revealed suffering and disruption that have long existed and that policymakers have long neglected – or even perpetuated.

COVID-19 has laid bare deep racial and gender inequities in Alabama’s economy and social system that have left our state unprepared to meet the needs of its people in this disaster. As the workers predominantly on the front lines, women and people of color bore the brunt of the economic meltdown. They also simultaneously have suffered greater exposure to the virus that caused it.

Alabama has a weak safety net for struggling families and an approach to economic growth that all too often leaves workers underprotected and underpaid. This ongoing policy legacy has exacerbated the damage that the virus has wreaked on the state’s working people.

In The State of Working Alabama 2021, Alabama Arise explores COVID-19’s significant and negative impacts on the state’s workforce. We also look ahead to outline a state and federal policy agenda for repairing the damage – not by repeating the policy mistakes of the past, but by charting a new path toward a more equitable economy marked by broadly shared prosperity.

The lessons of COVID-19

This report makes the case that economic recovery from the COVID-19 recession requires more than restoring the former status quo. All Alabamians are eager to feel connected, productive and at ease again. But for many individuals and families across the state, disruptions and barriers to a decent, sufficient – “normal” – quality of life are nothing new.

A smart plan for restoring and expanding Alabama’s economy will take long-standing inequities explicitly into account to elevate the common good. That plan will require accommodations, supports, policies of inclusion and other interventions to create new opportunities for participation and empowerment. The result will be a post-pandemic Alabama that’s more vibrant, resourceful and equitable than the state we had before.

The spike from record low unemployment to record high in a few weeks in spring 2020 left Alabama families reeling. Many found themselves in desperate situations they never envisioned. Many others, however, have long experienced marginalization and exclusion from the workforce, or have worked for generations at low wages without benefits.

Before COVID-19, Black and Hispanic/Latinx Alabamians had significantly higher rates of poverty than white Alabamians.[1] Communities of color also experienced higher rates of medical debt in collections and defaulted student loan debt.[2] Accumulated debt from COVID-19 likely will increase this already alarming disparity. A smart recovery plan should protect workers against unreasonable debt, eviction, predatory lending and other financial burdens that will slow their ability to return to or gain economic independence.

While the COVID-19 recession has caused unprecedented layoffs, it also has highlighted the critical role of service workers in keeping our communities going. Our state leaders hail these front-line and essential workers as heroes – but often in name only, denying them the respect of decent wages and strong protections.

Shortcomings on paid leave, wages, health coverage

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act of March 2020 required many businesses to offer sick leave with full or partial pay. But this benefit expired Dec. 31, and broad exemptions left thousands of Alabama workers unprotected.

Like our Deep South neighbors, Alabama has resisted implementing mandatory paid sick leave or family medical leave for private-sector workers. Lack of paid sick leave gives underpaid working people in particular a stark choice: Continue to work while sick, or stay home and lose pay – or even lose their jobs.

Efforts to strengthen the minimum wage have begun to gain traction at last in the Deep South. Florida voters in November 2020 approved a gradual minimum wage increase,[3] the first such step in a state neighboring Alabama.

Prior to COVID-19, Alabama’s refusal to extend health coverage to adults with low incomes had already left hundreds of thousands of Alabamians in the coverage gap. Most of them are working people. They also include family caregivers, students, people awaiting disability determinations and others who have no affordable coverage option.[4]

The COVID-19 recession has only widened this coverage gap and the suffering associated with it. People without health insurance often struggle to work while dealing with health problems that sap their productivity, add stress to their households and worsen without timely care.

The changing nature of workplaces

For another range of workers and employers, the recession has transformed assumptions about how workplaces operate and how workers function. It also has raised questions about how work and family life interact and highlighted what employers are capable of doing to accommodate workers’ needs. Many changes are adaptations that people with disabilities, child care responsibilities, inadequate transportation and other challenges have sought for decades.

The surge in telecommuting is both an impressive achievement and a cautionary tale. Remote working and learning have helped many families keep their lives moving forward during the pandemic. But for households lacking high-speed broadband service, working from home doesn’t work, and children’s progress in school has stalled.[5]

Recent federal broadband grants can go a long way toward bridging Alabama’s “digital divide” if administered under strict equity guidelines and community oversight.[6] Technology access aside, many jobs are impossible to perform remotely, and this limitation falls disproportionately on low-wage workers.

Innovative public programs kept families fed

The COVID-19 pandemic and its accompanying recession have highlighted the critical role of the safety net during a crisis. Families who never before had to seek assistance suddenly found themselves unable to afford the basics of life – food, shelter, utilities, health care – and turned to public assistance for the first time.

Enrollment for food assistance under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) rose 12% between February 2020 and October 2020.[7] Federal waivers allowed the Department of Human Resources (DHR) to cut red tape and increase assistance for most SNAP participants. State and county SNAP workers worked nights and weekends to process more than 83,000 new SNAP applications.[8]

DHR and the state Department of Education also partnered to create – in just weeks – an entirely new program, called Pandemic EBT (P-EBT), that replaced school meals lost when schools closed.[9] By the end of the 2019-20 school year, P-EBT had distributed at least $132 million in food assistance to more than 420,000 Alabama children.[10]

Meanwhile, workers in school districts and emergency food closets across the state risked their own health to distribute federally funded school meals and food boxes to hungry families waiting in lines that ran for blocks. Federal Emergency Solutions Grants will help community-based agencies prevent an eviction epidemic if a federal moratorium ends in 2021.[11]

Efforts to cut the safety net are cruel and shortsighted

For the past five years, the Alabama Legislature has attempted to cut and restrict critical safety net programs. Fortunately, those efforts largely have failed because of hard work by advocates and directly affected Alabamians. The one safety net restriction that lawmakers approved – reducing the time workers could receive unemployment insurance (UI) benefits – was effectively reversed briefly when the state Department of Labor implemented federal extended benefits (EB) that were available because Alabama’s reported unemployment rate had exceeded 5.9%. But this reversal of the state’s policy failure was only temporary. The EB program has stopped paying benefits as of Oct. 3, 2020.[12]

Had proponents of safety net cuts been more successful, critical programs like Medicaid, SNAP and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) might have not been available to meet Alabamians’ most basic needs today. Our leaders should remember this moment and the importance of the safety net as they prepare for future emergencies.

How we should respond now

Alabama is a torchbearer to the nation for civil and human rights achievements. We boast a world-class medical research center and regional hubs of education, business, manufacturing and finance. Our rich cultural legacy has produced artists of world renown.

But these proud assets stand against a backdrop of low wages, lingering rural and urban poverty, and racial injustice rooted in slavery and violent oppression. These structural failures have created unequal access to basic necessities, education and economic opportunity; wide health disparities; and other violations of the common good.

The COVID-19 crisis has created new challenges for our state and worsened persistent ones. If there is a bright spot to be found, it is in the light the pandemic has shined on these old problems and on new ways we can and must address them. We call on our leaders to envision a new Alabama beyond the pandemic horizon, where all residents can share in the best the state has to offer.

In focus

The Household Pulse Survey: An important new source of data on the pandemic’s impact on Alabamians

Shortly after the pandemic began, the U.S. Census Bureau launched the Household Pulse Survey to get a sense of the rapid changes occurring in people’s lives and livelihoods.[13] A sample of residents from every state answered questions – weekly for several months, then later every two weeks – about how the pandemic was affecting their household finances, health, education and other social and economic activities.

The survey asked people questions like:

  • Have you or anyone in your household experienced a loss of income since March 13?
  • In the last seven days, how difficult has it been for your household to pay for usual expenses?
  • How confident are you that your household will be able to afford the food you need for the next four weeks?
  • How confident are you that your household will be able to pay your next rent or mortgage payment on time?

We now have more than 20 installments of Alabama responses to this survey, and they are both frightening and telling. These responses inform much of this report. They provide snapshots of the impact of the pandemic and resulting recession on Alabamians’ economic and employment status. They provide crucial information about Alabamians’ ability to pay bills, access health care and participate in education. And they show us how people are making ends meet – or not – during the crisis.

Snapshots of pandemic life in Alabama

The Household Pulse Survey has rolled out in three phases, reflecting stages of the pandemic. The spring/early summer stage ran from late April until late July. The late summer/fall stage ran from mid-August until late October. And the winter stage runs from Oct. 28 until March 2021.

Because the questions have been tweaked and the frequency of the survey has changed between the phases, we can’t compare results in one phase to that in others, so we have to treat each stage as its own snapshot during each season of the pandemic. It’s important to know, too, that not everyone who answered the survey answered every question. Some survey questions have a high “non-response rate,” which could skew our understanding of the results. Household Pulse data included in this report does not include non-responses. While these caveats limit the conclusions we can draw from the data, the survey nonetheless offers valuable real-time reporting on the pandemic’s profound and far-reaching impact on our state.

Click here for more information on the survey.[14]


The State of Working Alabama 2021

The State of Working Alabama 2021: Executive summary
Unequal by design: COVID-19 and Alabama’s policy legacy (Section 2)
Assessing the damage: COVID-19 and Alabama’s labor market (Section 3)
Praised but underprotected: Front-line workers in the pandemic (Section 4)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why coverage matters: Health care in the time of COVID-19 (Section 5)
The ugly reality: Alabama’s hunger problem during the pandemic (Section 6)
No place to call home: Housing insecurity amid COVID-19 (Section 7)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Footnotes

[1] Kaiser Family Foundation, “Poverty Rate by Race/Ethnicity,” State Health Facts 2019, https://www.kff.org/other/state-indicator/poverty-rate-by-raceethnicity/?currentTimeframe=0&sortModel=%7B%22colId%22:%22Location%22,%22sort%22:%22asc%22%7D.

[2] Urban Institute, “Debt in America: An Interactive Map” (Dec. 17, 2019), https://apps.urban.org/features/debt-interactive-map/?type=overall&variable=pct_debt_collections&state=1.

[3] Andrea Hsu, “Florida Just Passed a $15 Minimum Wage. Is the Time Right for a Big Nationwide Hike?,” NPR (Nov. 18, 2020), https://www.npr.org/2020/11/18/934476124/florida-just-passed-a-15-minimum-wage-is-the-time-right-for-a-big-nationwide-hik.

[4] Alabama Arise, Medicaid Matters: Charting the Course to a Healthier Alabama, “Section 3 – Who’s still left out of health coverage in Alabama?” (June 17, 2020), https://www.alarise.org/resources/medicaid-matters-section-3-whos-still-left-out-of-health-coverage.

[5] A+ Education Partnership, “No Child Left Offline: Tackling the Digital Divide in Alabama” (Aug. 17, 2020), https://aplusala.org/blog/2020/08/17/no-child-left-offline-tackling-the-digital-divide-in-alabama.

[6] U.S. Department of Agriculture, “USDA Invests $62.3 Million in Rural Broadband Infrastructure for Alabama Families” (Dec. 5, 2019), https://www.usda.gov/media/press-releases/2019/12/05/usda-invests-623-million-rural-broadband-infrastructure-alabama.

[7] Alabama Department of Human Resources (DHR), Detailed Monthly Statistical Reporting for DHR Services, Table 19: Food Assistance Program (February 2020), https://dhr.alabama.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/STAT0220.pdf; ibid. (October 2020), https://dhr.alabama.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/STAT1020.pdf.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Celida Soto Garcia, “P-EBT, rapid school actions keep Alabama children fed,” Alabama Arise (Sept. 23, 2020), https://www.alarise.org/blog-posts/p-ebt-rapid-school-actions-keep-alabama-children-fed.

[10] Koné Consulting, Report: Pandemic EBT Implementation Documentation Project 13 (September 2020), https://frac.org/wp-content/uploads/P-EBT-Documentation-Report.pdf.

[11] Benefits.gov, “Emergency Solutions Grants (ESG),” https://www.benefits.gov/benefit/5890.

[12] Alabama Department of Labor, “ADOL Announces Extended Benefits Program to Expire: Benefits to Continue Through October 3” (Sept. 14, 2020), https://labor.alabama.gov/news_feed/News_Page.aspx?id=274.

[13] U.S. Census Bureau, Household Pulse Survey Data Tables, https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/household-pulse-survey/data.html.

[14] U.S. Census Bureau, “Household Pulse Survey: Measuring Social and Economic Impacts during the Coronavirus Pandemic,” https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/household-pulse-survey.html.

The State of Working Alabama 2021, Section 2 – Unequal by design: COVID-19 and Alabama’s policy legacy

State of Working Alabama logo

COVID-19 revealed a stark reality about Alabama’s economy from the beginning: Our state has stacked the deck against underpaid working people. A high poverty rate, low educational attainment and poor health outcomes – with racial, ethnic and geographical disparities in all of these measures – are the results of low wages, low taxes and low funding for health care, education and other basic services.[1] These are all low-road policies that will not strengthen our economy or improve Alabamians’ quality of life.

These patterns reflect centuries of racial and economic oppression. They are grounded in slavery and prolonged by our explicitly white supremacist 1901 state constitution. Alabama voters acknowledged this shameful legacy and took a step toward dismantling it in November 2020, when they approved an amendment to remove racist provisions from the constitution.[2] The amendment passed by a 2-to-1 margin.[3]

Public school segregation, poll taxes and prohibition of “mixed-race” marriage already had been successfully challenged through federal lawsuits and legislation. But striking them from the cornerstone of state law lifts a symbolic barrier to equality. Strong statewide support for the measure suggests the time is right to tackle more substantial and intractable barriers like the ones described in this report.

Despite barriers, Alabama’s labor movement persists

COVID-19 has highlighted the state’s long-standing low regard for protecting Alabama’s working people. Worker protections have a checkered history in Alabama, not surprisingly for a state powered by an enslaved workforce in its first five decades. Systematic labor exploitation continued into the 20th century, both in agriculture under the sharecropper system and in industry under convict leasing.

But the industrial boom around Birmingham in the late 1800s, and later in Mobile, ushered in an organized labor movement. The movement has waxed and waned in response to wartime and peacetime economies, race relations, industrial trends and globalization, but it has never completely gone away. At 8% of the workforce, Alabama’s union membership rate remains the highest in the South.[4]

A stacked policy deck against working Alabamians

In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, Alabama has adopted a “red carpet” approach to industrial development, granting generous tax abatements and other incentives while failing to modernize wage levels[5] and worker benefits.[6] Stacking the deck against workers created a “preexisting condition” that intensified the impact of COVID-19, hindering the state’s ability to respond to massive economic disruption and to mitigate its effects on working families.

In pursuing this low-road approach, Alabama has prioritized low wages and low taxes over investing in the state’s people. The result is an economy that disadvantages wage workers and people of color. A major force in this inequity is our “right-to-work” laws, which date to the 1950s. These and related laws severely weaken worker rights in Alabama and allow proliferation of low-wage jobs, sometimes with hazardous conditions.

”Right-to-work” laws make it harder for unions to organize, limit unions’ bargaining power and decrease their budgets.[7] In turn, these outcomes often result in suppressed wages and diminished political power for working people. Where unions do exist in Alabama, “right-to-work” laws undermine their effectiveness, entitling non-union workers to union benefits without paying dues. Manufacturing jobs, typically known for their strong union presence, account for about 13% of employment – more than 200,000 jobs – in Alabama.[8]

Preemption limits local power to solve local problems

Another state policy that has left working Alabamians unprepared to deal with the economic burden of COVID-19 is preemption. Rooted in post-Reconstruction attempts to suppress and disenfranchise Black people in the Deep South, preemption is the use of state law to nullify municipal authority.[9] It remains a popular tool for white, conservative legislators seeking to strike down progressive policies from large, majority Black urban areas.

Alabama used preemption twice in the last decade to reverse popular municipal ordinances that strengthened worker rights. In 2016, the Legislature struck down a Birmingham ordinance to raise the city’s minimum wage to $10.10. This move effectively denied wage increases for 65,000 workers – who were disproportionately women and disproportionately Black.[10]

In February 2020, after the Montgomery City Council implemented a 1% occupational tax to support public services and hire more public employees,[11] the Legislature immediately nullified it.[12] The preemption measure requires cities to obtain legislative approval before levying taxes above the levels in place on Feb. 1, 2020. In both cases, Alabama’s majority white Legislature blocked policies that would have strengthened worker protections in predominantly Black cities (69.2% in Birmingham, and 60.8% in Montgomery).[13]

COVID-19 reveals need for pro-workforce policies

Ultimately, Alabama’s failure to strengthen worker protections and raise the wage floor amplified the pandemic’s impact. Thousands of underpaid working people lost their jobs, with little or no savings to fall back on afterward. Those who continued to work often did so in dangerous conditions without paid sick leave, health insurance or a living wage. As we chart Alabama’s course of economic recovery, balancing “pro-business” policies with pro-workforce ones will be key to long-term success.

A case in point is the issue of corporate immunity from COVID-19 liability claims.[14] Alabama legislative leaders identified this as a top priority for 2021 and rushed to enact it early in the regular session.[15] Many businesses, health care providers and other employers favor protection from what they see as the threat of lawsuits that could slow the reopening process. But liability poses low risk to businesses because the virus’s relatively long incubation period makes it difficult to prove exposure happened at a particular time and place.

By contrast, broad corporate immunity will increase the COVID-19 risk for workers and consumers.[16] Immunity reduces the incentive for employers and establishments to protect people from exposure. Without legal recourse for the health and financial consequences of COVID-19 illness, workers in unsafe workplaces may find themselves in a difficult bind: Risk exposure by clocking in – often without health insurance and sick leave – or risk getting fired by staying home. A balanced approach to corporate immunity would include expanding health coverage and workers’ compensation for low-wage workers.

One pandemic, many different experiences

In its ability to strike anyone at any time under the right circumstances, COVID-19 is an equal opportunity threat. But the experience of COVID-19 and its impact on lives and livelihoods varies widely across racial, ethnic and economic groups. Other sections of The State of Working Alabama 2021 will examine these disparate effects on Alabamians’ labor market, health coverage, food security and other workforce conditions.


The State of Working Alabama 2021

The State of Working Alabama 2021: Executive summary
Introduction: The high cost of failing to protect the common good (Section 1)
Assessing the damage: COVID-19 and Alabama’s labor market (Section 3)
Praised but underprotected: Front-line workers in the pandemic (Section 4)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why coverage matters: Health care in the time of COVID-19 (Section 5)
The ugly reality: Alabama’s hunger problem during the pandemic (Section 6)
No place to call home: Housing insecurity amid COVID-19 (Section 7)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Footnotes

[1] County Health Rankings, “2020 Alabama Report,” https://www.countyhealthrankings.org/reports/state-reports/2020-alabama-report.

[2] Jim Carnes, “Why Alabama Arise supports Amendment 4,” Alabama Arise (Oct. 16, 2020), https://www.alarise.org/blog-posts/why-alabama-arise-supports-amendment-4.

[3] Brian Lyman, “Alabama votes to allow purge of racist constitutional language,” USA Today (Nov. 6, 2020), https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2020/11/06/alabama-votes-allow-purge-racist-constitutional-language/6185508002.

[4] Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Union affiliation of employed wage and salary workers by state, 2018-19,” https://www.bls.gov/news.release/union2.t05.htm.

[5] Alabama Asset Building Coalition, Advancing Employment Equity in Alabama (April 2018), https://nationalequityatlas.org/sites/default/files/Employment_Equity-Alabama_04_03_18.pdf.

[6] Diana Boesch, Rachel Kershaw & Osub Ahmed, “Fast Facts: Economic Security for Women and Families in Alabama,” Center for American Progress (Aug. 8, 2019), https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/women/reports/2019/08/08/473358/fast-facts-economic-security-women-families-alabama.

[7] See, e.g., Alex Camardelle, “Worker Power Key to a Better Balance in Georgia,” Georgia Budget and Policy Institute (Sept. 3, 2020), https://gbpi.org/worker-power-key-to-a-better-balance-in-georgia.

[8] National Association of Manufacturers, “2019 Alabama Manufacturing Facts,” https://www.nam.org/state-manufacturing-data/2019-alabama-manufacturing-facts.

[9] National League of Cities Center for City Solutions, “City Rights in an Era of Preemption: A State-by-State Analysis,” 2018 Update, https://www.nlc.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/NLC-SML-Preemption-Report-2017-pages.pdf.

[10] Hunter Blair, David Cooper, Julia Wolfe & Jaimie Worker, “Preempting Progress,” Economic Policy Institute (Sept. 30, 2020), https://www.epi.org/publication/preemption-in-the-south.

[11] Sara MacNeil, “City passes 1% tax on people who work in Montgomery,” Montgomery Advertiser (Feb. 19, 2020), https://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com/story/news/2020/02/19/city-passes-1-percent-tax-people-who-work-montgomery/4781312002.

[12] Mike Cason, “Alabama lawmakers pass restriction on city occupational taxes,” AL.com (Feb. 28, 2020), https://www.al.com/news/2020/02/alabama-lawmakers-pass-restriction-on-city-occupational-taxes.html.

[13] Blair, et al., supra note 10.

[14] Paul Dowdell, “Immunity from Liability in the Age of COVID-19: A New Reality for Trial Lawyers?,” American Bar Association (Aug. 31, 2020), https://www.americanbar.org/groups/litigation/committees/trial-practice/articles/2020/immunity-from-liability-covid-19-trial-lawyers.

[15] Abby Driggers, “Gov. Ivey signs COVID-19 liability bill into law,” Opelika-Auburn News (Feb. 12, 2021), https://oanow.com/news/local/govt-and-politics/gov-ivey-signs-covid-19-liability-bill-into-law/article_3084205e-6d3b-11eb-94c6-dbaf546e98c8.html.

[16] Alabama Arise, “Alabama Arise testimony in opposition to corporate COVID-19 immunity bill” (Feb. 3, 2021), https://www.alarise.org/resources/alabama-arise-testimony-in-opposition-to-corporate-covid-19-immunity-bill.