Public transit, healthy food access among key pathways to increase economic opportunity in Birmingham area, new report finds

Greater Birmingham has experienced a resurgence in economic growth and civic engagement in recent years. But the benefits of this prosperity are not widely shared among everyone living in the region – and a new comprehensive report that Alabama Arise and the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) released Thursday shows that people across Jefferson County know it.

The report, Homecoming: The Greater Birmingham Community Speaks on Regional Cooperation and a More Inclusive Economy, includes a professional survey of 1,024 residents of the Greater Birmingham area conducted this year. Three in four residents said the region’s economic resources are not distributed fairly. And only one in four said they are personally included in the Birmingham area’s economic revival.

Economic opportunity and financial vulnerability across Greater Birmingham vary widely by race, gender and geography, the report finds. Homecoming highlights the critical problems facing the region’s residents – and the solutions they want to see. The report defines Greater Birmingham as Jefferson County, the City of Birmingham and 33 other municipalities within Jefferson County.

Picture of the Birmingham skyline. Report cover text: Homecoming: The Greater Birmingham Community Speaks on Regional Cooperation and a More Inclusive Economy.

“The results of this comprehensive study of the issues facing Greater Birmingham residents speak volumes, especially in the wake of the results of the midterms, about where communities stand on the major issues that impact not only Alabama, but our country as a whole,” said Marc Bayard, associate fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies and the report’s co-author.

“Alabama’s economy is growing, but ordinary people aren’t seeing the same changes to their bottom line. We see the real-life effects of economic and racial inequality, and we also see the profound need for change in how the government responds to the most urgent needs and concerns of Alabama residents.”

Click here to read the full report.

Policies to promote broadly shared prosperity

The study includes a professional survey of 1,024 Greater Birmingham residents conducted in 2022. It focuses on ensuring broad representation across race, gender, political ideology and geography.

“Too many people are being left behind in Birmingham’s economy these days. The region needs broadly shared prosperity that creates good jobs that provide a living wage and upward mobility,” said Allan M. Freyer, Ph.D., visiting fellow with Alabama Arise and the report’s lead author.

“Our study provides local governments across the Birmingham area with a toolbox of potential strategies for promoting equitable economic growth that benefits everyone. Better transit, access to healthy foods, affordable housing, accountability for development projects, and more local authority are the key to a more prosperous, thriving region.”

Key findings

  • Two-thirds of survey respondents identified transportation – especially lack of public transit – as the top challenge facing Greater Birmingham. The region is one of the country’s most auto-dependent metro areas.
  • More than 55% of residents cited lack of access to healthy food in certain neighborhoods as a significant problem.
  • Almost 80% of respondents identified rising housing costs as a problem. Another 73% said the same about the overall lack of affordable housing.
  • More than 73% of survey respondents rated lack of good jobs as at least somewhat of a problem. This included 82% of Black respondents and 62% of white respondents.
  • Nearly 60% of respondents said gaining access to job training programs is a challenge, and those fortunate enough to complete these programs might not find available jobs calling for their new skills.
  • More than 60% saw child care as a significant challenge for the region’s economy.
  • More than three-quarters of residents want their local government to ensure companies create the jobs they promise in exchange for public subsidies or tax incentives – and require those jobs to pay living wages.
  • A supermajority of residents (nearly three in four) oppose preemption (through which states can limit the authority of local governments) and support home rule (where localities are relatively autonomous). Large majorities of Black and white residents alike said local governments should be able to set their own minimum wage.

“Hope for a brighter future is a value shared by people of every race and in every part of the Greater Birmingham area,” Alabama Arise executive director Robyn Hyden said. “For prosperity to be shared more broadly, residents are telling us we need to invest in recruiting high-quality, better-paying jobs. We can support workers in getting to those jobs with better public transportation and stronger investments in child care and affordable housing.”

Methodology

To capture a range of ideas and perspectives effectively, the Arise and IPS report:

  • Commissioned a professional survey in 2022 of 1,024 Greater Birmingham residents. The goal was to understand the challenges residents are facing and the policy solutions they support.
  • Conducted 12 focus groups with key categories of stakeholders to learn more about the biggest challenges facing Greater Birmingham residents. Researchers engaged approximately 80 people, including corporate leaders, business owners, faith leaders across the racial spectrum, grassroots activists, leaders of women’s groups, youth development groups, and other nonprofit leaders working in various aspects of equitable development across the area.
  • Conducted two dozen one-on-one interviews with community leaders to hear their concerns and proposed solutions. These included staff at local governments, regional foundations, regionwide civic initiatives, grassroots activists, policy advocates, nonprofit leaders, neighborhood association presidents and local developers.

Read the full report here.

52 Alabama groups urge Shelby, Tuberville to support Child Tax Credit, EITC improvements this year

U.S. Sens. Richard Shelby and Tommy Tuberville should support expanding the Child Tax Credit (CTC) and Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) in year-end budget legislation, 52 organizations across Alabama wrote in a letter sent to the senators Tuesday. Alabama Arise is among the groups that signed the letter.

The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) temporarily expanded the CTC for hundreds of thousands of Alabama children last year. The law also temporarily increased the maximum EITC for workers without children and broadened the age range for EITC eligibility. Those temporary improvements have expired, but Congress can renew them in the “lame duck” session beginning this week.

“We urge you to put families and workers first,” the groups wrote to Shelby and Tuberville. “There should be no expanded tax breaks for businesses and corporations without expanding the CTC and EITC.”

Click here to read the organizations’ full letter to Shelby and Tuberville.

Child Tax Credit improvements helped cut U.S. child poverty rate by nearly half

Nearly 350,000 Alabama children would benefit from renewing the CTC improvements, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), a nonprofit research organization in Washington, D.C. The impact would be especially significant for children of color across the state. Among Alabama children who would benefit from renewing the CTC improvements, 161,000 are Black, 130,000 are white and 41,000 are Hispanic, according to CBPP estimates.

The temporary CTC expansion worked swiftly and powerfully to ease suffering and expand economic opportunity, Census data shows. Monthly CTC payments last year helped families cover rising costs for necessities like food, utilities, rent and diapers. Overall, the policy kept more than 5 million Americans above the poverty line. It also contributed to a major nationwide reduction in the child poverty rate in 2021, with the Supplemental Poverty Measure for children falling from nearly 10% to about 5%.

ARPA’s one-year CTC expansion increased the maximum credit for children under age 6 to $3,600, and for all other children to $3,000. It made the full CTC available to children living in families with low or no earnings. And it extended the credit to 17-year-olds, who previously were ineligible.

“Our nation’s historically high child poverty rate is a choice,” the organizations’ letter said. “Recent U.S. Census data reveals a fundamental truth: Congress has the power to make a different choice.”

EITC expansion increases boost financial stability for Alabama workers

The EITC improvements under ARPA also eased hardship for people across Alabama. More than 280,000 Alabamians with low incomes benefited from last year’s temporary EITC expansions. Nearly three in four had incomes below $20,400, according to estimates by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.

ARPA temporarily raised the maximum EITC for working adults from roughly $530 to roughly $1,500. It also increased the income eligibility limit and expanded the age range of eligible workers. Those changes allowed adults aged 19-24 who are not full-time students to qualify, as well as people 65 and over.

“[CTC and EITC expansions] have proved effective to reduce child poverty and boost incomes for people who work but aren’t paid enough to make ends meet,” the groups’ letter said. “We hope we can count on you to fight for these policies to support kids and workers.”

Click here to read the organizations’ full letter to Shelby and Tuberville.

Alabama Arise, 51 partner groups urge U.S. senators to support Child Tax Credit, EITC improvements

The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) temporarily expanded the Child Tax Credit (CTC) for hundreds of thousands of Alabama children last year. The law also temporarily increased the maximum Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for workers without children and broadened the age range for EITC eligibility. Alabama Arise joined 51 partner organizations Tuesday in a letter asking Alabama’s U.S. senators, Richard Shelby and Tommy Tuberville, to support renewing these CTC and EITC improvements this year. The full text of the letter is below.

Letter text

Dear Senators Shelby and Tuberville,

Our nation’s historically high child poverty rate is a choice. Recent U.S. Census data reveals a fundamental truth: Congress has the power to make a different choice. Congress can and should put families and workers first by expanding the Child Tax Credit (CTC) and Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). These strategies have proved effective to reduce child poverty and boost incomes for people who work but aren’t paid enough to make ends meet.

We, the undersigned organizations representing people with low incomes in Alabama, are writing to urge you to prioritize expanding these programs as part of the anticipated end-of-year budget bill. The time to pass these policies is now, as this may be the last chance this Congress has to act.

Even as Congress has this tremendous opportunity to deliver for families and workers, press reports indicate lobbyists are pressuring Congress to deliver more significant tax breaks for businesses and corporations. One example is the push for a tax break for companies engaged in “research and experimentation,” including tech, pharmaceuticals and other large corporations.

We urge you to put families and workers first. There should be no expanded tax breaks for businesses and corporations without expanding the CTC and EITC.

Under current law, too many children in families with the lowest incomes receive no CTC or receive a smaller credit than children in families with higher incomes. Expanding the CTC so that it reaches more of those children will go a long way toward improving families’ ability to make ends meet and reducing child poverty.

As you know, the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) temporarily expanded the CTC for 480,000 children in Alabama, but the expansion has expired. The overwhelming majority of families with low incomes used ARPA’s monthly CTC payments to cover everyday challenges and basic expenses, such as food, utilities, rent and diapers. Before ARPA was passed, roughly 27 million children received less than the full CTC, including many who got no credit at all — not because their families earned too much, but because of a flaw in the law that excludes kids from families with the lowest incomes. Those children excluded from the full credit include roughly half of all children in rural areas.

The Rescue Plan’s CTC expansion, combined with other relief efforts, helped lower child poverty by more than 40% between 2020 and 2021, Census data shows. Investing in children in low-income families by expanding programs like the Child Tax Credit also has shown success in improving outcomes for those children over their whole lives, including higher educational attainment, better health and higher earnings as adults.

We also urge you to expand the EITC for workers paid low wages who do not have children living with them. This part of the EITC has not been adjusted for nearly 30 years (outside of a temporary, one-year Rescue Plan expansion). As a result, about 6 million of these workers 19 and older have incomes below the poverty line, once federal taxes are taken into account.  This commonsense proposal is long overdue and has enjoyed bipartisan support in the past.

Congress has a critical choice to make now: Will it expand the CTC and EITC, to put more kids on an upward trajectory for life and help working people make ends meet? Or will it go home without reaching a bipartisan agreement on these straightforward policies?

We hope we can count on you to fight for these policies to support kids and workers – and to make sure any final legislative package in December doesn’t give more tax breaks for corporations without supporting Alabamians.

Should you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact Robyn Hyden with Alabama Arise at robyn@alarise.org. We appreciate your time and your consideration of our views.

Signatories

¡HICA! Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama

Advocacy for Social Justice Team of the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church

AIDS Alabama

Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice

Alabama Arise

Alabama Civic Engagement (ACE) Coalition

Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice

Alabama Council on Human Relations (ACHR)

Alabama Forward

Alabama Institute for Social Justice

Alabama Justice Initiative

Alabama Possible

Alabama State Nurses Association

Bay Area Women Coalition, Inc.

Beloved Community Church, UCC

Chat World Home Daycare

Childcare Resources

Cody S. King Home Daycare

Communities of Transformation

Community Action Association of Alabama

Community Enabler Developer, Inc.

Community Food Bank of Central Alabama

DayKara’s Group Home

Dee’s Daycare

Edmundite Missions

Fairhope Friends

Faith in Action Alabama

First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) of Montgomery

First Presbyterian Church of Birmingham

Gadsden Outreach Ministries

Grace Presbyterian Church, Tuscaloosa

Greater Birmingham Ministries

Hometown Action

Jobs to Move America

League of Women Voters of Alabama

Monte Sano UMC

Montgomery PRIDE United

Mrs. Mazaheri’s Day Care

NAACP: Tuscaloosa Branch

Nana’s Nursery

North Alabama Peace Network

Open Table UCC

Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty

Redemption Earned, Inc.

Restorative Strategies

Sisters of Mercy in Alabama

SPLC Action Fund

Unitarian Universalist Church of Birmingham

University of Montevallo Alabama Arise Student Chapter

Valley Christian Church

Volunteers of America, Southeast (VOA)

YWCA Central Alabama

Congress should make the Child Tax Credit expansion permanent

Good public policy is vital in the fight against poverty, and U.S. Census data released last month demonstrates its importance. The 2021 Child Tax Credit (CTC) expansion is uplifting proof of how better policies can reduce poverty and ease suffering. And Congress needs to renew this expansion when it returns to Washington, D.C., after the general election.

Many of the people-first policies in the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) swiftly combated economic insecurity during the COVID-19 pandemic. And the CTC expansion was the most resounding success. It heavily contributed to a major decline in child poverty rates nationwide, with the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) for children dropping by nearly half, falling from nearly 10% to about 5%.

ARPA’s one-year CTC expansion increased the maximum credit for children under age 6 to $3,600, and for all other children to $3,000. It made the full CTC available to children living in families with low or no earnings. And it extended the credit to 17-year-olds, who previously were ineligible. Congress so far has failed to renew the expansion for 2022, but lawmakers should revisit that decision later this year.

The SPM differs from the official poverty measure in that it provides a fuller, more realistic understanding of economic insecurity. The SPM includes the effects of non-cash benefits like housing subsidies and the CTC. And the data shows the CTC expansion alone kept more than 5 million Americans above the poverty line.

CTC expansion reduced racial disparities

Importantly, this impact was especially significant for people of color. Hispanic children saw a dramatic nationwide reduction in poverty, with SPM rates falling from about 15% in 2020 to 8.4% in 2021. SPM rates for Black children saw similar improvement, falling from 18% to 8% during the same period.

Black and Hispanic children are still more likely to experience poverty than white children, but the expanded CTC shows the power of public policy to reduce racial disparities, promote broadly shared prosperity and create a more economically equitable society. The Census Bureau graph below demonstrates the expanded CTC’s dramatic effect on child SPM rates by race.

Graph of child poverty rates under the Supplemental Poverty Measure by race from 2009 to 2021. See the graph at https://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/stories/2022/09/record-drop-in-child-poverty-figure-1.jpg.

While the CTC expansion isn’t yet permanent, its impact was clear, immediate and overwhelmingly positive. The expansion’s benefits speak volumes for the power of strong, deliberate public policy to reduce economic insecurity and racial disparities.

People-first public policy works. Just ask the 5.3 million Americans kept out of poverty by the expanded Child Tax Credit. It’s time for Congress to step up to the plate and make the CTC expansion permanent.

20+ Alabama community groups call on Hyundai to stop alleged use of child labor at suppliers

The Alabama Coalition for Community Benefits issued an open letter on Thursday to Hyundai Motor of North America calling on the company to stop any use of child labor and to negotiate a community benefits agreement.

The letter from community leaders in Alabama comes as the U.S. Department of Labor continues to investigate widely reported alleged use of child labor by SMART, a Hyundai-owned parts supplier to the Korean company’s large assembly facility in Montgomery.

A Reuters writer initially reported evidence suggesting that as many as 50 underage workers – as young as 12 years old – had worked at the stamping plant that also has a long history of health and safety violations, including amputation hazards.

At the same time, another Hyundai supplier, SL Alabama, was sued by the Department of Labor last month over allegations that the supplier employed children under age 16. SL Alabama manufactures headlights and mirrors for Hyundai. Also last month, Hyundai was sued by Mexican workers who allege that Hyundai discriminated against them by paying them less than white workers at the same plant.

“When our state incentivizes employers to locate here, Alabamians have a right to expect a high level of accountability and transparency,” Alabama Arise executive director Robyn Hyden said. “Alabama has given up tax dollars to help support the Hyundai manufacturing plant and suppliers. We are asking for more accountability for all employers who receive subsidies and profit from state investments.”

“These allegations of child labor at multiple Hyundai subsidiaries suggest a potentially systemic problem with labor practices across the company’s U.S. supply chain,” United Auto Workers President Ray Curry said. “Accordingly, we urge the Biden Administration to use all available tools – administrative, criminal and civil – to investigate the alleged abuses and hold the company, its subsidiaries and suppliers, and any third-party labor recruitment firms accountable to the fullest extent of the law.”

“The working people of Alabama welcomed Hyundai into our community with open arms and generous financial support, with the expectation that the company would be a good corporate community partner,” said Carmen Paschal, a production worker at the Hyundai assembly plant in Montgomery. “The company needs to take responsibility, take action to prevent this kind of terrible exploitation and ensure that Hyundai provides quality jobs and workplace rights across its supply chain. We deserve nothing less.”

The Coalition works toward improving working conditions in Alabama manufacturing plants, including those in the state’s large auto industry. The Coalition includes civil rights groups, faith leaders, labor unions, Latinx organizations and environmental groups.

Scott Douglas, director of Greater Birmingham Ministries, said: “Taking advantage of children and placing them in harm’s way must stop, and as a coalition partner, we will continue to fight until this practice ends.”

Community benefits agreements are legally enforceable agreements between private companies and coalitions of community and labor groups that ensure a wide range of high-road job standards and equity measures. The Coalition recently negotiated such an agreement with New Flyer, the largest bus manufacturer in North America, for its assembly facilities in Anniston, Alabama, and Ontario, California.

Hyundai and its suppliers employ thousands of workers in Alabama and are one of the largest employers in the greater Montgomery area. The region also has a disproportionately high rate of poverty for Black and Latino people ‒ often two to three times that of white people.

Here’s what Alabama Arise heard from you in summer 2022!

We deeply value the input we get from Alabama Arise members, our allies 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.

Despite the ongoing challenges of connecting in person, we kept working at finding ways to listen. We did another series of three statewide online Town Hall Tuesdays. And we held seven additional listening sessions around the state, engaging about 200 people.

The town halls happened every two weeks, starting July 12 and ending Aug. 9. Other meetings took place throughout the summer. Below are summaries of what we heard in those meetings.

Town Hall Tuesdays

Food and health

Most participants deeply cared about Medicaid expansion. They discussed how it would help many people, including rural communities struggling with access to care. Many were frustrated that Gov. Kay Ivey has not yet expanded Medicaid in Alabama. Others discussed the connection between health and access to healthy food and nutrition. Some participants noted that other barriers like transportation also directly impact health, nutrition and employment.

Related issues raised were the needs to address the racial wealth gap and increase wages for front-line workers. Many people expressed appreciation for food banks and pantries but acknowledged that they cannot meet all food security needs. Participants encouraged Arise to remain vigilant about the threat to impose stringent work requirements for Medicaid and SNAP food assistance. Many participants also mentioned untaxing groceries as a way to improve food security.

Democracy and justice

Many participants expressed concerns about legislative attempts to suppress voting rights and said Election Day should be a state holiday. Others also expressed concerns about ballot access for people with disabilities, limited numbers of voting precincts and gerrymandering. Bottom line: We should make it easier to vote, as ballot access is key to a strong democracy.

Several participants expressed concerns about the need for more services for people leaving incarceration. We need to expand community corrections programs, enact real prison reform and get rid of unjust fines and fees.

Some participants identified language accessibility as a potential barrier to receiving many services and participating fully in our democracy. Others were concerned about allocation of American Rescue Plan Act funds and wanted more funding for the Housing Trust Fund.

The path forward

This town hall was an opportunity to talk about any issues of concern people wanted to highlight. Participants raised the following needs and concerns:

  • Expand Medicaid in Alabama now and address health disparities, including women’s health issues.
  • Untax groceries and improve our regressive tax system.
  • Improve voting access, including restoration of voting rights for people who were formerly incarcerated.
  • Address environmental issues, including working to improve air quality in schools.
  • Improve affordable housing access and language access, fully fund the child home visitation program and address gun violence.

Group and regional listening sessions

Session participants around the state strongly affirmed Arise’s work on the current 2022 issue priorities. They also emphasized the ongoing work to be done in those areas. Current issues highlighted were Medicaid expansion, criminal justice reform (particularly in the area of unjust fines and fees), more funding for child care and first class pre-K, public transportation and death penalty reform.

Session participants also discussed issues that aren’t on the Arise agenda but are of concern to them and their communities. Some of those issues include:

  • Affordable housing, with a focus on increased funding and availability. One example was discussion of whether to limit the number of vacation rental properties one person could own in an area, as this can contribute to the shortage of affordable housing. Many renters also discussed the soaring prices of rent.
  • Automatic organ donor registration linked to getting and renewing driver’s licenses.
  • Broadband internet extension to reach more rural households and Alabamians with low incomes.
  • Constitutional reform.
  • Government intrusion on private medical decisions. One example shared was concern over lawmakers interfering with rights of transgender teens to seek medical care. Another concern raised was doctors being able to provide medical care during pregnancy and decide the right time to intervene on a pregnancy that threatens the life of the mother.
  • Gun violence prevention.
  • Marijuana sentencing reform.

New Census data reveals how good policy choices can cut poverty, keep Alabamians healthier

People-friendly federal policies reduced poverty and made it easier for people to get health care in 2021, U.S. Census figures released this week show. Perhaps the most eye-opening improvement was a dramatic reduction in child poverty nationwide.

The recent Child Tax Credit (CTC) expansion alone kept 5.3 million Americans above the poverty line. The one-year expansion under the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) made the full CTC available to children living in families with low or no earnings. It increased the maximum credit to $3,000 per child and $3,600 per child under age 6. And it extended the credit to 17-year-olds. The expansion expired in 2022 after Congress failed to renew it, but lawmakers could revisit that decision later this year.

Child Tax Credit improvements fuel record drop in U.S. child poverty

CTC expansion helped reduce disparities for Black and Hispanic children. It also drove the U.S. child poverty rate to a record low of 5.2% under the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM). Unlike the traditional poverty measure, the SPM reflects the poverty-reducing effects of tax credits and non-cash benefits like food assistance.

Alabama’s official child poverty rate was 22% last year under the American Community Survey (ACS), a more traditional measure that accounts for fewer factors than the SPM. That was an apparent increase from the pre-pandemic level of 21.1% in 2019, though within the margin of error. (ACS data for 2020 is unavailable due to pandemic-related data collection disruptions.)

SPM data paints a fuller picture of the poverty-reducing power of supports like the expanded CTC. Alabama’s three-year average overall poverty rate under the SPM was 10.3% in 2019-21. By contrast, the state’s overall ACS poverty rate moved from 15.5% in 2019 to 16.1% in 2021. That change was not statistically significant.

“The success of the Child Tax Credit expansion was undeniable,” Alabama Arise executive director Robyn Hyden said. “This policy slashed child poverty and helped families make ends meet across our state and our country. Congress needs to renew the Child Tax Credit expansion and make it permanent. And our state lawmakers should do their part to help Alabama families keep food on the table by ending the state grocery tax and replacing the revenue in a responsible way.”

Uninsured rates fall nationally despite tumult of COVID-19 pandemic

Federal policy choices also fueled a slight reduction in the number of uninsured Americans last year. The U.S. uninsured rate dropped to 8.6% last year, down from 9.2% in 2019. Alabama’s uninsured rate stayed relatively flat, moving from 9.7% in 2019 to 9.9% in 2021. That change was within the margin of error.

Alabama continued a years-long pattern of outperforming the national average in insuring children in 2021. The state’s rate of uninsured children (4%) remained the best in the Deep South last year. Much of that sustained success is attributable to ALL Kids, the state’s Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) created in 1998. ALL Kids has played a crucial role in reducing Alabama’s rate of uninsured children from 20% in the late 1990s.

A key factor in the overall health coverage improvements was the federal requirement for state Medicaid programs to keep participants covered throughout the ongoing COVID-19 public health emergency declaration. That declaration may end later this year, underscoring the importance of helping many enrollees transition to new coverage.

Enhanced subsidies under ARPA also helped make health coverage more affordable for millions of Americans with private plans. This includes many of the 219,000 Alabamians with marketplace plans through the Affordable Care Act. Congress renewed subsidy enhancements through 2025 in the Inflation Reduction Act, which President Joe Biden signed into law last month.

“Medicaid, ALL Kids and ACA marketplace coverage have saved and improved the lives of millions of Alabamians,” Hyden said. “Alabama should build on these successes by expanding Medicaid to help more than 340,000 people who are uninsured or struggling to afford health insurance.

“It’s time for Gov. Kay Ivey to say yes to the generous federal incentives for Medicaid expansion. It’s time for her to say yes to a healthier future for Alabama.”

Worker-centered policies make Alabama better for everyone

State of Working Alabama logo

Every Alabama worker deserves a stable, safe environment where they can earn enough money to take care of their needs. On this Labor Day weekend and every day, the numbers are clear on the path to provide this environment. The best way to ensure this type of work atmosphere is for workers to belong to unions.

Organized workers earn higher wages and receive better retirement pay and benefits than non-union workers. They also have greater access to paid sick leave. Unions fought for many of the workplace benefits many of us enjoy now, such as a five-day, eight-hour standard workweek, overtime pay and workplace safety standards.

The standardized pay rates in union contracts are powerful drivers of equality in workplace compensation. Wage scale transparency and collective bargaining significantly reduce racial and sex discrimination in wages for the same roles.

Fights for decent labor practices continue today in Alabama, with many organizing campaigns in various stages of development. A pattern of attacks on working Alabamians has fueled an increasing public realization that working-class solidarity and collective action are vital for protection against exploitative employment practices.

This realization is coming amid a rebound in union organization rates. And it is coming on the heels of corporate-backed policy campaigns to increase profits at the expense of the people who make those profits possible. For example, Alabama moved quickly last year to immunize employers for negligent practices that could expose their workers to COVID-19. And when Birmingham sought to increase its minimum wage, legislators swiftly voted to prevent localities from implementing additional worker protections or higher minimum wages.

Growing support for unionization

Such systemic disregard for worker well-being helps explain why a strong majority of Americans approve of labor unions. It also helps explain growing support for unionization across Alabama. One recent example was the almost unanimous vote to unionize among workers at a Starbucks in Birmingham.

Union efforts in Alabama are proceeding even in the face of fierce employer opposition. The National Labor Relations Board found that Amazon interfered with a union election while opposing the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union’s organizing efforts at a Bessemer facility. And in response to an ongoing United Mine Workers strike in Tuscaloosa County, Warrior Met Coal used the state’s legal system to prevent workers from picketing outside their mines or offices. The company also requested and received state troopers to escort out-of-state scab workers through picket lines.

The history of the labor movement shows that when workers come together to demand businesses address their concerns, the quality of life improves for everyone in the community. Working Alabamians are making their voices heard and making clear that anti-worker policies don’t serve our communities.

Systemic subservience to corporate interests has held back the people of Alabama for too long. It’s time for our elected officials to leave that mindset behind and enact policies that support working people.

Untax Groceries Rally: March 15, 2022

More than 50 Arise members gathered in Montgomery on Tuesday for the Untax Groceries Rally to support efforts to eliminate the state sales tax on groceries. The event focused on two bills that would end the state grocery tax while protecting school funding: SB 43 by Sen. Andrew Jones and a forthcoming bill by Rep. Penni McClammy. Check out some key highlights from the rally.

Six ways Alabama should use ARPA funds to build a better, more inclusive future

The Alabama Legislature’s 2022 regular session, which began Tuesday, will be unusual in one important way. For the first time in many years, Alabama has more than enough revenue to maintain its bare-bones public services. That means instead of scrambling to avoid cuts, the legislative focus can be on strengthening investments in our state’s future.

Both the Education Trust Fund (ETF) budget and the General Fund (GF) budget, which funds non-education programs, have seen tax revenues rise more than 10% in the last year. ETF revenues actually increased 16% in 2021. In addition, Alabama has about $1.6 billion of federal relief funds remaining under the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). President Joe Biden signed ARPA into law in March 2021.

Alabama lawmakers already allocated $480 million of the state’s ARPA money last year. Of that amount, $400 million went toward prison construction and $80 million went to hospitals and nursing homes.

Budget growth faces sustainability challenges

State budget officials have steadily cautioned lawmakers to consider the one-time nature of both relief money and the bump in tax revenues. Recent revenue growth almost certainly will not be sustained in future years, budget officials warn. And one-time ARPA funds are by definition only temporary.

Alabama’s budget officials have strongly recommended that both ARPA funds and increased state revenues be invested in programs and services that won’t require regular, recurring revenue but that still meet critical needs for the people of the state. Alabama Arise questions whether the new revenue is as unsustainable as budget officials predict. But Arise agrees that this money needs to fund big ideas that will benefit the state for years to come.

Areas for investment

If spent wisely, ARPA funds could create vital long-term improvements for Alabamians. Alabama Arise has numerous specific suggestions for what those big ideas, and investments, could be.

Serve underserved communities

ARPA investments should focus on the most underserved areas and most underserved Alabamians. Communities of color and communities with low incomes, particularly in the Black Belt, have long-festering unmet infrastructure needs. The lack of wastewater treatment, accessible broadband internet, affordable housing and public transportation has held these communities back for decades.

In deciding where to spend new one-time dollars, the most historically neglected parts of Alabama should come first. An urgent public health need in many rural Black Belt counties is for sewer and other water treatment systems. These should be a top priority.

Modernize state technology

A major lesson from the COVID-19 recession was that Alabama’s technology infrastructure is totally inadequate for remote access to services. Suddenly unemployed people desperately tried to apply for unemployment insurance (UI) benefits, food assistance, COVID-19 tests and other services on overwhelmed state computer and telephone systems. People who had never before applied for public assistance couldn’t find one-stop sources of information about services for which they might be eligible. And when new federal programs were created, they were hard to implement. That’s because Alabama’s computer systems didn’t talk to each other and couldn’t share information needed to help people get assistance.

Modernizing the state’s computer systems would be a great investment to increase efficiency and prepare us for the next crisis. This would allow for integrated eligibility and data sharing systems across state agencies. And it would be an opportunity to modernize and upgrade the state’s UI application and payment process.

Expand Medicaid and strengthen public health

Alabama has failed for decades to invest adequately in our health care infrastructure, including Medicaid. The devastating toll of the COVID-19 pandemic has made the consequences of that failure apparent to everyone in the state. We need to invest now in a health care infrastructure that will improve the delivery of health services to underserved individuals and communities.

Medicaid expansion to cover adults with low incomes is an essential step to strengthen Alabama’s health care system. Other investments should include more funding for mobile health services and telehealth services. Alabama also should provide additional resources for our local and state public health departments.

Reduce hunger and promote healthier communities

Hunger was already a large and perpetual problem across Alabama even before the pandemic. But the COVID-19 recession and its aftermath exacerbated this problem by fueling a rapid, major increase in food insecurity. Sudden income loss, rising prices and occasional shortages have made it much more difficult for many people to feed their children and families.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and various child nutrition programs are essential standing resources to fight hunger in Alabama. But the state can and should do more to support our food infrastructure. Alabama should provide healthy food financing grants to expand community groceries, farmers markets and mobile markets. This would improve access to healthy foods in communities without ready access to fresh foods, especially fruits and vegetables.

Invest in affordable housing

The COVID-19 recession has caused a wave of evictions and foreclosures across Alabama. This has occurred as the cost of housing has been driven up amid supply chain issues and fewer available workers.

Alabama could help address its housing shortage and resulting homelessness by providing $25 million for the state Housing Trust Fund. This investment would create and support jobs across the state. And it would reduce Alabama’s shortfall of more than 73,000 affordable homes for people with incomes below the federal poverty level.

Fund public transportation

Alabama’s elected leaders, including Gov. Kay Ivey in her State of the State address, have celebrated the state’s low unemployment rate. But they also are bemoaning our state’s associated low rate of labor force participation. For more Alabamians to return to work during and after the pandemic, the state must ensure they have essential work supports. Not the least of these is transportation to and from a job or school.

Lawmakers can help people reenter the job market by investing $20 million in ARPA funds and $10 million in GF dollars in the state Public Transportation Trust Fund. These dollars would go a long way toward ensuring that people, especially those in rural areas, can get to a job and to job training. They also would help Alabama match other federal transportation dollars that can benefit the entire state.