The State of Working Alabama 2021, Section 6 – The ugly reality: Alabama’s hunger problem during the pandemic

State of Working Alabama logo

The COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to widespread hunger in Alabama. We all have seen the pictures – lines of cars stretching for blocks waiting to receive an emergency food box, desperate appeals from food banks that distributed as much food in the first six months of the pandemic as they did in the prior year, school buses filled with lunches for delivery to hungry children unable to go to school in person. Facebook pages have sprung up to offer desperately needed peer advice on how to navigate the food assistance system.

Hunger is an ugly public face of this pandemic and its associated recession. Amid persistent job and income losses, hundreds of thousands of Alabama families are struggling to keep food on the table.

Where are we now?

In the spring/early summer stage of the pandemic (late April until late 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, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey.[1] And the hunger challenges were much more serious in communities of color. Nearly 19% of Hispanic/Latinx Alabamians and 21% of Black Alabamians said they didn’t have enough food, compared to slightly more than 8% of white Alabamians.[2]

 

Black and Hispanic Alabamians were more likely to experience hunger early in the pandemic. In the spring/early summer stage, 21% of Black residents and 18.9% of Hispanic/Latinx residents said they didn't have enough food, compared to 8.4% of white residents.

How did we get here?

Unequal job losses have led to increased hunger. Between mid-August and late October (the late summer/fall stage of the pandemic), one in five Alabamians who reported income loss said they either sometimes or often didn’t have enough to eat.[3] This includes a third of the people who reported losing their jobs due to pandemic-related layoffs, plus another third – mostly women – who wanted to return to work but couldn’t because they were caring for children whose schools or day cares were closed due to the pandemic.[4]

The Household Pulse Survey shows both the value and the limitations of critical safety net programs. Nearly three in four (or 74%) of Alabamians who used unemployment insurance (UI) benefits were able to afford their basic food needs during the late summer/fall stage of the pandemic, as were 78% of people who used federal stimulus payments to make ends meet.[5] Two in three Alabamians who received food assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) said they had enough food.[6]

High demand at food banks shows need to strengthen nutrition assistance

These and other safety net programs have eased suffering for hundreds of thousands of Alabamians during the pandemic. Even so, significant numbers of people still reported they didn’t have enough to eat.

Revealing the limitations of the safety net, tens of thousands of Alabamians also used emergency food programs and free school meals to feed their families. The week before Thanksgiving, 10% of Pulse Survey respondents in Alabama said they still relied on free groceries in the last week.[7] The largest share of people who relied on emergency food received it from Alabama’s food banks or faith-based and community food pantries (61%), followed by school-based or other programs that provided food to children (31%) and family or friends (27%).[8]

Food banks and other sources of emergency food play a vital role feeding hungry families. But these programs simply cannot meet the scale of need that the COVID-19 recession has caused.

What should we do now?

The state and federal governments can make a number of important public policy changes to help feed Alabama families during this difficult time and beyond:

  • Alabama lawmakers should abandon efforts to slash the state’s safety net. The COVID-19 recession has taught many painful lessons about the critical role that safety net programs play during a crisis. Legislators should resist the temptation to introduce and pass bills restricting access to SNAP and other safety net programs. If enacted in past years, these bills would have made the recent hunger and hardship in Alabama even more dire.
  • The state departments of Education and Human Resources should move quickly to implement P-EBT for the 2020-21 school year. When schools closed, Congress created the Pandemic EBT (P-EBT) program, which provided debit-like cards with enough money on them to replace the value of lost school meals. Lawmakers later expanded this program in a continuing resolution in September. Now Alabama needs to distribute these desperately needed benefits rapidly to families whose children are going to school remotely or who are in hybrid classrooms.
  • Eligible schools in Alabama should reduce childhood hunger by participating in the Community Eligibility Provision for the 2021-22 school year. Community eligibility allows eligible schools to serve meals at no cost to all enrolled students, streamlining the usual paperwork. Participation in community eligibility automatically makes children eligible for P-EBT. And it eases logistical barriers for schools to provide free meals to children who are attending school remotely.
  • Congress should move quickly to pass another COVID-19 relief bill that further increases federal UI benefits and SNAP assistance. The bill also should provide additional cash assistance for struggling families, including relief payments, a fully refundable Child Tax Credit and an increased Earned Income Tax Credit.

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)
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)
No place to call home: Housing insecurity amid COVID-19 (Section 7)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Footnotes

[1] Alabama Arise analysis of U.S. Census Bureau, Household Pulse Survey, Phase 1, April 23 – July 21, 2020, https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/household-pulse-survey/data.html#phase1.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Alabama Arise analysis of U.S. Census Bureau, Household Pulse Survey, Phase 2, Aug. 19 – Oct. 26, 2020, https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/household-pulse-survey/data.html#phase2.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Id.

[7] Alabama Arise analysis of U.S. Census Bureau, Week 19 Household Pulse Survey: Nov. 11 – Nov. 23, Food Sufficiency and Food Security Table 2b, https://www.census.gov/data/tables/2020/demo/hhp/hhp19.html.

[8] Ibid.

The State of Working Alabama 2021, Section 7 – No place to call home: Housing insecurity amid COVID-19

State of Working Alabama logo

Where are we now?

More than 800,000 job losses in the first eight months of the pandemic caused Alabamians severe economic damage and heightened insecurity. Thousands of Alabamians face potential eviction and homelessness as a result of the pandemic. And unfortunately, the state’s recent scattershot approach to eviction policy has resulted in inconsistent protection for renters across Alabama.

Gov. Kay Ivey’s initial eviction emergency order provided broad protections against eviction, directing all law enforcement personnel to cease “enforcement of any order that would result in the displacement of a person from his or her place of residence.”[1]

This proclamation faced immediate attempts to chip away its broad protections. A second emergency proclamation on May 8 limited the protections significantly by allowing evictions for all reasons except nonpayment of rent specifically.[2] This modification was a major limitation that cut against the original order’s basic purpose: to reduce health risks to Alabamians by preventing homelessness and forced moves into crowded group housing settings with many other people.

Further, allowing evictions for all reasons except nonpayment allowed landlords to put people on the streets for reasons unrelated to public safety, even though the stated reason for limiting protections was to ensure public safety. For example, a person could be evicted for allowing family members not named on the lease to move in after those family members had themselves lost housing.

State eviction safeguards gone; housing instability remains

The near-shutdown of state courts in early spring 2020 greatly slowed the pace of eviction proceedings for months in Alabama.[3] But administrative difficulties are not a reliable brake on policies designed to punish poverty. And worse, Ivey’s eviction protection order expired in June, leaving no state-level eviction protections in place thereafter.[4]

Alabamians have high rates of housing instability. As recently as the week before Thanksgiving, nearly 13% of Alabamians who responded to the Household Pulse Survey said they either missed their previous rent or mortgage payment or had little confidence they would make their next payment.[5]

 

Black and Hispanic Alabamians face greater risk of eviction for inability to pay rent during the pandemic. Black residents are 26.8% of Alabama's population but are 54.2% of the Alabama renters facing eviction. For Hispanic/Latinx residents, the corresponding rates are 4.6% and 8.1%. For white residents, the rates are 69.1% and 36.5%.

How did we get here?

Housing costs are a heightened burden for Alabamians with low incomes even in more normal times. Full-time work at the minimum wage is insufficient to afford a two-bedroom apartment anywhere in the state.[6] A minimum-wage worker would need to work 12 hours a day, seven days a week to afford such an apartment.

Alabama’s shortage of affordable housing causes significant harm for tens of thousands of state residents. The state lacks nearly 80,000 affordable homes for people with extremely low incomes, defined as 30% of area median income or lower.[7] More than three in four of these Alabamians are seniors, people with disabilities and/or in the workforce.[8]

Long-term failure to invest in affordable housing has brought Alabama to this point. The state has a mechanism, created in 2012, to address the housing shortage: the Alabama Housing Trust Fund (AHTF).[9] But the Legislature has never appropriated funding for the AHTF. During the pandemic-shortened 2020 regular session, a bill to fund the AHTF through a small increase in the mortgage recording fee for housing purchases advanced out of committee. But the Legislature adjourned without passing the bill.

What should we do now?

Alabama can take steps to fix this policy shortcoming quickly. And addressing the state’s housing shortage would bring significant benefits. State investment in affordable housing would create jobs with good wages. Construction workers in Alabama make about $43,000 per year, just $5,000 short of the median household wage.[10]

Even though the federal moratorium on many evictions has been extended through March 2021,[11] a state-level eviction moratorium is still needed to ensure the well-being of thousands of Alabamians. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) eviction moratorium requires renters to file paperwork with their landlords attesting to their inability to pay because of COVID-19. This requirement is readily abusable by unscrupulous landlords, who could make themselves unavailable for service and assert failure to provide notice. Those landlords also could falsely claim not to have received the notice.

A blanket state eviction moratorium (with an exception for people posing serious danger to others) would be a better solution. It would avoid an administrative burden on renters already experiencing financial hardship. And it would prevent rental companies from potentially abusing the CDC’s notice requirement.

A policy path to keep Alabamians housed

To ensure everyone has a place to call home during the pandemic and beyond, Alabama should:

  • Reinstitute eviction protections for the duration of the pandemic for all people who are not a danger to others.
  • Provide direct housing subsidies to renters impacted by COVID-19. This assistance would help people remain in their homes and help smaller landlords cover their mortgages and other expenses.
  • Provide adequate appropriations to support affordable housing in Alabama. The state should dedicate a substantial source of funding, such as the recently proposed increase in the mortgage recording fee, to providing affordable housing. At current housing prices, a mortgage recording fee increase of just 15 cents per $100 financed would provide more than $14 million yearly toward addressing the housing needs of Alabamians.
  • Halt utility cutoffs and begin reporting data on shutoffs for nonpayment. Cutting off water and power to people during a pandemic because of nonpayment is cruel and counterproductive. These cutoffs increase human suffering and limit people’s ability to protect themselves against the spread of coronavirus. Alabama needs to collect more data about the scope of these shutoffs and craft policies to make them less prevalent.

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)
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)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Footnotes

[1] State of Alabama, Proclamation by the Governor (April 3, 2020), https://www.alabamapublichealth.gov/legal/assets/proclamation-covid19-040320.pdf.

[2] State of Alabama, Proclamation by the Governor (May 8, 2020), https://www.alabamapublichealth.gov/legal/assets/soe-covid19-various-050820.pdf.

[3] Supreme Court of Alabama, Administrative Order Suspending All In-Person Court Proceedings for the Next Thirty Days (March 13, 2020), https://www.alacourt.gov/docs/COV-19%20order%20FINAL.pdf.

[4] Moriah Mason, “The federal eviction moratorium has been extended, but is it enough?,” Alabama Political Reporter (Jan. 28, 2021), https://www.alreporter.com/2021/01/28/the-federal-eviction-moratorium-has-been-extended-but-is-it-enough.

[5] Alabama Arise analysis of U.S. Census Bureau, Week 19 Household Pulse Survey: Nov. 11 – Nov. 23, https://www.census.gov/data/tables/2020/demo/hhp/hhp19.html.

[6] National Low Income Housing Coalition, Out of Reach 2020, Alabama data sheet, https://reports.nlihc.org/sites/default/files/oor/files/reports/state/AL-2020-OOR.pdf.

[7] National Low Income Housing Coalition, Housing Needs by State – Alabama (2020), https://nlihc.org/housing-needs-by-state/alabama.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Carol Gundlach, “Home at last: The Alabama Housing Trust Fund (2015 update),” Alabama Arise (Nov. 3, 2015), https://www.alarise.org/resources/home-at-last-the-alabama-housing-trust-fund-2015-update.

[10] Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, May 2019 State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates – Alabama (March 31, 2020), https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_al.htm.

[11] Mason, supra note 4.

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

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

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

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

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

The federal and state work ahead

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pandemic EBT renewal a good first step, but families still need comprehensive COVID-19 relief

The U.S. Senate this week approved a continuing resolution that extended Pandemic EBT (P-EBT) benefits through September 2021. The resolution was enacted Thursday. Alabama Arise policy analyst Carol Gundlach issued the following statement Friday in response:

“The extension of Pandemic EBT through September 2021 is welcome news for families struggling to make ends meet. P-EBT has been a powerful, flexible tool to fight child hunger during an era of remote learning. The program has helped feed more than 400,000 Alabama children while school buildings are fully or partially closed. Its renewal will help tens of millions of American families keep food on the table.

“P-EBT’s renewal was an important step to help struggling parents afford food during a deep recession and high unemployment. But families still need and deserve a comprehensive relief bill that truly meets the size and scope of suffering that the COVID-19 pandemic has inflicted across Alabama and across our country.

“An adequate relief package would provide enough federal relief to help states avoid cuts to vital services like education and Medicaid. It would renew the $600 weekly federal increase to unemployment insurance benefits. And it would boost nutrition and housing assistance to help millions who are at risk of hunger and homelessness. The House passed legislation that would do those things months ago, and the Senate should do the same.

“The pandemic won’t go away anytime soon. Struggling families need a relief bill that takes meaningful, long-term action to address this health crisis and ease financial suffering. Senators should pass such a bill quickly, and their constituents should accept nothing less.”

Town Hall Tuesdays: What we heard from Arise supporters

Listening is often an underdeveloped skill, yet it is critical for mutual understanding and working together for meaningful change. That’s why Arise is committed to listening to our members, to our allies and most importantly, to those directly affected by the work we do together. We depend on what we hear from you to guide our issue work and our strategies.

This year’s COVID-19 pandemic challenged us to be creative in finding ways to listen. Instead of our usual face-to-face meetings around the state, we hosted a series of six statewide online Town Hall Tuesdays. We held events every two weeks, starting in June and ending Sept. 1. We averaged 65 attendees at each session. Here’s some of what we heard from members and supporters:

  • Affirmation for Medicaid expansion, untaxing groceries and other current Arise issues as important for achieving shared prosperity.
  • Empathy for those who were already living in vulnerable circumstances further strained by the pandemic.
  • Concern about ongoing, intentional barriers to voting, especially during the pandemic.
  • Desire to see more resources to meet the needs of our immigrant neighbors.
  • Alarm about payday and title lending and its impact on people’s lives and our communities.
  • Passion and concern about many other issues, including housing; living wages and pay equity; prison and sentencing reform; gun safety; juvenile justice reform; defunding the police; the Census; environmental justice; quality and funding of public education; and food insecurity and nutrition.
  • Willingness to take informed actions to make a difference in the policies that impact people’s lives.
  • Hope that Alabama can be a better place for all our neighbors to live despite systemic issues and ongoing challenges.

Notes from each town hall

Overviews of the town halls are below. Click the title for a PDF of the notes from the breakout sessions at each town hall.

June 23 – Money talks
We examined how to strengthen education, health care, child care and other services that help Alabamians make ends meet. And we explored ways to fund those services more equitably.

July 7 – Justice for all
We discussed Alabama’s unjust criminal justice system and how to fix it.

July 21 – Getting civic
Discussion focused on protecting voting rights and boosting Census responses during a pandemic.

Aug. 4 – Shared prosperity
We looked at policy solutions to boost opportunity and protect families from economic exploitation.

Aug. 18 – Feeding our families
We explored ways to increase household food security during and after the recession.

Sept. 1 – Closing the coverage gap
Discussion focused on how everyone can help expand Medicaid to ensure coverage for hundreds of thousands of struggling Alabamians. We also heard about the expansion campaign strategies of the Cover Alabama Coalition, headed by Arise campaign director Jane Adams.

Get in touch and stay in touch with Arise

Remember, we didn’t stop listening because the town halls ended. We want to hear from you, and we encourage you to contact the Arise organizer in your area:

We hope to see you at Arise’s online annual meeting Oct. 3!

U.S. Senate still needs to do its job and pass meaningful COVID-19 relief

The U.S. Senate on Thursday failed to advance an inadequate COVID-19 relief plan. Alabama Arise executive director Robyn Hyden issued the following statement Thursday in response:

“The bill that failed in the Senate this week was wholly inadequate to meet the size and scope of suffering that the COVID-19 pandemic has inflicted across Alabama and across our country. Lawmakers shouldn’t leave Washington without approving an adequate, long-term deal to help struggling Americans make ends meet.

“This plan offered nowhere near enough federal relief to help states avoid cuts to vital services like education and Medicaid. It would have cut the previous $600 weekly federal increase to unemployment insurance benefits in half, even though jobs remain hard to find. And it included no nutrition or housing assistance to help millions who are at risk of hunger and homelessness.

“Congress needs to step up and do its job by protecting people from harm. Last month’s executive actions were nothing more than a Band-Aid over a gaping economic wound. And any so-called relief bill that doesn’t help people keep food on the table and a roof over their heads is no relief bill at all.

“The pandemic isn’t going away anytime soon. Struggling families need a relief bill that takes meaningful, long-term action to address this health crisis and ease financial suffering. Senators should pass such a bill quickly, and their constituents should accept nothing less.”

Groups urge Dismukes’ resignation, ask Legislature to dismantle white supremacy through policy change

Alabama Arise logo     Alabama NAACP logo    Greater Birmingham Ministries logo

The following is a joint statement from Alabama Arise, the Alabama State Conference of the NAACP and Greater Birmingham Ministries:

Our elected officials and appointed leaders should respect the full dignity, worth and humanity of all people they represent. We urge all political parties and public officials to acknowledge the harm that white supremacy continues to inflict upon Alabama. And we call upon them to dismantle white supremacist structures through intentional policy changes.

The cause of white supremacy permeates our state’s fundamental governing document. When the president of the 1901 constitutional convention, John Knox, was asked why Alabama needed a new constitution, his answer was clear: “to establish white supremacy in this state.”

Any celebration of Nathan Bedford Forrest of the Ku Klux Klan – a white supremacist terrorist organization – is contrary to the values that Alabamians expect from our leaders, elected officials and neighbors. In celebrating Forrest, Rep. Will Dismukes revealed he is unable or unwilling to represent the best interests of his constituents and his state. We condemn his actions in the strongest possible terms. We also understand this is not the first time Dismukes has celebrated the Confederacy or Forrest in such a manner. Therefore, we join with many other individuals and organizations across Alabama in calling for Dismukes to resign immediately.

Racial equity requires action, not just words

Alabama’s need for racial justice and healing reaches far beyond any one individual. All elected officials must take a hard look at both their actions and the impacts of their policy decisions. Most lawmakers claim to support racial equality, but the results of their policy choices often do not match this claim.

Examples of this mismatch are unfortunately common in our state. The 2017 Memorial Preservation Act prevents localities from removing statues that “honor” the Confederacy without paying a steep fine or getting approval from a panel of legislators that to our knowledge has not approved a removal since the law was enacted. Lawmakers’ failure to expand Medicaid leaves a disproportionate share of African Americans without health insurance during a pandemic. And the absence of racial impact data prevents communities and legislators from evaluating the full effects of state policy choices.

The harsh reality of racial disparities in Alabama

While Dismukes dismisses the need for racial reconciliation in today’s society, we cannot remain ignorant of the truth. We all must reckon with these disparities created and maintained by structural policy barriers:

It’s time for more than talk. Denouncing and rejecting white supremacy is only the beginning. Lawmakers also must enact meaningful policy changes to break down institutional barriers to opportunity and justice for all Alabamians.

You’re invited to Arise’s 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 2021 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 23rd, 6 p.m. Money talks

How can we strengthen education, health care, child care and other services that help Alabamians make ends meet? And how can we fund those services more equitably? Click here to register for this session.

July 7th, 6 p.m. Justice for all

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

July 21st, 6 p.m. Getting civic

How can we protect voting rights and boost Census responses during a pandemic? Click here to register for this session.

August 4th, 6 p.m. Shared prosperity

Policy solutions can boost opportunity and protect families from economic exploitation. Click here to register for this session.

August 18th, 6 p.m. Feeding our families

How can we increase household food security during and after the recession? Click here to register for this session.

September 1st, 6 p.m. Closing the coverage gap

Join the Cover Alabama Coalition to discuss how you can help expand Medicaid. Click here to register for this session.

Alabama must tear down the legacies of slavery and segregation

The monument stood in Birmingham for decades as a twisted tribute to Alabama’s original sins: slavery and white supremacy. It “honored” a violent rebellion that sought to protect the enslavement of human beings. During segregation and Jim Crow and civil rights protests and into the 21st century, it served as a daily 52-foot-tall reminder of the systemic oppression and persecution of Black Alabamians.

That monument is finally gone now. After protests, the city pulled it down June 1, on a state holiday named for the political leader of the rebellion it commemorated. Removing physical symbols of slavery and segregation is an important step toward healing and recovery, but it’s not enough. We also must tear down prejudices, disparities and injustices that trace their roots to these oppressive and racist practices. To do that, Alabama must enact public policies that undermine white supremacy and promote dignity, equity and justice for everyone.

The need for racial justice

For more than 30 years, Alabama Arise has worked to make life better for struggling Alabamians through better public policy. It’s impossible to do that work effectively without acknowledging and challenging our state’s historical and ongoing racial inequities. There can be no economic or social justice without racial justice. And as scholar Ibram X. Kendi said, policy cannot be merely non-racist; it must be anti-racist. That’s why we’re committed to placing racial equity and inclusion at the core of our work.

Black Alabamians have battled generation after generation of discriminatory barriers to education, jobs, housing and voting. Compounding those barriers is a criminal justice system that polices Black people more heavily, arrests them more often and condemns them to harsher sentences in dangerously overcrowded prisons and jails.

For centuries, Black people have suffered from police brutality and unequal treatment from law enforcement. This history has fueled protests across the country and around the world over the last week. Arise stands in solidarity with calls to stop killing Black people and start building a world that’s safe for everyone.

All of these systemic failures have added together to produce a series of terrible, ongoing disparities. Black people in our state face higher rates of poverty and hunger, lower life expectancies and lower rates of employment and health insurance coverage.

Policy changes to break down harmful barriers

These are institutional failures that require policy solutions. Here a few ways lawmakers can help break down barriers to opportunity and justice:

  • Expand Medicaid to cover adults with low incomes. Expansion would ensure health coverage for more than 340,000 Alabamians who are uninsured or barely paying for insurance they can’t really afford. It also would attack a fundamental injustice: People of color make up about 34% of our state’s population, but nearly half of all uninsured Alabamians with low incomes are people of color. Lack of affordable health coverage deprives Black people of timely care for cancer, diabetes, heart disease and other serious conditions. As the disproportionately high share of coronavirus deaths among Black Alabamians shows, health care access is literally a matter of life or death.
  • Invest more in public education. Alabama’s state funding for K-12 and higher education, adjusted for inflation, is lower today than it was in 2008. This chronic underfunding hits many schools that primarily serve Black students especially hard.
  • Equitably distribute funding for affordable housing and public transportation. Alabama has trust funds for both but hasn’t funded them yet. Lawmakers should fund public transportation to help everyone get to work, school and other places they need to go. Alabama should support the Housing Trust Fund to ensure people living in deep poverty have safe shelter. Our state also should commit to eliminating redlining, fighting housing discrimination and proactively reducing residential segregation.
  • Overhaul the criminal justice system and the death penalty. Areas with large Black populations often see a larger police presence. The weight of harsh sentences and criminal justice debt falls more heavily on these Alabamians as a result. Lawmakers should reform sentencing laws and ease the crushing burden of exorbitant fines and fees. They also need to end abuses of civil asset forfeiture and eliminate racial injustice in the state’s death penalty system.
  • Strengthen and expand voting rights. Voting barriers should find no home in the heart of the Civil Rights Movement. Automatic voter registration, no-excuse absentee voting and same-day registration are a few changes that would make voting more accessible. Alabama also should ease barriers to voting rights restoration.
  • Raise the minimum wage and restore home rule to localities. Alabama is one of only five states with no minimum wage law. Birmingham tried to raise its minimum wage in 2016, but state lawmakers blocked that effort. The Legislature has that power due to the 1901 state constitution, whose authors explicitly said the document aimed to “establish white supremacy in this state.” Alabama should lift constitutional barriers to home rule and allow local governments to make decisions in their own communities.

A better, more inclusive future for Alabama

Undoing the legacies of slavery and segregation in Alabama will require more than reassuring words and vague platitudes. It will require substantive policy changes to break down centuries-old barriers and ensure all Alabamians have a chance to reach their full potential.

Many of these changes – and others not mentioned above – won’t be easy. Some of them may not happen quickly. But we must keep advocating and working toward the day when they will. The road to dignity, equity and justice for all Alabamians remains a long one. But walking together and working together, we can and will reach that destination.

How to get help in Alabama during the COVID-19 crisis

Last updated March 16, 2021.

Life is changing quickly for everyone during the coronavirus (COVID-19) public health emergency. Protecting yourself and your family from the virus is the first of many concerns. The pandemic also has left many Alabamians worried about food, health care, housing, job security and other basic needs.

Alabama has a safety net of public assistance programs that can help people through hard times. And Alabama Arise wants to help people connect with the help they need. Use this guide to find services that may fit your needs now, even if you weren’t eligible before.

Response efforts are changing rapidly, so check back for updates to this resource guide as new information becomes available. Email if you have any questions or recommendations for additional resources.

Below is a table of contents covered in this guide. Click on each topic to go to its corresponding section.

Urgent response resources
Health care and insurance
Living with disabilities and mental illness
Food assistance
Income and small business assistance
Housing and utilities assistance
Additional information

 

Urgent response resources

Coronavirus symptoms and health care providers

Know the major symptoms of COVID-19: cough, fever, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing. Other symptoms may include aches, chills, diarrhea, headache, severe vomiting, sore throat, tiredness or new loss of smell or taste.

    • If you experience these symptoms, call your doctor first to get advice on testing and care. Free testing is available at state testing sites. Charges may apply at other testing sites.
    • If you do not have a doctor, call the Alabama COVID-19 Hotline 24/7 at 888-264-2256 for testing sites and hours of operation near you. Note: This hotline does not provide medical advice.
    • If you are uninsured, you may be able to get free treatment for conditions related to COVID-19. The federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act includes a $100 billion emergency fund for health care providers. “As a condition of receiving funds under this program, providers will be forbidden from balance billing the uninsured for the cost of their care,” the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has announced. Check with your local hospital or clinic about this.
    • If you have Medicaid coverage and need help finding a doctor, call 800-362-1504 or click here for a provider directory.
    • For more information on testing in Alabama, visit the Department of Public Health’s COVID-19 Testing page.

Family abuse and domestic violence resources

Prolonged in-home isolation can mask incidents of family abuse and violence, especially toward children, seniors or people with disabilities. People who report abuse or neglect are protected from legal action in response to their reporting.

Members of certain professions are mandatory reporters, meaning they must report suspected or known abuse or neglect. These professions include chiropractors, clergy members, coroners, day care workers or employees, dentists, doctors, law enforcement officials, medical examiners, mental health professionals, nurses, optometrists, osteopaths, pharmacists, podiatrists, social workers and teachers and school officials.

– If you are experiencing domestic violence (that is, if someone in your family or someone you’re in a relationship with is hurting or threatening you), call the Alabama domestic violence hotline at 800-650-6522. This hotline is answered 24/7, and you do not have to give your name to get help.

– To report suspected child abuse or neglect, including failure to seek medical treatment, call your county Department of Human Resources or local law enforcement. Do not email reports of suspected abuse or neglect, as they may not get prompt attention. 

– To report elder abuse, call the Adult Abuse Hotline at 800-458-7214.

– To report abuse in an assisted living facility or nursing home, call 800-356-9596.

Other contact numbers to know

– If you need legal help anywhere in Alabama to protect your right to disability services, call the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program (ADAP) at 205-348-4928 or use the online intake form here.

– If you are a survivor of sexual assault, you can call the sexual assault hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673). You will be connected with a trained sexual assault service provider in your area.

– If you are experiencing homelessness and need shelter, call 2-1-1 and ask for a list of shelters in your area.

– If you need legal help for a problem related to COVID-19, call Legal Services Alabama at 877-393-2333 or click here.

– To report COVID-19-related price gouging or scams, contact these hotlines:

 

Health care and insurance

The risk of COVID-19 exposure, complications and death varies widely by job, age and health condition. That’s why the new vaccines are being offered in phases, with those deemed at highest risk getting the first doses.

The groups eligible for COVID-19 vaccination as of mid-March 2021 are health care workers and other front-line workers, emergency responders, residents and staff of nursing facilities and congregate care settings, and people over 65 years of age. The next groups slated for eligibility are people with underlying health conditions and critical workforce not included in earlier groups.

Supply shortages have been a major obstacle in Alabama’s vaccination rollout, but new vaccine products and a manufacturing push are improving the outlook. For more information, visit alabamapublichealth.gov.

Important information about the COVID-19 vaccines

Here are some important things to know about the vaccines:

  • All approved vaccines have been through the full testing process for any U.S. vaccine. They’ve come out more quickly because testing and manufacturing were scaled up for the emergency.
  • The Johnson & Johnson vaccine comes in one dose. The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines come in two doses, several weeks apart. If you get either of those, you will need to get the second dose of the same vaccine you got the first time. The person who gives you your vaccine will explain how to get your follow-up shot.
  • Your health care provider is your best source of information about the vaccine and how to get it. If you don’t have a regular provider, contact your county health department or a local clinic about how and when to get the vaccine.
  • The vaccine will be free to everyone. Some providers may charge an administrative fee. If you cannot pay the fee, tell your provider. You can still get the vaccine.
  • Lots of false information is circulating about the vaccines. Be sure to confirm anything you hear or read with information from a reliable source, such as your health care provider, your county health department or a local clinic.
  • Vaccines are being distributed as soon as they are available. Because the supply is limited at this stage, it’s important to follow official guidance on which phase is the one for you. In the meantime, continue taking precautions and be patient. Everyone will have the opportunity to get the vaccine.

COVID-19 puts people without health insurance at special risk for delayed care and financial disaster. Federal and state governments are making changes to help people who are uninsured or at risk of losing coverage.

COVID-19 care

If you are uninsured, you may be able to get free treatment for conditions related to COVID-19. The federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act includes a $100 billion emergency fund for health care providers. “As a condition of receiving funds under this program, providers will be forbidden from balance billing the uninsured for the cost of their care,” the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has announced. Check with your local hospital or clinic about this.

Medicaid

Alabama Medicaid is taking action help during the health emergency. No co-pays for services and medicine covered by Medicaid. No referrals needed for EPSDT, PCPs or DHCPs. ACHN care coordination available to help by phone. Mental health services are available. No cancellation of coverage during emergency unless you move out of state or you request it. Encouraging use of telemedicine. Medicaid covers all COVID-19 testing and treatment. Call your doctor.
Courtesy of Alabama Medicaid Agency

If you had Medicaid coverage of any kind during March 2020, or if you become eligible later, your coverage will not be terminated for any reason before the crisis has ended, unless you cancel it yourself or move out of Alabama. This includes postpartum coverage for women who recently have given birth. If your case was open in March but has already closed, please be patient. Medicaid will reopen your case very soon.

To help keep your Medicaid from ending after the emergency:

  • Report any information changes.
  • Renew your Medicaid at the scheduled time.

If you have Medicaid coverage, you do not have to pay co-pays to the hospital, doctor’s office, pharmacy or for medical equipment and supplies during the coronavirus emergency.

To make changes to your Medicaid or if you have questions, call 800-362-1504. You also can make changes online through My Medicaid.

Apply for health coverage

If you are younger than 65 and have lost your job, regular pay or hours in the coronavirus emergency, find out if you and your family can get health insurance through Medicaid, ALL Kids or the Marketplace.

Alabama has 17 community health centers, with more than 165 locations across the state, that provide comprehensive primary care and preventive services on a sliding fee scale, regardless of patients’ insurance status. Services include:

  • COVID-19 testing
  • General primary medical care
  • Diagnostic laboratory and radiology
  • Preventive screenings
  • Well check-ups
  • Dental services
  • Immunizations
  • OB-GYN care
  • Pharmaceutical services
  • Other services that vary by location (mental health care, optometry, substance use disorder treatment, etc.)

To find the nearest health center, visit Find My Health Center and enter your ZIP code. Or call the Alabama Primary Health Care Association at 888-322-7068 from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. Some details of operation are changing because of COVID-19, so call your local center before visiting.

 

Living with disabilities and mental illness

If you or someone you know lives with a disability or mental illness and needs help during the COVID-19 crisis, use this guide from Disability Rights and Resources to find relevant resources by topic and location.

If you need legal help anywhere in Alabama to protect your right to disability services, call the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program (ADAP) at 205-348-4928 or use the online intake form here.

 

Food assistance

Widespread job losses from COVID-19 are making many more Alabamians eligible for public food assistance and other nutrition supports. To help prevent hunger during the health and economic crisis, state and local food programs are making changes in how they operate.

Local food assistance

Alabama has a network of nonprofit food banks that collect, store and distribute groceries to food pantries, where families can get free food directly. To learn more about food assistance in your area and find a local food pantry, check out the Auburn Justice Center’s food pantry map. Or contact the food bank nearest you:

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

Alabama provides federal food assistance through SNAP (formerly known as food stamps). Monthly SNAP benefits help eligible households with low incomes buy the food they need to maintain good health. Loss of income in the COVID-19 crisis is making many more families eligible for SNAP.

You can apply for SNAP through the Department of Human Resources (DHR) here.

  • To create a new My DHR account, you will need to provide your name, date of birth, contact information, preferred username and password. You also will need to set up three security questions for your account’s protection.
  • To get help applying for SNAP, call 877-833-2550 or click here.
  • If you are a senior or have a disability, you can find a simplified application here.
  • To get help filling out the simplified application, call 800-438-2958.

WIC Program 

Women, Infants and Children (WIC) is a supplemental nutrition program for pregnant or breastfeeding women; women who had a baby within the last six months; infants; and children under age 5. To receive WIC benefits in Alabama, an individual or family must meet all of these requirements:

  1. Live in Alabama.
  2. Meet income guidelines.
  3. Have a nutritional risk that healthier food could improve.

If you think you may qualify, call your county health department to make an appointment, or call 888-942-4673 for further information. The Alabama WIC Program offers free communication assistance at each clinic location. During the coronavirus emergency, the health department is conducting interviews and nutrition assessments by phone.

If you or your children are approved for WIC, you will be prescribed a specific package of food based on your nutritional assessment. You will receive a debit-like card called an EBT (electronic benefits transfer) card that you can use to purchase food from your personalized food package. Learn more about WIC food options here.

Your options will be based on your age and need. Not everyone approved for WIC will be able to get every food item on the list. During the coronavirus emergency, the Department of Public Health is allowing some substitutions if not all the food in your package is available in the grocery store. Your grocer can help you figure out what you can substitute for a WIC food that is unavailable.

Children’s meal services

When schools closed or offered hybrid schedules, millions of children lost access to school meals. In response, Congress created a special program called Pandemic EBT (P-EBT). P-EBT provides eligible households with the same benefits as the National School Lunch Program ($6.82 a day for each child not receiving meals at school, prorated for children attending school on a hybrid schedule).

In October, Congress reauthorized and expanded P-EBT to include children under 6, living in a household receiving SNAP assistance and living in an area where day care centers or schools are closed. The new round of P-EBT assistance should become available later this spring and will be retroactive to the start of Alabama’s 2020-21 school year. Meanwhile, the earlier payments will remain active and usable for 365 days from the date issued.

If you believe your family was eligible but didn’t receive a P-EBT card, call DHR’s P-EBT Customer Service at 800-410-5827. You also can email DHR with questions at .

Extension of Summer Food Service Program

The 2020-21 school year began with many uncertainties for classrooms and school cafeterias. Despite detailed USDA guidelines for distributing school meals, child nutrition staff grappled with implementing practical methods to serve meals to incoming students. While some districts opted for on-site learning plans and specified food service procedures, most relied on virtual learning curriculums and grab-and-go meals for remote learners.

Parents and child nutrition staff received relief when Congress extended the Summer Food Service Program through the 2020-21 school year. Extending this program ensures that all school-age children receive school meals at no charge to parents.

Elevated COVID-19 rates have since forced most school districts to convert to remote or hybrid learning methods and accompanying grab-and-go meal options. Plans continue to vary from district to district and are likely to change in response to local conditions and experiences. To get updates on your school’s nutrition plan for the 2020-21 school year, contact your local board of education.

Para asistencia en español oprima el siguiente enlace.

Senior nutrition programs

Alabama provides prepared meals for eligible seniors through several programs, some of which have changed their operation during the emergency. Any Alabamian who is aged 60 or over, or is married to someone who is, is eligible. People with disabilities who live with an eligible participant or in a living community where the senior nutrition program operates are also eligible.

Meals on Wheels continues to operate in all regions, though some programs have suspended hot meal delivery because of reduced volunteer capacity and other factors. All senior centers in Alabama are closed under the emergency order, but everyone who participated in senior center meals is getting Meals on Wheels delivery, unless they choose otherwise. Alabama has received emergency funding to enroll new participants during the pandemic.

Area Agencies on Aging by region and county

 

Income and small business assistance

Unemployment insurance (UI)

To file unemployment compensation claims, visit www.labor.alabama.gov or call 1-866-234-5382.
Courtesy of Alabama Department of Labor

If you lost your job or had your hours or pay reduced because of the pandemic, you may be eligible for unemployment insurance (UI) benefits, also called unemployment compensation. Some normal administrative rules apply, but the state has suspended its job search requirement and the requirement to be able and available to work.

Even if you haven’t been laid off or furloughed, you still can qualify for benefits if one of these is true:

  • Officials placed you in mandatory quarantine.
  • You’re sick with COVID-19.
  • You must care for an immediate family member diagnosed with COVID-19.

Click here for more information from the Alabama Department of Labor.

The state has stopped penalizing employers for higher employee use of UI benefits. If you’re laid off, make sure your employer knows its UI costs won’t rise if you file a claim. This removes the incentive to dispute it.

Alabama provides 14 to 20 weeks of basic UI compensation. Five more weeks are available for people in job training programs, which face an uncertain status during the pandemic.

  • Compensation ranges from $45 to $275 weekly.
  • Payments equal 1/26 of the wages you earned in the two highest quarters, up to the weekly limit of $275.

Until July 31, the federal government provided a $600 weekly supplement to all UI and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance beneficiaries. Congress is considering an extension in the next COVID-19 relief package.

If you lose your job or hours and need to file or reopen a claim, follow the steps here or call 866-234-5382 (select option 2). Note: Filing a claim requires patience. The website is complicated, and current call volume is high.

If your claim is denied, contact the Alabama State Bar’s Volunteer Lawyer Program for advice. Or call Legal Services Alabama at 866-456-4995.

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)

Some people in the labor force do not qualify for traditional unemployment insurance (UI) compensation. But many will be covered under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act’s provision for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. You are federally eligible for PUA if you are ineligible for regular UI compensation and you are out of work or have lost working hours because of COVID-19.

This provision applies to:

  • Independent contractors who have not participated in the UI system.
  • Workers who have not earned enough wages to get UI benefits.
  • Workers who earned wages in too few quarters to qualify for UI benefits.
  • “Gig workers,” such as rideshare drivers, online sellers and pet-sitters.

The process for filing for PUA is the same as filing a UI claim.

Stimulus payments for people who didn’t receive them automatically

The CARES Act created Economic Impact Payments of $1,200 for each eligible adult and $500 for each eligible child. A second round of relief payments of $600 per adult went out early in 2021. And the American Rescue Plan Act, passed in March 2021, will provide $1,400 payments for most Americans.

Many Alabamians who haven’t received payments don’t file federal income tax returns because they don’t earn enough to owe taxes. Others don’t receive Social Security, veterans’ benefits or other direct federal payments.

Click here to check the status of your filed claim. You also can register for any upcoming payments at this site.

Eligible people who missed a filing deadline or did not receive the full amount to which they were entitled still can receive the full amount of their relief payments. If this applies to you, claim the Recovery Rebate Credit when filing federal income taxes for the 2020 filing year. The deadline for 2020 returns is April 15, 2021.

If you’re eligible and have a bank account, your payment will be sent there. If you don’t have a bank account, the IRS will send a check or prepaid debit card. Direct deposits usually arrive within one to two weeks if there are no errors in the information provided. Checks and prepaid debit cards often take longer.

Relief for small business owners 

Our nation’s small businesses are facing an unprecedented economic disruption with the COVID-19 pandemic. The CARES Act contains $376 billion in relief for American workers and small businesses. In addition to traditional programs from the Small Business Administration (SBA), the CARES Act established several new temporary programs to address the COVID-19 outbreak. You can find a comprehensive list here.

If you need help with the SBA’s relief options, the agency offers free business counseling by region. Click here to find assistance near you.

Help for small farmers and farmers markets

The Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Association (ASAN) has mini-grants available to help small farmers and farmers markets weather the pandemic. The grants are available in Blount, Jefferson, Shelby, St. Clair and Walker counties. Click here for more ASAN resources for small farmers and farmers markets.

 

Housing and utilities assistance

Federal and state governments have taken numerous steps to protect people from loss of housing and essential utilities during the COVID-19 emergency.

Eviction moratorium

On Sept. 1, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) placed a moratorium on evictions for most Americans. This moratorium is in effect in Alabama, even though Gov. Kay Ivey lifted state-level eviction protections June 1. But the CDC’s moratorium is only in effect through March 31, 2021. If the moratorium is not extended, the lack of state protections for renters means evictions for nonpayment will resume.

To qualify for protection under this moratorium, applicants must submit a statement to their landlords. The statement must assert that the applicant meets each of these five standards:

  • Has used best efforts to obtain available government housing assistance.
  • Meets financial requirements. (The 2020 income eligibility threshold is no more than $99,000 for an individual or $198,000 for a married couple.)
  • Is unable to pay full rent due to substantial loss of income or high medical expenses.
  • Is making efforts to pay the amount possible.
  • Would likely become homeless or live in a shared space if evicted.

People who are behind on their rent or utilities or who are facing evictions can find help from agencies that have received federal relief funds to prevent homelessness during the pandemic. The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA) has received $23 million for homelessness assistance and relief. Local nonprofit agencies have received these ADECA funds and can make rent and utility payments for people who are behind. To find out who in your area can help with rent and utilities, call 2-1-1 or visit 211connectsalabama.org.

The Alabama Housing Financing Authority administers a separate fund of $256 million that can help with past due rent and utilities. To find out more and apply for assistance, call 833-620-2434 or click here.

Housing assistance

The CDC emergency action does not remove the legal requirement to pay rent. It also does not prevent evictions for reasons other than nonpayment.

  • If your landlord gives you an eviction notice or says you’re being evicted, call Legal Services Alabama at 866-456-4995.
  • If you become homeless due to eviction or any other reason, call 2-1-1 for shelter referral and rapid rehousing assistance.

You also can call 2-1-1 if you need help paying rental deposits, first month’s rent or a mortgage payment. Ask for a referral to an agency that receives Homeless Prevention and Rapid Rehousing funds. These funds can be used to prevent evictions, help cover the costs of a new rental or cover utility bills that may lead to loss of housing.

If your income is very low and you need help paying rent, the Alabama Department of Human Resources (DHR) may be able to help with short-term assistance. You can find your local DHR office here.

If you are in an unstable housing situation, call the Low Income Housing Coalition of Alabama at 205-939-0411.

If your landlord changes locks or cuts off utilities to force you out, call Legal Services Alabama at 866-456-4995.

Keeping your electricity and water services on

Though no statewide process exists for utility assistance, some providers have stopped shutoffs. And some utility payment assistance funds are available through the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).

If you need utility bill payment assistance through LIHEAP, contact the Community Action Agency (CAA) serving the county where you live.  Find your local CAA here.

If you are unable to pay your utility bills, call your utility provider and ask for a deferment.

 

Additional information

To find other assistance in your area, call the statewide helpline at 2-1-1. This number will connect you to your area’s information and referral system. You also can click here to search for local help online. 2-1-1 is available 24/7 by phone and online to help you find assistance with clothing, employment, food, health care, housing, legal problems and other needs from government and non-government agencies.

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