Learn more about Arise’s 2020 issue proposals

Grassroots democracy will be on display when Alabama Arise members choose our 2020 issue priorities at our annual meeting Sept. 7 in Montgomery.

The following proposals will be up for a vote for our 2020 legislative agenda.

Below, you’ll find member groups’ summaries of their new and modified proposals. And you’ll find our policy staff’s overviews of the current issue priorities and our two permanent priorities: tax reform and adequate state budgets. We hope to see you in September as we gather to renew our shared commitment to building a better Alabama for all!

New issue proposal

Housing Trust Fund revenue

Submitted by Gordon Sullivan, Low Income Housing Coalition of Alabama (LIHCA)

LIHCA thanks Alabama Arise and its members for supporting the Housing Trust Fund in 2018 and previous years. Our combined efforts resulted in social and political momentum to secure dedicated revenue for the Alabama Housing Trust Fund (AHTF)! We are here to ask for your continued support of the AHTF and help in securing dedicated revenue for the fund in 2020.

We believe safe, decent and affordable housing is a basic human right. Hard-working Alabamians should be able to pay rent and still be able to put food on the table. Unfortunately for many Alabamians, finding a safe and affordable home is only a dream. Alabama is in a housing crisis, with a lack of nearly 70,000 rental homes for folks surviving on minimum wage and fixed incomes.

Folks making minimum wage have to work 82 hours a week to afford a market-rate two-bedroom apartment. By doing so, they miss out on family suppers and Little League, because there simply aren’t enough hours in the day. Every child deserves a safe place to call home and a chance to have those who love them help with homework and read bedtime stories.

The AHTF created a fund to construct, rehabilitate and maintain homes for low-income households. Though the AHTF was created in 2012, it was enabling legislation and did not come with funding. That means we can’t create any new or rehabilitate any existing homes or address housing problems related to natural disasters. That is why LIHCA will seek dedicated revenue for the AHTF in 2020.

Proposed legislation to fund the AHTF

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Neil Rafferty, D-Birmingham, would increase the mortgage record tax from 15 cents to 20 cents for every $100 of a mortgage. This would put approximately $15 million per year in the AHTF. This type of revenue is a common funding source for housing trust funds across the country. In Alabama, this tax has not been increased since it was enacted in 1935.

We know that two-thirds of Alabamians (67%) see the lack of affordability as a problem in our state and that a strong majority (63%) of Alabamians are ready for state action to increase housing opportunities for households priced out of the market. Building on the momentum of previous years, we believe attaining bipartisan co-sponsors and endorsements from influential groups throughout the state is possible in 2020.

With the creation of new affordable homes in Alabama, families will begin to achieve economic stability. Communities will reduce blight. And the state will see an economic impact of nearly $1 billion over 10 years.

The dedicated revenue bill supports Arise’s values and its membership’s vision for addressing poverty in Alabama by investing in communities and helping low-income households access safe and affordable homes. The dedicated revenue bill will provide $15 million per year to create and rehabilitate homes for those in need. We have been successful in building momentum with Arise’s support in past years. Let’s work together to finish what we started!

Modified issue proposal

Voting rights

Submitted by Scott Douglas and Tari Williams, Greater Birmingham Ministries, and Ned Freeman, Birmingham Friends Meeting (Quakers)

Let’s build on Arise’s commitment to voting rights, continuing to prioritize automatic voter registration (AVR) and focusing on restoration of voting rights for Alabamians affected by felony disenfranchisement. Under AVR, Alabamians would be registered to vote by default, without having to register themselves, because the state already has the necessary information. And restoring voting rights for everyone would affirm basic ideals of democracy.

Historically, Alabama has been a leader among states with the most severely punitive disenfranchisement laws. These laws, with their blatantly racist history, have kept African Americans from the polls in enormous – and enormously disproportionate – numbers. Of the more than 280,000 disenfranchised felons in Alabama, nearly 150,000 are black, according to the Sentencing Project. That means that disenfranchised felons make up more than 15% of the state’s voting-age African American population.

Alabama’s felony disenfranchisement policies have disparate impact on individuals convicted of felonies who are poor, black or both. Therefore, we propose the introduction of legislation that will (a) remove the financial barrier of requiring payment of all fines, fees and/or restitution and (b) restore voting rights to individuals while on probation and parole. This legislation is not cost-prohibitive, may take one to three years to pass because of upcoming elections and is not potentially divisive for Arise members.

Alabama’s disenfranchisement laws have fostered an underclass of tens of thousands of people who are unable to vote because they do not have enough money. In 1964, the 24th Amendment abolished the poll tax, but to this day in Alabama, money keeps a disproportionate number of people away from the ballot box. People should not be barred from voting solely because they are unable to pay back their fines, fees and restitution.

Restoring voting rights to rebuild community ties

If we truly want people convicted of felonies to re-engage with society, become rehabilitated and feel a part of a broader community (thus creating incentives not to recidivate), then our state should do everything possible to reincorporate these individuals into mainstream society. In terms of being a just and even-handed society, it is not fair if thousands of people are unable to regain their voting rights because they are poor. People who are wealthy or have access to money are able to repay their financial debts. But poor people (the vast majority of people who have felony convictions) are not. This is an unjust system.

Individuals on probation and/or parole are actively working on retaining and/or rebuilding their ties to their families, employers and communities. Allowing them to reestablish ties as stakeholders in political life provides an analogous and important reintegrative purpose and promotes public safety.

Felony disenfranchisement provisions, especially in the South and particularly in Alabama, date back to the post-Reconstruction era. Their intent was always clear and explicit: to disenfranchise African Americans and preserve white domination.

Restoring voting rights and automatically registering voters is good policy. Arise prioritizing these policies also has the immediate benefit of putting a positive voting rights agenda in the public debate during an era when voting has been under attack.

Current Arise issue priorities

Criminal justice debt reform

Court fees and fines impose heavy burdens on many struggling families. Driver’s license suspensions over unpaid fines can cause Alabamians with low incomes to lose their jobs. Cash bail for minor offenses can imperil families’ economic security. And multiple fees can stack up, making it impossible to move on from a conviction because consequences never end. In Alabama, people are subject to 63 separate fees in the criminal justice system – including even a $1 fee for paying fee installments.

This year, Arise emphasized reforming civil asset forfeiture within the umbrella of criminal justice debt. This practice allows police to seize cash or other assets if they find probable cause to link the property to a crime. But the process doesn’t require a criminal conviction, or even a charge.

Originally intended to fight drug kingpins, civil asset forfeiture today sees heavy use against people accused of minor crimes. Underfunded law enforcement agencies have incentives to use forfeiture because they are often able to keep much of the seized property.

A philosophically diverse coalition is seeking to end forfeiture abuses in Alabama, and reform efforts already have borne fruit. In 2019, comprehensive reform efforts moved quickly at first but then slowed amid law enforcement opposition. Eventually, the Legislature passed incremental reform, mandating public reporting of property seizures. Public opinion strongly favors further change, and momentum continues to build.

Death penalty reform

Alabama’s capital punishment system is unreliable and racist. Our state hands down nearly double the national average of death sentences. We are the only state with no state-funded program providing legal aid to death row prisoners. And state laws give insufficient protection against executing people who were mentally incapable of understanding their actions.

Arise has worked for increased transparency on the lethal injection procedures and a three-year moratorium on executions. Bills were introduced but did not move in recent years. In 2017, the Legislature voted overwhelmingly to bar judges from imposing death sentences when a jury recommends life without parole. But the judicial override ban is not retroactive. About a fifth of the 175 people on Alabama’s death row received death sentences against the jury’s recommendation. We would like to enforce the override ban retroactively.

Alabama’s death penalty practices reflect deep racial inequities. Before the 2017 ban, judges imposed death against a jury’s determination more often when victims were white. The state argued as recently as 2016 that it should be allowed to kill a prisoner even when a judge explicitly cited race at the sentencing hearing. Much work remains to modernize Alabama’s justice system and prevent erroneous executions.

Payday and title lending reform

Every year, high-interest loans trap thousands of struggling Alabamians in a cycle of deep debt. Payday loans are short-term (usually two-week) loans charging high annual percentage rates (APRs), up to 456%. Auto title loans charge up to 300% APR and also carry the risk of repossession of the family vehicle.

These high-cost loans strip wealth from borrowers and hurt communities across Alabama. Payday lenders are on track to pull more than $1 billion in fees out of Alabama communities over the next decade, with most of that money flowing to out-of-state companies. Predatory lending practices disproportionately target people of color and exacerbate the economic challenges in struggling rural and urban communities.

Arise is part of a statewide coalition promoting interest rate caps on payday and title loans. In 2019, we supported legislation to give payday borrowers a 30-day repayment period – the same as other monthly bills – up from as few as 10 days now. But the bill didn’t move, despite the Senate Banking Committee chairman’s assurances that he would allow a vote.

The 30 Days to Pay bill’s sponsor – Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur – is working to ensure it will receive consideration early in the 2020 regular session. Heavy citizen engagement will be needed to overcome the lending lobby.

Public transportation

Our state’s jumble of local transportation systems fails to meet the needs of many people in rural, suburban and urban areas. Alabama is one of just five states with no state public transportation funding. For many low-income workers, seniors and people with disabilities, the transit gap is a barrier to daily living. Many folks can’t get to work, school, the doctor’s office or other places they need to go in a reasonable amount of time.

Alabama took a good first step in 2018 by creating a state Public Transportation Trust Fund. But the law did not allocate any state money, even though it would be a high-return investment in our future. Each $1 million invested in public transportation creates 41 full-time jobs, research shows. Those jobs would fuel economic growth and improve quality of life in our communities.

Appropriations for the state trust fund would be eligible for a 4-to-1 federal match. So by not funding public transit, Alabama leaves millions of federal dollars on the table each year.

The General Fund remains a key potential source for state public transit funding. Greater Birmingham Ministries’ Economic Justice/Systems Change group also has urged Arise to support legislation in 2020 to allow Alabamians to dedicate part of their state income tax refund to public transit. The state already allows voluntary contributions for mental health care, foster care and other public services.

Compiled by Dev Wakeley, policy analyst

Permanent Arise issue priorities

Adequate state budgets

Our state’s upside-down tax system starves state budgets of money needed to invest in our shared future. Alabama provides almost no state money for child care. In-home services for parents of at-risk children receive a paltry $3 million a year, far less than other states. And young adults struggle to afford rising tuition and fees at universities and two-year colleges.

Alabama must address comprehensive sentencing and prison reform in 2020. The General Fund budget will need more revenue to pay for stronger investments in mental health care, substance use treatment, drug courts, community corrections and more corrections officers.

Arise’s health care advocacy has three main goals: defend, reform and expand Medicaid. Our defense work this year focused on Alabama’s pending plan to impose a catch-22 work penalty, which would strip Medicaid from thousands of parents with extremely low incomes. Looking ahead, we expect a new push to cut Medicaid by block-granting federal Medicaid funds to states.

We’ve seen progress on Medicaid reform. The statewide Integrated Care Network (ICN) for long-term care launched last October. And the long-delayed regional primary care reform takes effect this October. Arise has recruited consumer representatives for the ICN governing board and all seven Alabama Coordinated Health Network (ACHN) boards. Next year, we’ll push for the next step: Medicaid expansion, which would benefit more than 340,000 Alabama adults.

Tax reform

Alabama’s tax system is upside down. The rich get huge tax breaks, while the heaviest tax burden falls on people with low and moderate incomes. High, regressive sales taxes on groceries and other necessities drive this imbalance. So does the state’s deduction for federal income taxes (FIT), a skewed break that overwhelmingly benefits wealthy people.

Arise has fought to end the grocery tax for more than a decade. The central challenge is how to replace the $480 million it raises for education. In 2020, we’ll intensify our efforts to show legislators the powerful link between untaxing groceries and ending the FIT deduction.

Alabama is one of only three states where filers can deduct all federal income tax payments from state income taxes. This tax break disproportionately benefits wealthy people, who pay more in federal income taxes and are more likely to itemize. Ending the FIT deduction would bring in enough revenue to untax groceries, fund Medicaid expansion and meet other critical needs.

Compiled by Jim Carnes, policy director, and Carol Gundlach, policy analyst

Enhanced child care funding makes life better for Alabama’s children and families

Quality, affordable child care is essential for families seeking to escape poverty and participate in employment, education and training activities. The Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG), a federally funded program that subsidizes care for low and moderate-income parents of young children, provides critical funding for affordable child care.

In Alabama, CCDBG funds are administered by the Department of Human Resources (DHR). The agency also administers the closely related Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) cash assistance program. Congress reauthorized the CCDBG in 2014 and included significant quality improvement goals for states. In 2018, Congress provided a historic CCDBG funding increase, allowing DHR to serve more Alabama children in higher-quality settings.

The importance of federal child care funding in Alabama

Federal CCDBG funding has increased, allowing Alabama to expand access to child care and improve quality. In 2017, Alabama received $53.2 million in discretionary CCDBG funds from Congress. The 2018 federal funding increase grew Alabama’s CCDBG grant to $93.9 million – a 76.5% increase.

Alabama faces deadlines to obligate and expend federal funds. Like other states, Alabama must obligate 2018 federal CCDBG dollars by Sept. 30, 2019, and expend those dollars by Sept. 30, 2020. Alabama is on track to meet the obligation and spending deadlines and anticipates no problem obligating or spending the grant.[1]

The additional CCDBG money was enormously important for child care in Alabama. The state does not provide any child care funding, except for the required match for the federal Child Care Entitlement to States grant, and does not use federal TANF funds for child care.[2] Alabama includes state-appropriated funds for pre-K education as a portion of its TANF maintenance of effort (MOE) obligation. But these funds were not, and could not be, supplanted with additional federal dollars.

How Alabama is using new CCDBG funding

Alabama used its new federal dollars to make investments that benefit children, families, workers and communities. The funding increase allowed Alabama to expand child care access and come into compliance with the 2014 reauthorization law. The state also made numerous improvements to its subsidized child care system.

According to officials and contractors with DHR,[1] the state has:

1. Eliminated the waiting list for child care slots. In 2017, Alabama provided child care subsidies to slightly more than 38,000 children. In April 2019, 42,000 children received subsidies, and slots remain available for more children.[3] The state’s regional Child Care Management Agencies, which determine eligibility for subsidies and help enroll children, are actively using social media and word of mouth to recruit new children.[1] Eligible families now can access care within one week of application.[1]

2. Increased initial subsidy eligibility from 100% of the federal poverty level (FPL) to 130%. That income is about $28,000 a year for a family of three.

3. Eliminated all copays that were less than $18 per month. This essentially eliminated copays for all families with income below the FPL.[1]

4. Increased provider rates twice.[1] Alabama now reimburses providers beginning at 70% of fair market rates. That is a significant increase over the prior reimbursement rates ranging from 14% to 40% of fair market rates. While this does not reach the federally recommended base level of 75%, it is a major improvement over prior years.

5. Allowed training and technical assistance providers, such as Childcare Resources in Birmingham and the Family Guidance Center in Montgomery, to offer training to workers at faith-based exempt facilities, schools, YMCAs and other exempt centers.[1] These providers also were able to increase bonuses paid to workers who participate in on-the-job training.

6. Increased scholarships for child care workers studying early childhood education, including scholarships up to the bachelor’s level.

7. Increased child care for recently unemployed parents to 90 days (up from 30 days) while they seek new jobs. DHR is planning a program that would include unemployed parents in workforce development so they will not lose child care after the 90-day period ends.

8. Expanded Help Me Grow, a referral and case-management system for children ages birth through 8, including more referrals to child care and to other health and developmental services, such as obesity prevention.[1]

9. Expanded the First Five program, which teaches parents and child care workers best practices for promoting social and emotional development of young children.

Disparities and barriers to child care access in Alabama

Alabama has significant racial and ethnic disparities in who receives child care assistance. In 2016 (the latest data available), 79% of children receiving child care subsidies were African American.[4] This is significantly higher than the national rate of 39%, as reported by the Center on Law and Social Policy (CLASP).[5] Approximately 29.5% of Alabama children are African American, and their poverty rate is more than twice that for whites. This is a major driver of the racial disparity in receipt of child care assistance.

Alabama is among the bottom five states in the share of eligible Hispanic children receiving child care subsidies, CLASP found. The state provides child care assistance to only 1% of potentially eligible Hispanic children.[5]

Providers suggested language barriers, fear of immigration enforcement, lack of knowledge of the availability of child care subsidies, and reliance on care by family members contribute to low participation among Hispanic families. Past outreach efforts by community-based Hispanic organizations have been unsuccessful. But efforts to encourage Hispanic parents to apply for family care subsidies are expanding and may help increase participation.[1]

Who would benefit from greater eligibility for subsidized child care?

More Alabama children are now eligible for subsidies, but there is room for further growth. Federal law sets the maximum income for receipt of a child care subsidy at 85% of a state’s median family income (MFI). At this level, 258,662 Alabama children were income-eligible for subsidized child care in 2016, CLASP reports.[5]

Like most states, Alabama sets eligibility for subsidized child care below the federal maximum. Prior to the receipt of new federal funds, Alabama set eligibility at 100% FPL. But after the new funds became available, Alabama raised eligibility to 130% FPL.

Based on that standard, 139,950 Alabama children are now eligible for subsidies, according to CLASP. If Alabama increased the subsidy eligibility standard to 85% MFI, an additional 118,712 children would become eligible for a subsidy.

In April 2019, Alabama provided child care subsidies to approximately 42,000 children, or 35% of kids who are income-eligible at 130% FPL. This is a significant increase from both 2016, when 32,651 children received subsidies, and 2017, when 38,025 children were served.[6]

While more slots are available to serve children beyond the current 42,000, federal funding is still not enough to serve all children in the state eligible at 130% FPL, according to DHR.[1] Absent additional federal funding or new state funding for child care, another increase in the eligibility standard is unlikely.

Affordable child care helps families make ends meet

Most Alabama families have a hard time meeting basic needs, including child care. Children in Alabama whose family income is less than 130% FPL are eligible for subsidized child care. (For a family of three, 130% FPL is $27,729 annually.)

Nowhere in Alabama does the cost of a modest standard of living fall below the cap for subsidized child care. The Economic Policy Institute’s Family Budget Calculator[7] estimates that the annual cost of living for two adults and one child in Huntsville is $63,360, including $430 per month for child care. In Selma, meanwhile, the annual estimated cost of living for the same family size is $56,695, including $387 per month for child care. And in Dothan, the annual estimated cost is $61,005, including $414 per month for child care.

The geography of child care access in Alabama

The share of young children Alabama’s child care market can serve is inadequate and varies widely by geography. No congressional district in Alabama has enough child care slots to serve every child under age 6 in the district, according to the Center for American Progress.[8] (See the table below.)

The lack of slots is particularly severe in some districts in north and central Alabama. The 4th Congressional District has only enough licensed child care slots to serve 20% of potentially eligible children. And the neighboring 6th Congressional District has only enough slots to serve 19% of potentially eligible children.

Both the 4th and 6th Districts have a disproportionate number of unlicensed, faith-based centers, a challenge discussed below.[1] Large areas of both districts are also economic suburbs of Birmingham, which is largely in the 7th Congressional District. Interviews with providers suggested residents of these counties might prefer child care facilities near their jobs rather than their homes.[1]

Providers interviewed suggested several changes that could increase the availability of care. These include increased subsidies for family day care homes and kinship care and higher reimbursement rates for center care, especially at initial certification.

State child care administrators also agree that more providers are needed, particularly in areas near U.S. 80, which runs through the 2nd, 3rd and 7th Congressional Districts in Alabama’s Black Belt.[1] They believe the state has a critical need for day care homes, centers offering non-traditional hours, centers that can provide infant and toddler care, and providers who can care for children with special needs.

Availability of licensed child care by Alabama congressional district

Alabama congressional district   Children    under 6 Percentage of  children under 6 in poverty Number of licensed         child care slots Share of young  children that market can serve
1    51,900 23%  16,316 31%
2    49,400 23%  19,928 40%
3    49,700 21%  14,077 28%
4    48,600 28%  9,676 20%
5    49,000 22%  15,100 31%
6    52,000 10%  9,828 19%
7    49,900 34%  20,600 41%

The child care shortage in rural Alabama

Alabama has a shortage of group and family child care homes, and this shortage is getting worse. Ninety-five percent of children are now served in child care centers, while only 3% are served in child care homes. And the number of child care homes continues to decline as providers retire.

This is a serious problem in rural counties, particularly in the Black Belt. In many such areas, the number of children needing care is too small and too isolated to support larger centers, and children could be better served in homes with three to 12 children. Rural areas also would benefit from an expansion of subsidized relative care, which is available in all 67 counties but not widely known.[1]

Alabama’s child care licensure deadline

Until a recent change in state law, Alabama exempted religiously affiliated providers from licensure. In 2017, 53% of child care facilities were licensed, while 42% were unlicensed due to religious affiliation.[9] (The other 5% were exempt from licensure for other reasons.)

In 2018, the Alabama Legislature passed HB 76, which required facilities receiving state or federal dollars to be licensed by Aug. 1, 2019. But as of June 2019, nearly 250 faith-affiliated centers, out of a total of 834, had not yet been licensed.

Both the state and technical assistance providers expressed concern that these facilities might not achieve licensure by the deadline and thereby might become ineligible for subsidies. This could result in a loss of slots for subsidized children – or a loss of entire facilities.

The need for quality improvements and new technology

Alabama has a tiered Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS) in place. But there is a lack of participation by centers, especially at the higher tiers. This appears to be because increases to provider rate reimbursements per tier are not sufficient to cover the cost of the service improvement.

Interviewees cited the need for increases in reimbursement rates and incentives for quality improvements. They also said more training incentives for center employees and aggressive outreach to providers are needed, along with greater consumer understanding of the importance of the QRIS.[1]

The 2014 CCDBG reauthorization requires extensive reporting of information on the Alabama DHR website. DHR’s computer system is well over 20 years old, creating service delivery problems for many programs they operate. So updating the system will be challenging and expensive, particularly in light of Alabama’s chronic underfunding of human services.

New criminal background checks required by the 2014 reauthorization pose a similar technology problem. These checks are a significant expense: $45 to $50 per background check for more than 15,000 child care facility employees. Data incompatibility between the National Crime Information Center and the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency has led Alabama to request a waiver of this mandate. The state is seeking bids from vendors for this service, but as with the state’s computer system, the cost is expected to be considerable.

A lingering challenge: low pay for child care workers

Low wages for child care workers, most of whom do not earn a living wage, is a serious problem. Many child care center employees are themselves eligible for a subsidy for their own children. A key quality improvement lies in education and training for child care workers, and Alabama has committed considerable resources to training and education subsidies up to the bachelor’s level.

But low wages in traditional child care drive many of the best educated and trained teachers to apply for jobs in K-12 schools, where wages are much higher and benefits, including health insurance and retirement, are much better. Technical assistance providers stressed that salaries and benefits for child care employees needed to reflect those of early childhood teachers in public schools, both for equity and retention of newly trained workers.

Conclusion

Maintenance of federal CCDBG funding at the 2018 level is critical for continued progress in the provision of child care for low- and moderate-income children in Alabama. Increased funding would allow Alabama to expand the number of children who receive assistance by increasing income eligibility to 85% of median family income. It also would allow Alabama to increase per-child subsidies to programs. And that would improve the incomes of child care teachers and the retention of well-qualified and educated teachers.

Footnotes

[1] Interviews conducted by the report author May 24, 2019, through June 4, 2019, with Kathy Camp, program director, Family Guidance Center; Bernard Houston, administrator of child care services and workforce development, DHR; Candice Keller, program manager for subsidy, DHR; Gail Piggott, executive director, Alabama Partnership for Children; Walter White, executive director, Family Guidance Center; and Joan Wright, executive director, Childcare Resources

[2] ACF/HHS, FY 2017 Federal TANF & State MOE Financial Data

[3] Alabama Department of Human Resources, 2017 Annual Report and April 2019 Monthly Statistical Report

[4] ACF/HHS Office of Child Care, FY 2016 Final Data, Table 12a-Average Monthly Percent of Children in Care by Race and Ethnicity

[5] Rebecca Ullrich, Stephanie Schmit & Ruth Cosse, “Inequitable Access to Child Care Subsidies,” Center on Law and Social Policy, April 2019

[6] Alabama Department of Human Resources, Annual Report 2016 and Annual Report 2017

[7] Economic Policy Institute, Family Budget Calculator

[8] Center for American Progress Early Childhood News, “Child Care Supply by Congressional District,” April 10, 2019

[9] ACF/HHS Child Care and Development Fund, Preliminary Data Tables, FY 2017

References

Alabama Department of Human Resources, Annual Statistical Reports, 2017 and 2018

Alabama Department of Human Resources, “Child Care Fact Sheet,” Oct. 1, 2018

Alabama Department of Human Resources, FY 2019-2021 Alabama CCDF State Plan

Alabama Department of Human Resources, State of Alabama Provider Rate Chart, Oct. 1, 2018

Patti Banghart, Carlise King, Anne Partika, and Victoria Perkins, “State Policies for Assessing Access: Analysis of 2016-2018 Child Care Development Plans,” The Early Childhood Data Collaborative, March 2018

Center on Law and Social Policy, “Budget Deal Includes Unprecedented Investment in Child Care,” February 2018

Nina Chien, “Factsheet: Estimates of Child Care Eligibility & Receipt for Fiscal Year 2015,” Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, HHS, January 2019

Hannah Matthews, Karen Schulman, Julie Vogtman, Christine Johnson-Staub, and Helen Blank, “Implementing the Child Care and Development Block Grant Reauthorization: A Guide for States,” Center on Law and Social Policy and National Women’s Law Center, June 2017

National Women’s Law Center, “Child Care and Development Fund Plans FY 2016-2018: State Waivers and Corrective Actions,” August 2016

Douglas Rice, Stephanie Schmit, and Hannah Matthews, “Child Care and Housing: Big Expenses with Too Little Help Available,” Center on Law and Social Policy, April 29, 2019

Rebecca Ullrich, Stephanie Schmit & Ruth Cosse, “Inequitable Access to Child Care Subsidies,” Center on Law and Social Policy, April 2019

Why Arise is focusing on racial equity in our work

It seems to me that we are living through a time of historic political upheaval and transformation. While we continue to push forward policies to increase dignity, equity and justice, too often we end up playing defense.

Corporations exert more influence today than ever before to suppress the people’s power to organize and access the ballot. White supremacists advocate policies that suppress the rights of black and brown people, religious minorities and immigrants, using a well-worn playbook to build power and wealth at the expense of scapegoated targets. Their tactics prevent us from creating the great society that we imagine in our vision statement.

But something is happening in Montgomery to hold us accountable to our past and to call us towards more direct action. Since the groundbreaking of the Equal Justice Initiative’s Memorial for Peace and Justice and the accompanying Legacy Museum last spring, people are coming here from all over the world to learn about our nation’s history of racial terrorism. Visiting guests are often asking us for our perspective as Alabamians about how we can grapple with our state’s historic and ongoing failures to afford dignity, opportunity and justice to all people.

Against this backdrop, our board and staff have adopted a more explicit commitment to racial equity and inclusion. We know we can’t address poverty without acknowledging how our state’s investment in racial exploitation and discrimination created policies that have built wealth for a few, while disenfranchising the many. And if we don’t have a direct narrative to address ongoing racial inequality, extremists will tell a story about race that serves their own agenda.

As a result of this framework, we hope to create more advocacy tools, data and messaging to acknowledge race and to give grassroots advocates and communities the tools they need to fight, and win, in discussions about policy where racial prejudice is too often the subtext.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts and comments on this as we frame our work more directly to address racial injustice as a key part of winning on our agenda to increase dignity, equity, justice and opportunity for all.

How to advance our vision for Alabama’s next century

What kind of future do we want for Alabama? It’s a question worth reflecting on as our state enters its third century this year. Are we all right with limiting power and prosperity to a select few? Or would we rather build a state where everyone has a voice and where people of all races, genders and incomes have a real chance to get ahead?

Alabama Arise believes in justice and opportunity for all, and our policy priori­ties flow from that vision. It’s why we support expanding Medicaid for Alabam­ians who can’t afford coverage. It’s why we want to rebalance an upside-down tax system that taxes struggling families deeper into poverty. And it’s why we urge stronger investments in education, housing, public transportation and other services that improve quality of life and promote economic opportunity.

We expect lots of infrastructure talk at the Legislature this year. The regular session starts Tuesday, but lawmak­ers may move quickly into a special session on the gas tax. Gov. Kay Ivey has asked legislators to increase the state’s 18-cent gas tax by 10 cents over three years. That money would fund road and bridge maintenance and oth­er infrastructure improvements.

Many of Alabama’s deteriorating roads are overdue for repair. But the defi­nition of “public infrastructure” goes far beyond tar and gravel. Education, health care and public transportation also help lay the foundation for shared prosperity. This session could bring chances to strengthen those invest­ments – and to make the tax system that funds them more progressive.

Hope on grocery tax, Medicaid expansion

One key breakthrough could be on a longtime Arise priority: ending the state grocery tax. We came heartbreaking­ly close in 2008, when a bill to untax groceries passed the House and fell one vote short in the Senate. But Arise members never gave up the advocacy fight. Now legislators face renewed pressure to end or cut the state’s 4 percent sales tax on groceries. (Some conservative lawmakers are urging a grocery tax reduction to accompany a gas tax increase.) Alabama is one of only three states with no tax break on groceries. It’s a highly regressive tax on a basic necessity, hitting hardest on people who struggle to make ends meet.

Pressure also is building for Alabama to expand Medicaid to cover more than 340,000 adults with low incomes. Medicaid expansion would save hun­dreds of lives annually and create a healthier, more productive workforce. It also would help save rural hospitals, support thousands of jobs and pump hundreds of millions of dollars into the economy.

Our work for a brighter, more inclu­sive future won’t end there. We’ll keep pushing for stronger consumer protec­tions against high-cost payday loans. We’ll make the case for the state to fund public transportation and remove barriers to voter registration. And we’ll continue seeking an end to injustices in Alabama’s civil asset forfeiture and death penalty systems. Visit our website and follow us on Facebook and Twitter for updates on these issues throughout the year.

Alabama’s state higher ed funding cuts since 2008 are country’s third deepest

Alabama’s cuts to state higher education funding over the last decade are among the deepest in the country, according to a new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), a nonpartisan research organization based in Washington, D.C. The funding decline persisted even as the state’s economy began to rebound from the Great Recession.

Since 2008, Alabama has slashed state higher education funding by 34.6 percent or $4,290 per student, CBPP found. The state’s cuts are the nation’s third worst by dollar amount and fifth worst by percentage. Nationally, the average cuts since 2008 are 16 percent or $1,502 per student.

Alabama’s inadequate public investment in higher education over the last decade has contributed to rising tuition prices, often leaving students with little choice but to take on more debt or give up on their dreams of going to college. Between 2008 and 2018, the average tuition at public four-year institutions in Alabama jumped by $4,329, or 69.8 percent – far outpacing the national average growth of 36 percent. These soaring costs have erected barriers to opportunity for young people across Alabama, particularly for black, Hispanic and low-income students.

“Pushing the cost of college onto students and their families will not make our state stronger,” Alabama Arise policy analyst Carol Gundlach said. “We must invest adequately in higher education to be able to build an Alabama where everyone has the opportunity to succeed.”

Americans’ slow income growth has worsened the college unaffordability problem. While the average tuition bill increased by 36 percent between 2008 and 2018, median incomes grew by just over 2 percent. Nationally, the average tuition at a four-year public college accounted for 16.5 percent of median household income in 2017, up from 14 percent in 2008.

In Alabama, a college education is even less affordable, especially for black and Hispanic families. In 2017, the average tuition and fees at a public four-year university accounted for:
•    21 percent of median household income for all Alabama families.
•    32.2 percent of median household income for black families in Alabama.
•    26.8 percent of median household income for Hispanic families in Alabama.

“The rising cost of college risks blocking one of America’s most important paths to economic mobility,” said CBPP senior policy analyst Michael Mitchell, the report’s lead author. “And while these costs hinder progress for everyone, black, Hispanic and low-income students continue to face the most significant barriers to opportunity.”

Financial aid has failed to bridge the gap created by rising tuition and relatively stagnant incomes. As a result, the share of students graduating with debt has increased. Between 2008 and 2015, the share of students graduating with debt from a public four-year institution rose from 55 percent to 59 percent nationally. The average amount of debt also increased during this period. On average, bachelor’s degree recipients at four-year public schools saw their debt grow by 26 percent (from $21,226 to $27,000). By contrast, the average amount of debt rose by only about 1 percent in the six years prior to the recession.

A large and growing share of future jobs will require college-educated workers. Greater public investment in higher education, particularly in need-based aid, would help Alabama develop the skilled and diverse workforce it needs to match the jobs of the future.

“All Alabamians, regardless of their income or where they grow up, deserve an opportunity to reach their full potential,” Gundlach said. “Our state should end tax breaks for large corporations and invest in making college more affordable for the students who need assistance the most.”

‘Ban the box’ bill clears first hurdle, wins Alabama Senate committee approval

Alabama lawmakers took a first step Wednesday toward enacting a policy that would make it easier for people to re-enter the workforce after serving their time for a criminal offense. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 6-2 for SB 200, which would create a “ban the box” policy for many state and local government jobs. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Quinton Ross, D-Montgomery, goes to the Senate.

Ross’ bill would remove the criminal history checkbox from applications for many jobs with state and local governments in Alabama. SB 200 would include exceptions for certain public jobs, including ones where federal or state law deems certain convictions to be automatic bars to employment. The bill also would not apply to private employers.

SB 200 would not require state or local government employers to hire any particular person, and it would not forbid them to ask about an applicant’s conviction history. Instead, the bill would delay that inquiry until after an applicant has received a conditional job offer.

“Ban the box” advocates say such policies give applicants a fairer chance to be considered on their merits rather than being instantly eliminated from the applicant pool. “Increasing employment opportunities for people with records will reduce recidivism and improve economic stability in our communities,” Section 1 of SB 200 states.

Alabama would be far from alone in adopting a “ban the box” policy for public jobs. Twenty-six states have some form of “ban the box” or “fair chance” policy as of April 2017, according to the National Employment Law Project. That list includes Southern states like Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana and Tennessee. Many private employers – including Home Depot, Target and Walmart – have “banned the box” on their initial job applications as well.

By Chris Sanders, communications director. Posted April 12, 2017.

A higher minimum wage would help Alabama families make ends meet and strengthen our state’s economy

Too many hard-working Alabamians aren’t paid enough to get ahead. Alabama ranks in the bottom third of states for average hourly wages. Around 77,000 Alabamians earn wages at or below the $7.25 per hour minimum established by the federal government in 2009, and another 394,000 earn less than $10 an hour. In the absence of a state minimum wage, Birmingham in 2015 set its own minimum wage of $10.10 per hour, for implementation by mid-2017. However, the Alabama Legislature overruled, or pre-empted, that measure in 2016 with a state law that prohibits local governments from mandating a minimum wage and other employment practices.

The “pre-emption law” underscores the need for Alabama to create a state minimum wage. Forty-five other states have their own minimum wage law, and 29 of them have state minimum wages that exceed the federal level. HB 26, sponsored by Rep. Juandalynn Givan, D-Birmingham, proposes to:

  • Establish an Alabama minimum wage at $10 per hour.
  • Adjust the minimum wage every three years to reflect increases in the Consumer Price Index.
  • Require that wages for tipped employees be at least 30 percent of the federal or state minimum wage, whichever is greater.
  • Require that employers ensure tipped employees’ combined wages and tips equal the minimum wage.

The benefits would be widespread. The Alabama Minimum Wage Act would:

  • Raise incomes for the 471,000 Alabamians who now earn less than $10 an hour, and likely prompt raises for many others who earn slightly above that amount.
  • Reduce income inequality by lifting thousands of Alabama families out of poverty.
  • Increase consumer spending, boosting state and local economies and tax revenues.
  • Make sure wage protections keep pace with inflation.

BOTTOM LINE: By setting a state minimum wage of $10 per hour, Alabama would help hundreds of thousands of families make ends meet, boost consumer spending and strengthen our state’s economy.

Quick overviews of Arise’s 2016 issue priorities

Your time is important, and your voice for a better Alabama is essential. That’s why we’ve prepared these quick overviews to keep you up-to-date on what’s happening at the Alabama Legislature on Arise’s 2016 issue priorities. We’ll update this post as needed.

“Ban the box” legislation: ‘Ban the box’ law would help rebuild lives in Alabama — The “criminal history checkbox” on many standardized job application forms often keeps otherwise qualified employees from making it to the next stage of the hiring process, where they could explain their past face-to-face. This creates discouraging barriers to employment for people who are looking to rebuild their lives after serving their time and paying their debt to society. A growing national “ban the box” movement to remove those checkboxes from job applications is helping former inmates become productive members of society and provide for their families. It could do the same for thousands in Alabama. (The Senate Judiciary Committee on April 7 approved SB 327, which would “ban the box” on state job and license applications, but the Senate never voted on it.)

Death penalty reform: Death is different: Reforming Alabama’s capital punishment system — People accused of capital crimes deserve every possible safeguard to ensure the integrity of a conviction. This overview examines several bills that could lower the risks of errors and injustice and could bring Alabama law into compliance with U.S. Supreme Court rulings.

Health care: Medicaid RCOs: Better care, better health, lower costs — Medicaid’s promising new regional care organization (RCO) reforms are designed to keep patients healthier while cutting health care costs. Investing in preventive care now should pay off in fewer costly emergency room visits later. (The Legislature on April 5 overrode the governor’s veto to pass a General Fund budget that would force deep Medicaid cuts. Lawmakers may return later this year for a special session to address Medicaid’s funding shortfall.)

Housing: Home at last: The Alabama Housing Trust Fund — Alabama has a shortage of almost 90,000 affordable and available homes for residents with extremely low incomes. State funding for the Alabama Housing Trust Fund (HTF), created in 2012, could reduce this shortfall and make dreams of home a reality for tens of thousands of families, seniors, veterans, and people with disabilities.

Payday lending reform: SB 91: A step in the right direction for Alabama borrowers — Payday loans in Alabama carry astonishingly high interest rates: up to 456 percent a year. A Senate proposal would give payday borrowers a less expensive path out of debt by reducing the maximum interest rate and allowing borrowers to pay off their loan in installments over time. (The Senate passed the bill 28-1 on April 5. A House committee approved a different version of SB 91 on April 27, but the regular session ended without a House vote on either version.)

State budgets: Alabama’s education budget begins to rebuild, but General Fund struggles put Medicaid at risk — The usual contrast between Alabama’s starving General Fund budget and its slightly healthier but still inadequate Education Trust Fund budget is exceptionally stark this year. As education finally climbs back toward its 2008 funding level after years of enormous cuts, the latest General Fund shortfall threatens devastating Medicaid cuts with effects that could ripple through the state’s entire health care system. (The Legislature on April 5 overrode the governor’s veto to pass a General Fund budget that would force deep Medicaid cuts. Lawmakers may return later this year for a special session to address Medicaid’s funding shortfall.)

Tax reform: Cigarette tax for Medicaid: A win-win to improve health and fill Alabama’s revenue gap — The future of Alabama Medicaid is on the line as lawmakers confront yet another threadbare General Fund budget. Without significant new long-term revenue, Medicaid will continue to be at risk of cuts to vital services and doctor payments that could place the entire program — and Alabama’s entire health care system — at risk. A cigarette tax of 75 cents per pack could provide long-term revenue needed to avoid those cuts, while also reducing health care costs and saving lives in Alabama.

Voting rights: A menu of options to improve voting rights in Alabama — Our entire democratic system depends on how elections are structured and who can participate. When barriers exclude people from voting, they often lose faith in a system that doesn’t seem to value their voice in our society’s decision-making process. This overview examines several bills that would protect and expand voting rights, including proposals related to early voting, streamlined voter registration and voting rights restoration. (SB 186, which would expedite the state’s voting rights restoration process, has gone to Gov. Robert Bentley after passing the Senate on April 19 and the House on May 4. Different versions of HB 268, a bill to clarify which crimes are “crimes of moral turpitude” that permanently disqualify offenders from voting in Alabama, passed the House on April 19 and the Senate on May 3, but the plan died May 4 when the regular session ended before the House could vote on a proposed conference committee version.)

Posted March 7, 2016. Last updated May 5, 2016.

Health coverage has improved in Alabama, but work remains, new study finds

Alabama has enjoyed great success in recent decades in ensuring that children and seniors have the health protection they need, according to a new Arise Citizens’ Policy Project report issued Tuesday as part of The State of Working Alabama 2014. But the state lags behind the nation when it comes to insuring young adults, nearly 30 percent of whom lack health coverage.

“Child care, construction and food service are essential jobs that are often low-paying, and the people who do that important work deserve the protection of health insurance,” ACPP policy director Jim Carnes said. “But without an expanded Medicaid program, many working Alabamians fall into a coverage gap. They make too much to qualify for Medicaid but too little to be eligible for affordable coverage through the Health Care Marketplace.”

Key findings from the report include:

  • Nearly one in seven Alabamians lacked health insurance in 2013.
  • Alabama’s lower rate of uninsured residents was slightly lower than the national average, almost exclusively as a result of the state’s success in providing Medicaid and ALL Kids to low- and moderate-income children.
  • The share of working-age adults without health insurance was almost identical in Alabama and the nation, while the rate of young uninsured adults exceeded the national rate.
  • Nearly 100,000 Alabamians signed up for Marketplace health coverage in 2014, topping the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ enrollment goal for the state. Open enrollment for 2015 Marketplace coverage began Nov. 15 and continues until Feb. 15, 2015.
  • More than 600,000 people in Alabama remain without insurance. Up to 342,000 of them could gain coverage under an expanded Medicaid program.

“We encourage anyone who doesn’t have health insurance to visit healthcare.gov and learn about their options,” Carnes said. “The Marketplace makes affordable coverage available for tens of thousands of Alabamians. Closing the coverage gap would insure hundreds of thousands more. It’s time for our state to take this important step toward a healthier, more secure Alabama for all.”

The State of Working Alabama 2014: Health coverage in Alabama: Where we’ve succeeded and where there’s work to do

Alabama has enjoyed great success in recent decades in ensuring that children and seniors have the health protection they need, according to a new Arise Citizens’ Policy Project report issued Tuesday as part of The State of Working Alabama 2014. But the state lags behind the nation when it comes to insuring young adults, nearly 30 percent of whom lack health coverage.

“Child care, construction and food service are essential jobs that are often low-paying, and the people who do that important work deserve the protection of health insurance,” ACPP policy director Jim Carnes said. “The Marketplace makes affordable coverage available for tens of thousands of Alabamians. Closing the coverage gap would insure hundreds of thousands more. It’s time for our state to take this important step toward a healthier, more secure Alabama for all.”