American Rescue Plan Act offers path to recovery

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

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

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

Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery

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

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

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

Persistent disparities – and how to end them

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

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

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

Arise legislative recap: March 12, 2021

Arise’s Carol Gundlach breaks down the American Rescue Plan and what it means for Alabama families including expansions to the Child Tax Credit and EITC helping to reduce poverty across Alabama.

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

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

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

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

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

A new pathway to Medicaid expansion in Alabama

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

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

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

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

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

Enhancements to existing Medicaid, marketplace coverage

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

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

Child Tax Credit, EITC expansions will reduce poverty across Alabama

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arise legislative recap: Feb. 26, 2021

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

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

State of Working Alabama logo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Policies to increase equity, expand economic opportunity for working Alabamians

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

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

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

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

About The State of Working Alabama 2021

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

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

The State of Working Alabama 2021

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

Introduction

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

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

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

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

Report navigation

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

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

COVID-19 and Alabama’s policy legacy

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

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

Labor market

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

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

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

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

Recommendations

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

Front-line workers 

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

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

Recommendations

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

Health care

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

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

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

Recommendations

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

Hunger

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

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

Recommendations

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

Housing

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

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

Recommendations

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

Acknowledgments

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

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

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


The State of Working Alabama 2021

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

State of Working Alabama logo

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

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

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

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

The lessons of COVID-19

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

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

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

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

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

Shortcomings on paid leave, wages, health coverage

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

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

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

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

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

The changing nature of workplaces

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

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

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

Innovative public programs kept families fed

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

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

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

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

Efforts to cut the safety net are cruel and shortsighted

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

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

How we should respond now

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

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

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

In focus

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

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

The survey asked people questions like:

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

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

Snapshots of pandemic life in Alabama

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

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

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


The State of Working Alabama 2021

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Footnotes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[8] Ibid.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The State of Working Alabama 2021, Section 4 – Praised but underprotected: Front-line workers in the pandemic

State of Working Alabama logo

Where are we now?

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, we’ve grown used to seeing, and applauding, signs in front of hospitals, fire departments, police stations and other emergency service providers saying “Heroes work here.” And we’ve learned to say “thank you” to people serving their communities’ needs at grocery, drug and convenience stores.

We’ve learned to call these folks “essential workers” and “front-line heroes,” recognizing they are putting themselves at elevated COVID-19 risk to provide the rest of us with essential needs during a frightening pandemic. But Alabama’s actions on wages, health coverage and worker protections do not live up to the promise of those words.

How did we get here?

Front-line workers include tens of thousands of people working in public-facing jobs that put them at increased COVID-19 risk. Alabamians working in grocery stores, hospitals and pharmacies perform necessary tasks to keep our communities functioning during the pandemic. But their jobs often tend to pay less and offer fewer benefits.

The physical and financial burdens on the front-line workers facing those health risks are unevenly distributed. Alabamians in jobs like health care, food service and child care are disproportionately likely to be people of color and women. And state and national policy failures on COVID-19 are more likely to hit them the hardest.

Nearly two-thirds of Alabama’s front-line workers are women, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, though women comprise just under half of the state’s total workforce.[1] And women make up an even larger share of workers in some crucial front-line industries. Women comprise 81% of Alabama’s health care workers and 89% of child care and social services workers.[2] These jobs often involve consistent exposure to large numbers of people and thus greater risk of contracting COVID-19.

Alabama front-line workers are much more likely to be women. Women make up 66.4% of all Alabama front-line workers and 80.6% of Alabama health care workers.

PPE shortages endanger health care workers

Health care accounts for more than one in 10 jobs in Alabama.[3] And the higher proportion of women in this field contributes to an overall gender-based disparity for coronavirus exposure. In many facilities – especially early in the pandemic – personal protective equipment (PPE) like masks, gloves and face shields has run short for doctors, nurses and other health care professionals.

This structural failure has forced many workers to reuse PPE, posing potentially severe health risks. Get Us PPE, a grassroots organization founded by emergency physicians, reports that it received nearly 300 requests for PPE from Alabama businesses and health care providers between March and October.[4] Nationally, the group was able to provide only 12% of the total PPE requested.[5] Production and supply chain problems continue to cause PPE shortages, even for many health care facilities.

Low pay abounds in critical front-line industries

The wages and work conditions for front-line workers often don’t reflect the importance of their work. And that is especially true in fields where women predominate. Child care workers in Alabama for example, have a median wage of $9.19 an hour.[6] For home health workers, the median hourly wage is $11.89, and for cashiers, it is only $9.81.[7] By contrast, more predominantly male jobs like production and construction have median wages beginning at $15.11 per hour.[8]

Many workers received higher hourly wages early in the pandemic, but some employers began eliminating hazard bonuses as early as May. In the retail sector – already filled with low-wage jobs with sparse benefits – major employers like Amazon[9] and Kroger[10] ended wage bonuses before July 4, 2020.

UI cutoffs, eviction risk add to economic pressure

Returning to work at unsustainably low wages amid a pandemic isn’t the only way many hard-working Alabamians are being squeezed. The state also placed workers at risk of homelessness with an ill-timed, one-two policy punch. First came a wave of unemployment insurance (UI) benefit cutoffs beginning in May 2020.[11] A month later, Alabama lifted its two-month moratorium on evictions for nonpayment of rent.[12] Adding to the squeeze, a federally funded $600 weekly UI benefit increase lapsed at the end of July 2020, and Congress has renewed only half of that amount through March 14, 2021.[13]

The Biden administration has extended the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s eviction moratorium through March.[14] But that moratorium does not cover all renters affected by COVID-19 and requires unnecessary paperwork. Alabama should reimplement its own eviction moratorium rather than relying on the more limited federal version.

Lack of health coverage increases risk for many people of color in Alabama

Structural factors leave Black and Hispanic/Latinx people at increased risk from COVID-19. Together, they account for a disproportionate share of workers in front-line jobs.[15] And because of long-term, systemic racism that creates barriers to regular health care,[16] Black Alabamians are more likely to have underlying conditions that worsen coronavirus outcomes.

Black workers hold a disproportionate share of front-line jobs in Alabama. Black people are 25% of Alabama's labor force but 31% of front-line workers. The corresponding shares for white Alabamians are 68.3% and 63.6%. For Hispanic/Latinx workers: 3.8% and 2.3%. For Asian American/Pacific Islander workers: 1.8% and 1.3%.

Even among front-line workers, people of color are more likely to face heightened exposure in certain public-facing industries. In Alabama, the share of Black people working in grocery or convenience stores is two and a half times larger than in the U.S. workforce overall.[17] The share of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders who work in grocery and convenience stores is double their percentage of Alabama’s overall population.[18]

Despite these elevated risks, Black and Hispanic/Latinx Alabamians are far more likely than white people to lack health insurance coverage. And because Alabama hasn’t expanded Medicaid, Black and Hispanic/Latinx residents are more likely to fall into the health coverage gap, earning too much to qualify for Medicaid but too little to afford insurance. People of color make up 34% of Alabama’s population but comprise 49% of uninsured Alabamians with low incomes.[19]

Data on the composition of front-line workers cannot account for differing exposure rates based on specific jobs within those career fields. But given that women in medical fields often face bias inhibiting their promotion into supervisory roles, women are likely at greater risk of coronavirus infection than their high proportion in the health care industry indicates. And overall, people of color are more likely to work non-supervisory jobs with higher public exposure in many front-line fields.

A choice no one should have to make

As a result, many older adults, cancer survivors and immunocompromised people face a stark choice between their lives and livelihoods. They must either subject themselves to a higher chance of death from COVID-19 or risk hunger and homelessness when they leave dangerous jobs or when the state cuts off UI benefits. Black and Hispanic/Latinx people, women and struggling families bear the brunt of this front-line risk.

What should we do now?

The pandemic has shined a light on many of Alabama’s policy mistakes. The state and nation can take this opportunity to fix harsh, shortsighted policies that devalue and harm working people by taking the following steps:

  • Expand Medicaid to cover low-paid Alabama adults. Expansion would ensure that front-line workers who lack health insurance can access treatment for COVID-19 and other health risks.
  • Allocate a share of the state’s federal COVID-19 relief funds to cover increased pay and benefits for front-line workers. This could and should include hazard pay for health care workers and direct service providers in long-term care during the pandemic.
  • Include workers’ compensation for illnesses related to COVID-19 among front-line workers as a key component of fair pay policy.
  • Guarantee permanent paid sick leave for all working Alabamians, regardless of employer size, so that no one has to choose between earning a paycheck and going to work sick.
  • Encourage workforce diversity and equal employment opportunities so more women and people of color can enter higher-paying jobs. Workforce development programs should develop inclusive trainee recruitment plans that prioritize women and people of color. Employers also should engage actively in efforts to expand child care and other work support programs that facilitate workforce diversity.
  • State and federal policymakers should aggressively address wage and employment discrimination based on gender and race to reduce occupational segregation and wage disparities.
  • Congress should increase the federal minimum wage to at least $15 per hour. A crucial way to honor “front-line heroes” is to ensure they are paid enough to make ends meet.
  • The Biden administration should bring procurement and distribution of PPE under federal control. This step would help increase front-line workers’ access to the protective equipment they need for the duration of this pandemic.
In focus

Tens of thousands of front-line workers left out of paid sick days protections

Like most states, Alabama does not require employers to provide paid sick, family, parental or personal leave. Long-standing government hostility to workers’ rights and Alabama’s origin as a plantation economy have made progress on workers’ issues difficult. This dearth of public policy protections for working people is a major reason Alabama is in an unsustainable position amid the pandemic. And other traditional methods of gaining economic security for working-class people, like unionization, are less robust here than elsewhere.

Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government provided the first paid leave provision available in many states. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) provided 80 hours of paid sick leave, paid at full wages for workers infected with COVID-19 and two-thirds wages for family caregiving.[20] For Alabamians, total amounts paid through Feb. 16, 2021, to workers who lacked paid leave before the FFCRA would have been $1.26 billion.[21]

Unfortunately, Congress exempted companies with more than 500 employees from the FFCRA’s paid leave requirements. And further exceptions existed for businesses with fewer than 50 workers if a business could not pay a worker’s child care leave, or if lack of an employee would place the business at risk of failure, potentially requiring workers to work while having COVID-19 for the survival of their employer.[22]

Due to these exclusions, far too many Alabamians lack paid sick leave in the midst of the pandemic. Almost 840,000 people employed by major employers lack guaranteed coverage, and as many as another 421,000 Alabamians employed by small businesses could lose access as well because of the small business waiver.[23] All told, four in five workers in Alabama lack access to paid sick days thanks to loopholes in the FFCRA.[24]

Why Alabama should enact a paid leave law

Widespread lack of paid sick leave for Alabama’s low-wage jobs lessens job security and raises Alabamians’ health care costs. Paid sick leave and health insurance are two sides of the same coin. One benefit without the other forces working people to go to work while sick, exposing their coworkers to illness. It also forces people to take off work only when symptoms are severe, requiring more expensive care and longer recovery time. In a pandemic, this dilemma is literally a matter of life and death.

To fix this shortcoming, Alabama should implement the core of the FFCRA at the state level. But the state should remove the large-employer exception and reimburse small employers contemporaneously for emergency child care leave. This would avoid unnecessary strain on small employers’ finances and relieve major stressors on working Alabamians.

Alabama should lead the way for the South by taking these important steps on comprehensive family and sick leave. These policies would increase stability for working people and promote greater resilience in the face of health-related setbacks.


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)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Footnotes

[1] Hye Jin Rho, Hayley Brown & Shawn Fremstad, “A Basic Demographic Profile of Workers in Frontline Industries,” Center for Economic and Policy Research (April 7, 2020), https://cepr.net/a-basic-demographic-profile-of-workers-in-frontline-industries.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Amanda Peery-Wolf, Ali Hickerson & Stephanie Zeller, Get Us PPE Shortage Index (December 2020), https://v9b3g8f2.stackpathcdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/PPE-Shortage-Index-December-2020-Get-Us-PPE.pdf.

[5] Ibid.

[6] 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.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Isobel Asher Hamilton, “Amazon Drops $2 Coronavirus Pay Rise for Warehouse Workers As Jeff Bezos’ Fortune Nears $150 Billion,” Business Insider (June 3, 2020), https://www.businessinsider.com/amazon-cuts-2-dollar-hazard-pay-bezos-150-billion-2020-6.

[10] Dan Monk, “Kroger CEO: No more hazard pay for grocery workers,” WCPO 9 News (June 25, 2020), https://www.wcpo.com/news/local-news/i-team/kroger-ceo-no-more-hazard-pay-for-grocery-workers.

[11] Sarah Whites-Koditschek, “Alabama begins cutting unemployment for thousands for ‘refusal to work,’” AL.com (June 23, 2020), https://www.al.com/news/2020/06/alabama-begins-cutting-employment-for-thousands-for-refusal-to-work.html.

[12] 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.

[13] Jennifer Liu, “Millions of unemployed Americans will get a $300 per week federal UI boost through March with new stimulus bill,” CNBC (Dec. 21, 2020), https://www.cnbc.com/2020/12/21/new-stimulus-provides-300-per-week-11-weeks-enhanced-unemployment.html.

[14] Mason, supra note 12.

[15] Celine McNicholas & Margaret Poydock, “Who are essential workers? A comprehensive look at their wages, demographics and unionization rates,” Economic Policy Institute (May 19, 2020), https://www.epi.org/blog/who-are-essential-workers-a-comprehensive-look-at-their-wages-demographics-and-unionization-rates.

[16] See, e.g., Grace Segers, “Fauci says he knows of no order to slow down coronavirus testing,” CBS News (June 23, 2020), https://www.cbsnews.com/news/fauci-coronavirus-testing-house-committee-testimony (quoting Dr. Anthony Fauci on the public health effects of institutional racism).

[17] Center for Economic and Policy Research analysis of U.S. Census Bureau, Community Population Survey 2014-18 five-year estimates; Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Civilian labor force by age, race, sex and ethnicity,” 2019.

[18] Annette Jones Watters, “Diversity in Alabama,” University of Alabama, Center for Business and Economic Research (Aug. 7, 2019), https://cber.culverhouse.ua.edu/2019/08/07/diversity-in-alabama.

[19] Alabama Arise, Medicaid Matters: Charting the Course to a Healthier Alabama, “Section 4 – How can we make Alabama healthier?” (June 17, 2020), https://www.alarise.org/resources/medicaid-matters-section-4-how-can-we-make-alabama-healthier.

[20] Kellie Moss, Lindsey Dawson, Michelle Long, Jennifer Kates, MaryBeth Musumeci, Juliette Cubanski & Karen Pollitz, “The Families First Coronavirus Response Act: Summary of Key Provisions,” Kaiser Family Foundation (March 23, 2020), https://www.kff.org/global-health-policy/issue-brief/the-families-first-coronavirus-response-act-summary-of-key-provisions.

[21] Alabama Arise analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data, available at https://www.bls.gov/news.release/archives/laus_03272020.pdf, https://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2019/access-to-paid-and-unpaid-family-leave-in-2018.htm and https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_al.htm.

[22] Moss, et al., supra note 20.

[23] Alabama Arise analysis of U.S. Census Bureau, Quarterly Workforce Indicators, Q4 2019.

[24] 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.

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.”