Listening is often an underdeveloped skill, yet it is critical for mutual understanding and working together for meaningful change. That’s why Arise is committed to listening to our members, to our allies and most importantly, to those directly affected by the work we do together. We depend on what we hear from you to guide our issue work and our strategies.
This year’s COVID-19 pandemic challenged us to be creative in finding ways to listen. Instead of our usual face-to-face meetings around the state, we hosted a series of six statewide online Town Hall Tuesdays. We held events every two weeks, starting in June and ending Sept. 1. We averaged 65 attendees at each session. Here’s some of what we heard from members and supporters:
Affirmation for Medicaid expansion, untaxing groceries and other current Arise issues as important for achieving shared prosperity.
Empathy for those who were already living in vulnerable circumstances further strained by the pandemic.
Concern about ongoing, intentional barriers to voting, especially during the pandemic.
Desire to see more resources to meet the needs of our immigrant neighbors.
Alarm about payday and title lending and its impact on people’s lives and our communities.
Passion and concern about many other issues, including housing; living wages and pay equity; prison and sentencing reform; gun safety; juvenile justice reform; defunding the police; the Census; environmental justice; quality and funding of public education; and food insecurity and nutrition.
Willingness to take informed actions to make a difference in the policies that impact people’s lives.
Hope that Alabama can be a better place for all our neighbors to live despite systemic issues and ongoing challenges.
Notes from each town hall
Overviews of the town halls are below. Click the title for a PDF of the notes from the breakout sessions at each town hall.
June 23 – Money talks
We examined how to strengthen education, health care, child care and other services that help Alabamians make ends meet. And we explored ways to fund those services more equitably.
Sept. 1 – Closing the coverage gap
Discussion focused on how everyone can help expand Medicaid to ensure coverage for hundreds of thousands of struggling Alabamians. We also heard about the expansion campaign strategies of the Cover Alabama Coalition, headed by Arise campaign director Jane Adams.
Get in touch and stay in touch with Arise
Remember, we didn’t stop listening because the town halls ended. We want to hear from you, and we encourage you to contact the Arise organizer in your area:
Presdelane Harris (): Southwest Alabama and Mobile.
Stan Johnson (): Northwest Alabama, Birmingham and Tuscaloosa.
Mike Nicholson (): Southeast Alabama, Auburn and the Wiregrass.
Debbie Smith (): Northeast Alabama and Huntsville.
We hope to see you at Arise’s online annual meeting Oct. 3!
The U.S. Senate on Thursday failed to advance an inadequate COVID-19 relief plan. Alabama Arise executive director Robyn Hyden issued the following statement Thursday in response:
“The bill that failed in the Senate this week was wholly inadequate to meet the size and scope of suffering that the COVID-19 pandemic has inflicted across Alabama and across our country. Lawmakers shouldn’t leave Washington without approving an adequate, long-term deal to help struggling Americans make ends meet.
“This plan offered nowhere near enough federal relief to help states avoid cuts to vital services like education and Medicaid. It would have cut the previous $600 weekly federal increase to unemployment insurance benefits in half, even though jobs remain hard to find. And it included no nutrition or housing assistance to help millions who are at risk of hunger and homelessness.
“Congress needs to step up and do its job by protecting people from harm. Last month’s executive actions were nothing more than a Band-Aid over a gaping economic wound. And any so-called relief bill that doesn’t help people keep food on the table and a roof over their heads is no relief bill at all.
“The pandemic isn’t going away anytime soon. Struggling families need a relief bill that takes meaningful, long-term action to address this health crisis and ease financial suffering. Senators should pass such a bill quickly, and their constituents should accept nothing less.”
“These executive actions put a Band-Aid over a gaping economic wound. They don’t stem the tide of evictions or extend rental or mortgage assistance to help people stay in their homes. They don’t increase SNAP assistance to help millions of struggling families keep food on the table. And they don’t provide federal relief to help states avoid layoffs and cuts to education, Medicaid and other vital services.
“These actions don’t offer sufficient relief for millions of Americans who lost their jobs during the pandemic. The weekly federal increase to unemployment insurance benefits would drop from $600 to $300, with Alabama and other cash-strapped states expected to contribute another $100 despite slumping tax revenues. And without new legislation, the federal money would only last for a few weeks. Congress can eliminate this uncertainty by extending federal funding for the $600 weekly UI benefit increase into next year.
“It’s unclear if some of the executive actions would survive a legal challenge. Even if they would, they’re inadequate to address the size and scope of suffering across Alabama and across our country. There’s simply no replacement for a bipartisan relief package. Congress must step up quickly to ease the suffering and help struggling families make ends meet.”
U.S. Senate Republicans on Monday unveiled a new proposed COVID-19 relief plan. Alabama Arise executive director Robyn Hyden issued the following statement Tuesday in response:
“Millions of Alabamians are being pushed to the brink during the COVID-19 crisis. They’re struggling with difficult tradeoffs between protecting their own health, paying for basic necessities and caring for children and seniors. Nearly one in four renters in Alabama are behind on rent. And one in five adults with children in our state say their kids sometimes don’t have enough to eat because the household just can’t afford enough food.
“As families face these health and economic shocks, the Senate relief proposal fails to meet the demands of the moment. This plan would slash supplemental unemployment insurance benefits amid the highest unemployment since the Great Depression. It wouldn’t increase housing assistance to prevent families from being evicted and becoming homeless. It wouldn’t increase SNAP benefits to address the critical hunger concerns facing families of schoolchildren. And it wouldn’t provide Alabama and other states with the money needed to invest in child care, avoid teacher layoffs and prevent cuts to Medicaid and other vital services as budget shortfalls grow.
“This plan is inadequate by any measure. We urge our senators to reject it and look instead toward the approach taken in the House-passed HEROES Act. The House plan would boost Medicaid funding and offer more support for essential workers and people who lost their jobs. And it would provide federal assistance so states can avoid devastating service cuts that would hurt tens of millions of people.”
What a meaningful COVID-19 relief plan should look like
Alabama Arise urges Congress to negotiate a COVID-19 relief package that does the following:
Boosts Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits so struggling families can keep food on the table.
Increases housing assistance to help people pay their rent and mortgages and to avert a surge in homelessness.
Preserves the weekly $600 federal increase to unemployment insurance benefits.
Provides additional federal funding for states to avert harmful layoffs and invest in vital services like Medicaid and child care.
Removes administrative barriers to alternative school meal distribution procedures for districts that are holding classes online.
Allocates federal funding to help election officials process more absentee ballots and maintain proper social distancing at polling places.
Makes the Child Tax Credit temporarily available to children in families with the lowest incomes and expands the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for low-paid workers who are not raising children in their homes.
Arise’s statewide online summer listening sessions are a chance to hear what’s happening on key state policy issues and share your vision for our 2021 policy agenda. Register now to help identify emerging issues and inform our work to build a better Alabama.
We’d love to see you at any or all of these sessions! Registration is required, so please register at the link under each description.
June 23rd, 6 p.m. –Money talks
How can we strengthen education, health care, child care and other services that help Alabamians make ends meet? And how can we fund those services more equitably? Click here to register for this session.
Alabama is struggling. Even after Governor Ivey issued an emergency stay-at-home order, the average number of new coronavirus cases continues to rise. And despite those climbing case numbers, Alabama is moving forward with reopening its economy. To accomplish a successful recovery, residents must have confidence that it is safe to be in public and workers must be able to work in safe environments without fear for their health or the health and safety of their families. We are asking that you support the following recommendations so that Alabama will use the $1.9 billion under the Coronavirus Relief Fund to heal and protect the communities who have and will continue to shoulder the high costs of this crisis.
The Alabama Legislature, in consultation with Governor Ivey, has divided these federal funds into large categories of spending. Governor Ivey now has provided a method by which you and your colleagues may request release of the funds for coronavirus-related expenditures.
We recognize that $1.9 billion is inadequate to address the long-term needs of Alabamians as the present economic crisis continues to unfold. Consequently, you and your colleagues will need to find additional revenue sources to ensure that Alabama’s economy does not weaken further and that its residents are sufficiently protected from future spikes in infections. We look forward to working with you on those longer discussions.
Our recommendations aim to provide support where it is most needed, reflecting the disparate impact of the crisis. Highly educated workers have largely been able to work from home. Low-wage and many essential workers have not. Unemployment rates are highest for workers who have less than a bachelor’s degree and are higher in our Latinx and Black communities. We have also seen the largest gender gap in unemployment, where women experience unemployment at a nearly 3% higher rate than men. Our response to the pandemic and our use of the Coronavirus Relief Funds need to heal this harm, not exacerbate the disparities that already exist.
However the taxpayer-funded payments are distributed, they must be openly accounted with reasonable but sufficient detail. In addition to public reporting of expenditures, the Department of Examiners of Public Accounts must be authorized to audit receipts and expenditures of all agencies within its purview and to request accounting from other CARES Act funding recipients.
Ensuring safe workplaces and families
As Florida and Georgia have shown, merely reopening the economy does not bring back customers or jobs. Both states have seen ongoing unemployment claims at rates higher than other states in the nation. Alabama must ensure that workplaces are safe, that workers’ families are cared for, and that state and local services are ready for people to come back before the more than 500,000 newly unemployed can return to work. These recommendations focus mostly on needs that can be met with the $300 million earmarked for supporting businesses, nonprofits, and faith-based organizations.
Working outside the home brings with it the very real risk that you will become infected. The primary concern of many workers is that they will become infected on the job and, in turn, infect their family.
To make work safe, we must fund testing and contact tracing, provide protective and sanitary equipment, and create new workspaces that minimize the possibility of transmission.
High-risk and essential workplaces, such as poultry plants, warehouses, grocery stores, child care centers, nursing homes and hospitals, require repeated and random testing for workers who do not appear ill, immediate testing of anyone who has symptoms of the novel coronavirus, and contact tracing for employees, their families, and the public who have come in contact with an employee who has tested positive.
Alabama should use a portion of the $300 million earmarked for the support of citizens, businesses, nonprofits, and faith-based organizations directly impacted by the pandemic or providing assistance to those affected to provide:
The tests necessary for business and government agencies that have reopened;
Contact tracing of positive test results;
Personal protective equipment for employees of those business and government agencies; and
Increased sanitary stations within essential workplaces.
Alabama also needs to develop or adopt technical assistance on workplace safety detailing how employers test for COVID-19, use PPE, and create safer workspaces.
In exchange for providing these supplies and equipment, Alabama must require businesses to adopt paid sick leave requirements for all employees to protect other employees and the public from transmission of the virus and allow employees to get tested without fear of losing their jobs.
When allocating these funds, Alabama should prioritize supporting minority-owned and woman-owned local businesses and provide small business loans or grants to these businesses to retain employees or make workplaces safer. Minority-owned businesses received fewer Small Business Administration loans under the CARES Act, and because the business owners have less access to credit, they rely on personal funds more than white-owned businesses to finance their work.
In addition, Alabama should follow Congress’ example and provide a one-time tax rebate to low-income households to assist families who are unemployed and underemployed.
One of the largest hurdles for families who are prepared to go to work is finding affordable and safe child care. Approximately one in four working adults has a child under age 18 and in two-thirds of two-parent families with children, both parents work. However, not every family can afford child care. Low-income families who pay for child care spend around 35% of their income on that care. To ensure parents are able to return to work, Alabama needs to provide child care for low-income families. This includes supporting low-income families by making child care affordable and supporting child care centers that are at risk of closing.
Stable families need stable homes. While Governor Ivey’s April 3 proclamation alleviated the immediate threat of eviction and foreclosure, it does not solve the long-term problem for Alabamians unable to pay rent or mortgages now that the emergency order has expired. Many families will not be able to pay the back rent that has accumulated. About a third of low-income and nearly two-thirds of extremely low-income households in Alabama pay more than half of their income on rent and utilities every month. The total cost of rent support needed in Alabama for the duration of this crisis is estimated at a little over $1 billion.
These families and their landlords urgently need rent relief. To meet this significant need, Alabama must:
Allocate and leverage Coronavirus Relief Fund money in coordination with other sources of federal and private housing assistance funds; and
Provide emergency relief, through homeless and other nonprofit agencies, for families at risk of eviction, foreclosure or loss of utility service.
Other states have already taken this important step. Montana used $50 million of the Coronavirus Relief Funds it received to provide tenant and homeowner relief. The Pennsylvania Legislature reserved $150 million for emergency rental assistance from its federal funding. Likewise, Illinois allocated $396 million of its funds for housing assistance. It reserved $100 million specifically to meet the needs of people in disproportionately impacted areas based on COVID-19 cases and $79 million for counties that did not receive direct allotments from the federal Coronavirus Relief Funds. Alabama needs to take similar steps to protect its families who rent.
These solutions do not address the overwhelming need for more affordable housing in Alabama. To address this long-term goal, Alabama needs to increase its stock of affordable housing by funding the Housing Trust Fund administered by the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs.
As more Alabama families lose jobs or work hours, hunger is growing in the state. In the last week of May, the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey found that over 10% of Alabama households are experiencing food insecurity–a significant increase from the first week of the crisis. Therefore, we must greatly increase our support to Alabama-based food banks that provide emergency food to hungry families.
Improving Alabama’s health
COVID-19 is exposing chronic and deadly inequities in Alabama’s health care system. The virus’s disproportionately high mortality rate for African Americans reflects deep structural barriers to health care, economic opportunity, transportation, and other assets of the common good. These same barriers have impeded the state’s response to the pandemic by limiting the delivery system for mitigation, testing, and treatment in historically underserved communities. In light of these challenges borne of both active exclusion and passive neglect, Alabama’s COVID-19 response should prioritize interventions that explicitly address health disparities.
Allocation of federal COVID-19 relief funds does not occur in a vacuum. These funds will have their biggest impact when they flow through or alongside state programs designed to provide basic protections for all Alabamians. The single biggest action Alabama can take to maximize the impact of current and future federal COVID-19 relief funding on historic health disparities in our state is to expand Medicaid. Lack of health coverage for low-income adults creates an “outsider class,” distancing many of our most vulnerable neighbors from emergency resources that could buffer the pandemic’s toll. We recognize that the state cannot use COVID-19 relief funding for the state share of expansion costs.
Thus far, Alabama has set aside $5 million to support the Department of Health and an additional $250 million to support delivery of health care and related services related to the pandemic. Alabama should use these funds to:
Ensure that there is adequate testing for new infections, including funding for testing supplies;
Provide contact tracing after new infections are discovered;
Supply PPE to areas that have been most impacted by COVID-19; and
Strengthen public health surveillance systems to facilitate rapid response to local infection upsurges as economic activity increases.
Adequate testing for the virus is the most urgent tactical need. A primary tool for targeting finite (and admittedly inadequate) resources is accurate information. The state must evaluate the extent and adequacy of testing in each Public Health District in order to prioritize additional resources for underserved districts and facilitate partnerships between local health departments, private testing providers and local community and faith groups to ensure assistance for all who need it.
Another barrier to both testing and treatment is lack of transportation, especially in rural areas. To address this concern, Alabama should appropriate a portion of COVID-19 relief funds to the Public Transportation Trust Fund to mitigate coronavirus-related drops in local agencies’ farebox recovery rates.
Safely reopening state and local services
Reopening our courts
The Alabama Supreme Court has authorized the presiding circuit judge in each circuit to continue court closures until August 15 for all courts within the circuit, including municipal courts, to preserve the safety and welfare of court personnel and the public. We would encourage delaying non-essential hearings for as long as possible, so long as the delays do not affect the rights of litigants. However, when courts reopen, they will need to take special precautions to protect people with disabilities or with family members who are vulnerable to infection. Funding to courts should require that they develop, and make accessible, a comprehensive reasonable accommodation policy for civil and criminal cases that addresses the individual needs of lawyers, litigants, defendants, and witnesses who cannot physically come to court due to disability.
These accommodations could be as simple as continuances or remote video proceedings for people who have access to technology necessary to participate in the proceedings remotely. If remote proceedings are used, funding should be used to allow for technology that permits video to enhance credibility determinations by fact finders, that allows the introduction and viewing of documentary evidence by remote participants, and that provides access, or education about the requisite technology for participants prior to their hearing.
Alabama also should increase funding to support ADA coordinators within courts that individuals with disabilities can contact in the event that an accommodation is needed.
In addition to delaying court reopenings and taking necessary steps to protect people with disabilities, a portion of the $10 million set aside for court services should fund personal protective equipment for all people required to attend court functions, including court personnel, attorneys, witnesses, victims, and litigants. Additionally, a portion of those same funds should be used to promptly notify individuals with court dates of delays, cancellations, and rescheduled hearings. Not only should these notices be sent to individuals, but as the hours and operating conditions of the courts evolve and change, the court should ensure that the public is aware of current court policies and how people seeking emergency relief may access the courts. These notices should be prominently posted at the courthouse, online, and in any other location likely to inform the public.
Improving state services
The pandemic caused a groundswell of need for services administered by Alabama, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Medicaid, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Unemployment Insurance benefits, and subsidized housing programs (which are primarily run at a local level). As more residents need these supports to make it through the pandemic, Alabama should prioritize the $300 million it has set aside for state agencies to increase the numbers of case handlers they employ to respond to the increased demand, provide those workers with resources they need to work from home or with the same testing and PPE that we recommend for all essential workers when they engage with the public, and collectively improve access to their services using mobile technology.
When an individual is going through a crisis or the entire state is in a pandemic, these disparate services need to be accessible in one place with minimal barriers to applying for benefits, receiving important correspondence about deadlines or reporting obligations, and communicating with case workers about the services. Applying and maintaining these services comes at a high opportunity cost to families. Currently, to apply for and communicate about each service takes hours, often at different agencies and with different case workers. That is time that people need to take care of their children, their elderly parents or neighbors, or to look for employment. Improving capacity and access now both responds to the current crisis and inoculates these agencies for future crises.
In addition to improving access to state services, Alabama must protect our citizens’ health and fundamental right to vote. A portion of the $300 million set aside for state services should be used to provide absentee ballot applications to every registered voter or, at a minimum, allow every registered voter to request and vote by absentee ballot during the pandemic. In addition, because many voters require or prefer in-person voting, the state must work to improve the safety and accessibility of in-person voting and permit curbside voting. To ensure voters know how to vote safely during the COVID-19 pandemic, Alabama will need to increase its spending to educate voters in coordination with local election officials.
Taking responsibility for people in our custody
Alabama has both a legal and a moral responsibility for the safety and well-being of the people it incarcerates. There are tens of thousands of individuals housed in state prisons, local jails, and ICE detention facilities — all places where it is impossible to practice social distancing. To date, less than 1% of those incarcerated in Alabama’s prisons have been tested for COVID-19.
Governor Ivey with approval from the Legislature has set aside $200 million for the Department of Corrections to help meet Alabama’s moral and legal obligations during this pandemic. We recommend that Alabama prioritize its use of the funds to:
Release all incarcerated people who do not pose a threat to public safety, who are pregnant, and people who are at a higher risk if infected with COVID-19;
Assist with reentry services to enable successful reintegration for returning persons;
Test people in Alabama jails and prisons prior to release and while incarcerated; and
Provide PPE, soap, sanitizer, and other supplies necessary to maintain a safe and hygienic environment for the remaining incarcerated people and correctional staff.
The fastest way to reduce the threat of infection in jails and prisons is to test and release as many people as possible to reduce the number of people within the facilities. However, decarceration requires more than releasing someone from jail or prison. We also must prioritize a successful reentry into communities to prevent recidivism. A portion of the funds allocated for the Department of Corrections must go to increasing reentry services to ensure successful and safe transitions into the community. Particularly important to this transition are ensuring that people are tested for the coronavirus before reentering and that they are provided with the housing, employment, and medical services necessary once they are in the community. Some states have reduced their populations by nearly 20%. Alabama must do more.
In addition to expediting reentry and funding reentry services, Alabama needs to ensure that people are not set up to fail with onerous fines and fees used to fund the criminal justice system and reentry monitoring. Unemployment is already at record highs, and we know that the effects of racial bias in the hiring process increase the already negative effects of criminal records for people of color. Studies have shown that Black applicants with a criminal record had only a 5% chance of receiving a call back, less than one-third of white applicants with a criminal record. Reentering into this economy will be tough. Having paid for reentry with federal funds, Alabama should waive the fines and fees for people who are struggling to reintegrate into our communities, giving them a clean start and a better chance for success.
Even with fewer people in facilities, we will still need to dramatically increase testing of employees who work in prisons and jails and for the people who are incarcerated therein. Only four in every 100 residents in Alabama have been tested for COVID-19. Alabama has tested fewer than 1% of people incarcerated in its prisons. This is wholly inadequate to slow, let alone stop, the spread of COVID-19 within Alabama’s facilities.
Securing our children’s futures
The pandemic radically impacted education and threatens to worsen future education outcomes in Alabama for the many students who already did not have the benefit of an equitable opportunity to learn before it began. Alabama must focus its attention on addressing the inequities exacerbated by access to technology, space to learn, and caretakers to support their learning and those for whom specialized services are not available, including for students with disabilities. If it does not, the opportunity gap will widen with significant economic impacts for students and their families far into the future.
The opportunity gap experienced by low-income children and children of color begins early in life. We must intervene and use a portion of the dedicated $300 million for expenditures related to technology and infrastructure for remote instruction and learning to provide support to organizations offering early intervention programs for at-risk children so that these services can be provided safely and, as necessary, remotely.
Alabama also should prioritize the use of the $300 million to fund public schools with the highest proportion of students who are low-income children, children of color, children with disabilities, English-language learner children, children in immigrant families, children in foster care, migrant children, children experiencing homelessness, LGBTQ children, and children in the juvenile justice system. Public schools likely will need to hire additional staff, including counselors, to provide necessary education, social and emotional, and health and safety services and increase salaries to remain competitive for educators who now take greater risks to their own health and are required to master more technological skills to teach their kids.
We recognize that the $300 million allocated by the Legislature will not be enough. Additional funding could also be taken from the $250 million fund for local government expenditures directly related to the pandemic to provide these disproportionately affected school systems and their local communities with funding for after-school, summer school, and community programs for youth.
Finally, where there are competing priorities for funding, the Legislature has set aside an additional $118 million that can be used to supplement the funds required for these recommendations. If you have any questions or concerns about any of these recommendations, please contact Robyn Hyden ( or 334-832-9060) or Katie Glenn ( or 334-531-7638).
90 Alabama organizations
ACLU of Alabama
Adelante Alabama Worker Center
Alabama Black Women’s Roundtable
Alabama Civic Engagement Coalition
Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice
Alabama Coalition on Black Civic Participation
Alabama Faith Council
Alabama Institute for Social Justice
Alabama Justice Initiative
Alabama Poor People’s Campaign
Alabama Rivers Alliance
Alabama Solutions, A Grassroots Movement
Alabama Youth and College NAACP
Amalgamated Transit Union Local 770
Auburn Unitarian Universalist Fellowship
Baptist Church of the Covenant
Bay Area Women Coalition, Inc.
Beloved Community Church
Birmingham AIDS Outreach (BAO)
Children First Foundation, Inc.
Christian Church in Alabama-Northwest Florida
Christian Methodist Episcopal Church
Church of the Reconciler, UMC (Birmingham)
Church Women United Montgomery
Citizens’ Climate Lobby – Baldwin County, Alabama Chapter
Collaborative Solutions, Inc.
Etowah Visitation Project
Fairhope Unitarian Fellowship
Faith and Works Statewide Civic Engagement Collective
Faith in Action Alabama
Fall Injury Prevention And Rehabilitation Center
First Christian Church – Disciples of Christ (Montgomery)
First Congregational Church, UCC (Birmingham)
Five Horizons Health Services
Greater Birmingham Ministries
Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama
Holiday Transitional Center
Holy Rosary Catholic Church
Human Rights Campaign Alabama
Humanists of North Alabama
Immanuel Presbyterian Church, PCUSA (Montgomery)
Jesuit Social Research Institute
Jobs to Move America
Just Faith, Prince of Peace Catholic Church (Birmingham)
Just Faith, Our Lady of the Valley Catholic Church (Birmingham)
League of Women Voters of Alabama
Low Income Housing Coalition of Alabama
Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church (Daphne)
March of Dimes
Mary’s House Catholic Worker
Medical Advocacy & Outreach
Mission Possible Community Services, Inc.
Monte Sano United Methodist Church
Montevallo Progressive Alliance
Montgomery Pride United
National Action Network – Birmingham Chapter
National Lawyers Guild
National MS Society
North Alabama Conference United Methodist Women
North Alabama Peace Network
Open Table United Church of Christ
People First of Alabama
Planned Parenthood Southeast
Progressive Women of Northeast Alabama
Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty
Restorative Strategies, LLC
Saint Junia United Methodist Church
Shelby Roden, Attorneys at Law
Sierra Club, Alabama Chapter
Sisters of Mercy Alabama
Sisters of Mercy of the Americas
Southern AIDS Coalition
SPLC Action Fund
St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church (Birmingham)
The Empowerment Alliance
The Green Kitchen
The Right Place, Inc.
The Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham
Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Mobile
URGE: Unite for Reproductive & Gender Equity
YWCA Central Alabama
The monument stood in Birmingham for decades as a twisted tribute to Alabama’s original sins: slavery and white supremacy. It “honored” a violent rebellion that sought to protect the enslavement of human beings. During segregation and Jim Crow and civil rights protests and into the 21st century, it served as a daily 52-foot-tall reminder of the systemic oppression and persecution of Black Alabamians.
That monument is finally gone now. After protests, the city pulled it down June 1, on a state holiday named for the political leader of the rebellion it commemorated. Removing physical symbols of slavery and segregation is an important step toward healing and recovery, but it’s not enough. We also must tear down prejudices, disparities and injustices that trace their roots to these oppressive and racist practices. To do that, Alabama must enact public policies that undermine white supremacy and promote dignity, equity and justice for everyone.
Black Alabamians have battled generation after generation of discriminatory barriers to education, jobs, housing and voting. Compounding those barriers is a criminal justice system that polices Black people more heavily, arrests them more often and condemns them to harsher sentences in dangerously overcrowded prisons and jails.
For centuries, Black people have suffered from police brutality and unequal treatment from law enforcement. This history has fueled protests across the country and around the world over the last week. Arise stands in solidarity with calls to stop killing Black people and start building a world that’s safe for everyone.
All of these systemic failures have added together to produce a series of terrible, ongoing disparities. Black people in our state face higher rates of poverty and hunger, lower life expectancies and lower rates of employment and health insurance coverage.
Policy changes to break down harmful barriers
These are institutional failures that require policy solutions. Here a few ways lawmakers can help break down barriers to opportunity and justice:
Expand Medicaid to cover adults with low incomes. Expansion would ensure health coverage for more than 340,000 Alabamians who are uninsured or barely paying for insurance they can’t really afford. It also would attack a fundamental injustice: People of color make up about 34% of our state’s population, but nearly half of all uninsured Alabamians with low incomes are people of color. Lack of affordable health coverage deprives Black people of timely care for cancer, diabetes, heart disease and other serious conditions. As the disproportionately high share of coronavirus deaths among Black Alabamians shows, health care access is literally a matter of life or death.
Invest more in public education. Alabama’s state funding for K-12 and higher education, adjusted for inflation, is lower today than it was in 2008. This chronic underfunding hits many schools that primarily serve Black students especially hard.
Equitably distribute funding for affordable housing and public transportation. Alabama has trust funds for both but hasn’t funded them yet. Lawmakers should fund public transportation to help everyone get to work, school and other places they need to go. Alabama should support the Housing Trust Fund to ensure people living in deep poverty have safe shelter. Our state also should commit to eliminating redlining, fighting housing discrimination and proactively reducing residential segregation.
Raise the minimum wage and restore home rule to localities. Alabama is one of only five states with no minimum wage law. Birmingham tried to raise its minimum wage in 2016, but state lawmakers blocked that effort. The Legislature has that power due to the 1901 state constitution, whose authors explicitly said the document aimed to “establish white supremacy in this state.” Alabama should lift constitutional barriers to home rule and allow local governments to make decisions in their own communities.
A better, more inclusive future for Alabama
Undoing the legacies of slavery and segregation in Alabama will require more than reassuring words and vague platitudes. It will require substantive policy changes to break down centuries-old barriers and ensure all Alabamians have a chance to reach their full potential.
Many of these changes – and others not mentioned above – won’t be easy. Some of them may not happen quickly. But we must keep advocating and working toward the day when they will. The road to dignity, equity and justice for all Alabamians remains a long one. But walking together and working together, we can and will reach that destination.
Life is changing quickly for everyone during the coronavirus (COVID-19) public health emergency. Protecting yourself and your family from the virus is the first of many concerns. The pandemic also has left many Alabamians worried about food, health care, housing, job security and other basic needs.
Alabama has a safety net of public assistance programs that can help people through hard times. And Alabama Arise wants to help people connect with the help they need. Use this guide to find services that may fit your needs now, even if you weren’t eligible before.
Response efforts are changing rapidly, so check back for updates to this resource guide as new information becomes available. Email if you have any questions or recommendations for additional resources.
Below is a table of contents covered in this guide. Click on each topic to go to its corresponding section.
Know the major symptoms of COVID-19: cough, fever, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing. Other symptoms may include aches, chills, diarrhea, headache, severe vomiting, sore throat, tiredness or new loss of smell or taste.
If you experience these symptoms, call your doctor first to get advice on testing and care. Free testing is available at state testing sites. Charges may apply at other testing sites.
If you do not have a doctor, call the Alabama COVID-19 Hotline 24/7 at 888-264-2256 for testing sites and hours of operation near you. Note: This hotline does not provide medical advice.
If you are uninsured, you may be able to get free treatment for conditions related to COVID-19. The federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act includes a $100 billion emergency fund for health care providers. “As a condition of receiving funds under this program, providers will be forbidden from balance billing the uninsured for the cost of their care,” the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has announced. Check with your local hospital or clinic about this.
Prolonged in-home isolation can mask incidents of family abuse and violence, especially toward children, seniors or people with disabilities. People who report abuse or neglect are protected from legal action in response to their reporting.
Members of certain professions are mandatory reporters, meaning they must report suspected or known abuse or neglect. These professions include chiropractors, clergy members, coroners, day care workers or employees, dentists, doctors, law enforcement officials, medical examiners, mental health professionals, nurses, optometrists, osteopaths, pharmacists, podiatrists, social workers and teachers and school officials.
– If you are experiencing domestic violence (that is, if someone in your family or someone you’re in a relationship with is hurting or threatening you), call the Alabama domestic violence hotline at 800-650-6522. This hotline is answered 24/7, and you do not have to give your name to get help.
– To report suspected child abuse or neglect, including failure to seek medical treatment, call your county Department of Human Resources or local law enforcement. Do not email reports of suspected abuse or neglect, as they may not get prompt attention.
– To report elder abuse, call the Adult Abuse Hotline at 800-458-7214.
– To report abuse in an assisted living facility or nursing home, call 800-356-9596.
Other contact numbers to know
– If you need legal help anywhere in Alabama to protect your right to disability services, call the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program (ADAP) at 205-348-4928 or use the online intake form here.
– If you are a survivor of sexual assault, you can call the sexual assault hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673). You will be connected with a trained sexual assault service provider in your area.
– If you are experiencing homelessness and need shelter, call 2-1-1 and ask for a list of shelters in your area.
– If you need legal help for a problem related to COVID-19, call Legal Services Alabama at 877-393-2333 or click here.
– To report COVID-19-related price gouging or scams, contact these hotlines:
The Alabama Attorney General’s Consumer Complaint Hotline: 800-392-5658 or 334-242-7335 (8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday).
The National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline: 866-720-5721 or .
Health care and insurance
The risk of COVID-19 exposure, complications and death varies widely by job, age and health condition. That’s why the new vaccines are being offered in phases, with those deemed at highest risk getting the first doses.
The groups eligible for COVID-19 vaccination as of mid-March 2021 are health care workers and other front-line workers, emergency responders, residents and staff of nursing facilities and congregate care settings, and people over 65 years of age. The next groups slated for eligibility are people with underlying health conditions and critical workforce not included in earlier groups.
Supply shortages have been a major obstacle in Alabama’s vaccination rollout, but new vaccine products and a manufacturing push are improving the outlook. For more information, visit alabamapublichealth.gov.
Important information about the COVID-19 vaccines
Here are some important things to know about the vaccines:
All approved vaccines have been through the full testing process for any U.S. vaccine. They’ve come out more quickly because testing and manufacturing were scaled up for the emergency.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine comes in one dose. The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines come in two doses, several weeks apart. If you get either of those, you will need to get the second dose of the same vaccine you got the first time. The person who gives you your vaccine will explain how to get your follow-up shot.
Your health care provider is your best source of information about the vaccine and how to get it. If you don’t have a regular provider, contact your county health department or a local clinic about how and when to get the vaccine.
The vaccine will be free to everyone. Some providers may charge an administrative fee. If you cannot pay the fee, tell your provider. You can still get the vaccine.
Lots of false information is circulating about the vaccines. Be sure to confirm anything you hear or read with information from a reliable source, such as your health care provider, your county health department or a local clinic.
Vaccines are being distributed as soon as they are available. Because the supply is limited at this stage, it’s important to follow official guidance on which phase is the one for you. In the meantime, continue taking precautions and be patient. Everyone will have the opportunity to get the vaccine.
COVID-19 puts people without health insurance at special risk for delayed care and financial disaster. Federal and state governments are making changes to help people who are uninsured or at risk of losing coverage.
If you are uninsured, you may be able to get free treatment for conditions related to COVID-19. The federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act includes a $100 billion emergency fund for health care providers. “As a condition of receiving funds under this program, providers will be forbidden from balance billing the uninsured for the cost of their care,” the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has announced. Check with your local hospital or clinic about this.
If you had Medicaid coverage of any kind during March 2020, or if you become eligible later, your coverage will not be terminated for any reason before the crisis has ended, unless you cancel it yourself or move out of Alabama. This includes postpartum coverage for women who recently have given birth. If your case was open in March but has already closed, please be patient. Medicaid will reopen your case very soon.
To help keep your Medicaid from ending after the emergency:
Report any information changes.
Renew your Medicaid at the scheduled time.
If you have Medicaid coverage, you do not have to pay co-pays to the hospital, doctor’s office, pharmacy or for medical equipment and supplies during the coronavirus emergency.
If you are younger than 65 and have lost your job, regular pay or hours in the coronavirus emergency, find out if you and your family can get health insurance through Medicaid, ALL Kids or the Marketplace.
To explore your Marketplace coverage options, visit healthcare.gov or call 800-318-2596.
For enrollment assistance, call Enroll Alabama at 844-248-7698 or email .
Alabama has 17 community health centers, with more than 165 locations across the state, that provide comprehensive primary care and preventive services on a sliding fee scale, regardless of patients’ insurance status. Services include:
General primary medical care
Diagnostic laboratory and radiology
Other services that vary by location (mental health care, optometry, substance use disorder treatment, etc.)
To find the nearest health center, visit Find My Health Center and enter your ZIP code. Or call the Alabama Primary Health Care Association at 888-322-7068 from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. Some details of operation are changing because of COVID-19, so call your local center before visiting.
Alabama has a network of nonprofit food banks that collect, store and distribute groceries to food pantries, where families can get free food directly. To learn more about food assistance in your area and find a local food pantry, check out the Auburn Justice Center’s food pantry map. Or contact the food bank nearest you:
Alabama provides federal food assistance through SNAP (formerly known as food stamps). Monthly SNAP benefits help eligible households with low incomes buy the food they need to maintain good health. Loss of income in the COVID-19 crisis is making many more families eligible for SNAP.
To create a new My DHR account, you will need to provide your name, date of birth, contact information, preferred username and password. You also will need to set up three security questions for your account’s protection.
To get help applying for SNAP, call 877-833-2550 or click here.
To get help filling out the simplified application, call 800-438-2958.
Women, Infants and Children (WIC) is a supplemental nutrition program for pregnant or breastfeeding women; women who had a baby within the last six months; infants; and children under age 5. To receive WIC benefits in Alabama, an individual or family must meet all of these requirements:
Have a nutritional risk that healthier food could improve.
If you think you may qualify, call your county health department to make an appointment, or call 888-942-4673 for further information. The Alabama WIC Program offers free communication assistance at each clinic location. During the coronavirus emergency, the health department is conducting interviews and nutrition assessments by phone.
If you or your children are approved for WIC, you will be prescribed a specific package of food based on your nutritional assessment. You will receive a debit-like card called an EBT (electronic benefits transfer) card that you can use to purchase food from your personalized food package. Learn more about WIC food options here.
Your options will be based on your age and need. Not everyone approved for WIC will be able to get every food item on the list. During the coronavirus emergency, the Department of Public Health is allowing some substitutions if not all the food in your package is available in the grocery store. Your grocer can help you figure out what you can substitute for a WIC food that is unavailable.
Children’s meal services
When schools closed or offered hybrid schedules, millions of children lost access to school meals. In response, Congress created a special program called Pandemic EBT (P-EBT). P-EBT provides eligible households with the same benefits as the National School Lunch Program ($6.82 a day for each child not receiving meals at school, prorated for children attending school on a hybrid schedule).
In October, Congress reauthorized and expanded P-EBT to include children under 6, living in a household receiving SNAP assistance and living in an area where day care centers or schools are closed. The new round of P-EBT assistance should become available later this spring and will be retroactive to the start of Alabama’s 2020-21 school year. Meanwhile, the earlier payments will remain active and usable for 365 days from the date issued.
If you believe your family was eligible but didn’t receive a P-EBT card, call DHR’s P-EBT Customer Service at 800-410-5827. You also can email DHR with questions at .
Extension of Summer Food Service Program
The 2020-21 school year began with many uncertainties for classrooms and school cafeterias. Despite detailed USDA guidelines for distributing school meals, child nutrition staff grappled with implementing practical methods to serve meals to incoming students. While some districts opted for on-site learning plans and specified food service procedures, most relied on virtual learning curriculums and grab-and-go meals for remote learners.
Parents and child nutrition staff received relief when Congress extended the Summer Food Service Program through the 2020-21 school year. Extending this program ensures that all school-age children receive school meals at no charge to parents.
Elevated COVID-19 rates have since forced most school districts to convert to remote or hybrid learning methods and accompanying grab-and-go meal options. Plans continue to vary from district to district and are likely to change in response to local conditions and experiences. To get updates on your school’s nutrition plan for the 2020-21 school year, contact your local board of education.
Alabama provides prepared meals for eligible seniors through several programs, some of which have changed their operation during the emergency. Any Alabamian who is aged 60 or over, or is married to someone who is, is eligible. People with disabilities who live with an eligible participant or in a living community where the senior nutrition program operates are also eligible.
Meals on Wheels continues to operate in all regions, though some programs have suspended hot meal delivery because of reduced volunteer capacity and other factors. All senior centers in Alabama are closed under the emergency order, but everyone who participated in senior center meals is getting Meals on Wheels delivery, unless they choose otherwise. Alabama has received emergency funding to enroll new participants during the pandemic.
To enroll by phone or find out more about senior nutrition programs, contact your regional Area Agency on Aging. (See the list and contact info below.) Office closures and other challenges may require you to leave a message.
West Alabama (Bibb, Fayette, Hale, Greene, Lamar, Pickens, Tuscaloosa): 205-333-2990
Income and small business assistance
Unemployment insurance (UI)
If you lost your job or had your hours or pay reduced because of the pandemic, you may be eligible for unemployment insurance (UI) benefits, also called unemployment compensation. Some normal administrative rules apply, but the state has suspended its job search requirement and the requirement to be able and available to work.
Even if you haven’t been laid off or furloughed, you still can qualify for benefits if one of these is true:
Officials placed you in mandatory quarantine.
You’re sick with COVID-19.
You must care for an immediate family member diagnosed with COVID-19.
The state has stopped penalizing employers for higher employee use of UI benefits. If you’re laid off, make sure your employer knows its UI costs won’t rise if you file a claim. This removes the incentive to dispute it.
Alabama provides 14 to 20 weeks of basic UI compensation. Five more weeks are available for people in job training programs, which face an uncertain status during the pandemic.
Compensation ranges from $45 to $275 weekly.
Payments equal 1/26 of the wages you earned in the two highest quarters, up to the weekly limit of $275.
Until July 31, the federal government provided a $600 weekly supplement to all UI and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance beneficiaries. Congress is considering an extension in the next COVID-19 relief package.
If you lose your job or hours and need to file or reopen a claim, follow the steps here or call 866-234-5382 (select option 2). Note: Filing a claim requires patience. The website is complicated, and current call volume is high.
Some people in the labor force do not qualify for traditional unemployment insurance (UI) compensation. But many will be covered under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act’s provision for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. You are federally eligible for PUA if you are ineligible for regular UI compensation and you are out of work or have lost working hours because of COVID-19.
This provision applies to:
Independent contractors who have not participated in the UI system.
Workers who have not earned enough wages to get UI benefits.
Workers who earned wages in too few quarters to qualify for UI benefits.
“Gig workers,” such as rideshare drivers, online sellers and pet-sitters.
The process for filing for PUA is the same as filing a UI claim.
Stimulus payments for people who didn’t receive them automatically
The CARES Act created Economic Impact Payments of $1,200 for each eligible adult and $500 for each eligible child. A second round of relief payments of $600 per adult went out early in 2021. And the American Rescue Plan Act, passed in March 2021, will provide $1,400 payments for most Americans.
Many Alabamians who haven’t received payments don’t file federal income tax returns because they don’t earn enough to owe taxes. Others don’t receive Social Security, veterans’ benefits or other direct federal payments.
Eligible people who missed a filing deadline or did not receive the full amount to which they were entitled still can receive the full amount of their relief payments. If this applies to you, claim the Recovery Rebate Credit when filing federal income taxes for the 2020 filing year. The deadline for 2020 returns is April 15, 2021.
If you’re eligible and have a bank account, your payment will be sent there. If you don’t have a bank account, the IRS will send a check or prepaid debit card. Direct deposits usually arrive within one to two weeks if there are no errors in the information provided. Checks and prepaid debit cards often take longer.
Relief for small business owners
Our nation’s small businesses are facing an unprecedented economic disruption with the COVID-19 pandemic. The CARES Act contains $376 billion in relief for American workers and small businesses. In addition to traditional programs from the Small Business Administration (SBA), the CARES Act established several new temporary programs to address the COVID-19 outbreak. You can find a comprehensive list here.
The Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Association (ASAN) has mini-grants available to help small farmers and farmers markets weather the pandemic. The grants are available in Blount, Jefferson, Shelby, St. Clair and Walker counties. Click here for more ASAN resources for small farmers and farmers markets.
Housing and utilities assistance
Federal and state governments have taken numerous steps to protect people from loss of housing and essential utilities during the COVID-19 emergency.
On Sept. 1, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) placed a moratorium on evictions for most Americans. This moratorium is in effect in Alabama, even though Gov. Kay Ivey lifted state-level eviction protections June 1. But the CDC’s moratorium is only in effect through March 31, 2021. If the moratorium is not extended, the lack of state protections for renters means evictions for nonpayment will resume.
To qualify for protection under this moratorium, applicants must submit a statement to their landlords. The statement must assert that the applicant meets each of these five standards:
Has used best efforts to obtain available government housing assistance.
Meets financial requirements. (The 2020 income eligibility threshold is no more than $99,000 for an individual or $198,000 for a married couple.)
Is unable to pay full rent due to substantial loss of income or high medical expenses.
Is making efforts to pay the amount possible.
Would likely become homeless or live in a shared space if evicted.
People who are behind on their rent or utilities or who are facing evictions can find help from agencies that have received federal relief funds to prevent homelessness during the pandemic. The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA) has received $23 million for homelessness assistance and relief. Local nonprofit agencies have received these ADECA funds and can make rent and utility payments for people who are behind. To find out who in your area can help with rent and utilities, call 2-1-1 or visit 211connectsalabama.org.
The Alabama Housing Financing Authority administers a separate fund of $256 million that can help with past due rent and utilities. To find out more and apply for assistance, call 833-620-2434 or click here.
The CDC emergency action does not remove the legal requirement to pay rent. It also does not prevent evictions for reasons other than nonpayment.
If your landlord gives you an eviction notice or says you’re being evicted, call Legal Services Alabama at 866-456-4995.
If you become homeless due to eviction or any other reason, call 2-1-1 for shelter referral and rapid rehousing assistance.
You also can call 2-1-1 if you need help paying rental deposits, first month’s rent or a mortgage payment. Ask for a referral to an agency that receives Homeless Prevention and Rapid Rehousing funds. These funds can be used to prevent evictions, help cover the costs of a new rental or cover utility bills that may lead to loss of housing.
If you are in an unstable housing situation, call the Low Income Housing Coalition of Alabama at 205-939-0411.
If your landlord changes locks or cuts off utilities to force you out, call Legal Services Alabama at 866-456-4995.
Keeping your electricity and water services on
Though no statewide process exists for utility assistance, some providers have stopped shutoffs. And some utility payment assistance funds are available through the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).
If you need utility bill payment assistance through LIHEAP, contact the Community Action Agency (CAA) serving the county where you live. Find your local CAA here.
If you are unable to pay your utility bills, call your utility provider and ask for a deferment.
To find other assistance in your area, call the statewide helpline at 2-1-1. This number will connect you to your area’s information and referral system. You also can click here to search for local help online. 2-1-1 is available 24/7 by phone and online to help you find assistance with clothing, employment, food, health care, housing, legal problems and other needs from government and non-government agencies.
For a print-friendly copy of this material: From a desktop computer, click the plus button below the Facebook and Twitter icons in the toolbar on the right side of your screen. Scroll to PrintFriendly and use that application to create a print-ready version. Email if you have any questions or recommendations for additional resources.
Alabama Arise members have worked for more than three decades to build a brighter, more inclusive future for our state. And as the Legislature’s 2020 regular session starts Tuesday, we’re proud to renew that commitment.
Below, Arise executive director Robyn Hyden highlights some key goals for the session, including Medicaid expansion and untaxing groceries.
How you can make a difference
Together, we can turn our shared vision for a better Alabama into a reality. Here are three ways you can help:
(1) Become an Arise individual member. Numbers matter. The more members we have, the louder our voice for change is at the State House. If you’re not yet an Arise member, click here to become one today. If you’re already a member, please ask your friends and neighbors to join us as well!
(3) Spread the word about our issue priorities. The more people learn about our movement, the more support we gain. Read more about our 2020 issue priorities and share this information with your friends:
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
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.
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.
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