New federal public charge rule will hurt families and children across Alabama

A new Department of Homeland Security regulation published Monday will harm the health and well-being of thousands of Alabama families. The so-called public charge rule also will threaten access to health and human services programs for U.S.-born citizen children.

When proposed last fall, the regulation drew more than 266,000 public comments, overwhelmingly in opposition. The feedback included opposition from Alabama Arise, our members and allies.

The final regulation could deny admissions to the United States or green card applications if an immigrant or a member of a legal immigrant’s family uses Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Section 8 rent vouchers or Medicare low-income subsidies for prescription drugs. Citizenship applications are not subject to the public charge regulation. Refugees and asylum applicants are also exempt.

Conservative estimates peg the regulation’s impact at 26 million people nationwide and nearly 200,000 people in Alabama. This includes one-fourth of all U.S. children and more than 60,000 Alabama children who live in immigrant families. The majority of these children were born in the United States.

“This rule threatens the health and safety of hard-working Alabama families and their children,” Alabama Arise executive director Robyn Hyden said. “Alabama Arise stands with our partners in the immigrant community, and we support efforts to stop this cruel rule in the courts and in Congress.

”We call on other Alabamians of faith and conscience to do the same. We ask Senators Doug Jones and Richard Shelby and our congressional delegation to act now to override this rule and protect all Alabama families.”

The rule will make life even harder for millions of families who already work hard to make ends meet. Child poverty, hunger, substandard housing and other drivers of poor health outcomes are likely to increase when immigrants are afraid to apply for assistance to which they have a legal right. And because immigrants targeted by these rules are overwhelmingly people of color, racial health disparities are likely to widen as well.

Alabama Arise comments in opposition to federal plan to evict mixed-status immigrant families

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is proposing a rule that would bar tens of thousands of “mixed-status” immigrant families from living in public housing and Section 8 programs. These families include both members who are eligible and ineligible for assistance based on immigration status.

The proposed rule would harm more than 55,000 children by forcing families either to break up or face eviction. Alabama Arise policy analyst Carol Gundlach submitted the following comments in opposition to this proposal:

Introduction

I am writing on behalf of Alabama Arise in response to the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) proposed rule regarding “verification of eligible status,” published in the Federal Register on May 10, 2019 (RIN 2501-AD89; HUD Docket No. FR-6124-P-01).

Alabama Arise strongly opposes this proposed rule, and we urge HUD to withdraw the rule in its entirety. We believe this rule would reduce the availability of affordable housing for some of the poorest families in the country. We believe it would increase homelessness, particularly among families with children. And we believe it would impose burdens on seniors and people with disabilities who seek affordable housing in Alabama.

Organizational purpose and interest

Arise is a nonprofit, nonpartisan coalition of congregations, organizations and individuals promoting public policies to improve the lives of Alabamians with low incomes. Arise believes acts of charity are vital, but they are not enough. We also must work to improve harmful policies. Arise provides a structure through which Alabamians can engage in public debates with the goal of improving the welfare of all Alabamians.

Our organization envisions an Alabama where all people have resources and opportunities to reach their potential to live happy, productive lives, and each successive generation is ensured a secure and healthy future. We envision an Alabama where all government leaders are responsive, inclusive and justice-serving, and where the people are engaged in the policymaking process. And we envision an Alabama where all people live with concern for the common good and respect for the humanity of every person.

Arise has engaged actively in advocacy and outreach to increase the availability of safe and affordable housing in Alabama. We were instrumental in passage of state legislation in 2006 requiring landlords to meet minimum standards for rental housing and provide tenants with basic housing rights. We successfully advocated for creation of the Alabama Housing Trust Fund (HTF) in 2012. We continue to advocate for state HTF funding to promote affordable housing for Alabamians with low and moderate incomes. And we have researched and reported on the lack of affordable housing for Alabamians with low wages.

The proposed rule would increase homelessness, especially among families and children

By HUD’s own admission, the rule effectively would evict more than 55,000 children who are now eligible for subsidized housing. These are children who are U.S. citizens or have legal status themselves but live with parents who do not.

Under both federal law and existing HUD policy, families with mixed immigration status are eligible for prorated subsidized housing, based on the citizen child’s eligibility. Children, however, cannot enter into contracts for housing or apply for housing on their own. Both must be done by adult parents or guardians, who may not be eligible on their own. So to deny housing to a non-citizen parent is effectively to deny housing to an eligible citizen child.

The proposed rule would force these families either to face eviction or separate a non-citizen member from the rest of the family, including minor children. Maintaining the family unit would result in homelessness among many families eligible for prorated subsidized housing under current rules.

This proposal would increase child homelessness, which is already a serious problem in the United States. The U.S. Department of Education identified 1.3 million homeless children in 2016-17, a 70% increase since the 2007-08 school year. More than 14,000 of these children live in Alabama. This plan would harm the health, education and economic stability of tens of thousands of vulnerable children.

The proposed rule would increase the burden on seniors and people with disabilities who cannot provide proof of citizenship

The proposed rule would require applicants for subsidized housing to provide documentation of their citizenship. This would impose a significant burden on many seniors and people with disabilities, even if they are U.S. citizens.

Many Alabama seniors lack state-issued identification and do not have copies of their birth certificates. State-issued driver’s licenses or non-driver identification cards in Alabama are $36.25. And that does not include the cost of transportation to an Alabama Law Enforcement Agency office. Public transportation in rural parts of Alabama is often sparse or nonexistent, making it harder to get state-issued ID. Many seniors or people with disabilities who cannot drive must pay a neighbor to take them to town.

Copies of birth certificates in Alabama are $15, a notable expense for people barely making ends meet. Many rural areas lack high-speed internet, complicating access to the Alabama Department of Public Health’s website. And people born in other states face the added challenge of navigating another state’s rules and regulations from afar.

In some rural parts of Alabama, subsidized housing may be the only affordable housing in the area. But this proposal’s identification requirements would erect harmful, unnecessary barriers to that housing for many seniors and people with disabilities.

The proposed rule would reduce the availability of affordable housing for all families in poverty

This rule’s damaging effects would reach well beyond mixed-status households. As families who are only eligible for prorated rental assistance lost housing, families eligible for full-family subsidies would replace them. If HUD replaced the 25,000 mixed-status families with those eligible for full subsidies, the increased federal cost to house these families would be $65 million annually. Absent increased appropriations, this change would lead to reductions in either the amount or quality of subsidized housing available for low-income renters, including U.S. citizens.

Conclusion

Alabama Arise believes the proposed rule would reduce the availability of affordable housing for all families with low incomes. We also believe it would increase family homelessness and negatively impact seniors and people with disabilities. Arise urges HUD to withdraw its current proposal immediately. And we urge the agency to work instead to strengthen its commitment to affordable housing for all families in the United States.

Investing in the Housing Trust Fund would create jobs and expand housing opportunities across Alabama

Alabama lacks more than 69,000 homes for households with incomes under $24,600. That means many hard-working Alabamians, seniors, students, veterans and folks on fixed incomes can’t afford a safe place to call home. State investment in the Alabama Housing Trust Fund (AHTF) would provide flexibility to meet a variety of housing needs across the state, such as development, rehabilitation, down payment assistance and disaster recovery.

HB 487, sponsored by Rep. Neil Rafferty, D-Birmingham, and SB 189, sponsored by Sen. Linda Coleman-Madison, D-Birmingham, would fund the AHTF by increasing the state mortgage record fee from 15 cents to 20 cents per $100 of indebtedness. This one-time filing fee has not changed since it was enacted in 1935. The increase would leave Alabama’s fee less than both Georgia’s and Florida’s.

The benefits would be enormous for Alabamians and our state’s economy. Strong investment in the Alabama Housing Trust Fund would:

  • Allow municipalities, nonprofits and groups like Habitat for Humanity to build or rehabilitate homes. Individuals cannot access the funds.
  • Address Alabama’s shortfall of more than 69,000 homes for low-income working families, veterans, and retirees living on fixed incomes.
  • Create thousands of jobs across the state over the next decade.

BOTTOM LINE: Hard-working Alabamians should be able to pay rent and still be able put food on the table. Every child deserves a safe place to call home. And veterans who have defended our country deserve to return to a safe and affordable place to call home. Investing in the Housing Trust Fund would help Alabama achieve all three of those goals.

Shutdown deal brings sigh of relief for struggling Alabamians

The White House on Friday announced a short-term agreement to end the 35-day partial shutdown of the federal government. Alabama Arise executive director Robyn Hyden issued the following statement in response:

“The pain from this unnecessary shutdown has grown by the day. Fortunately, this deal will reopen the federal government without causing further damage to struggling people. We thank all the everyday Alabamians who demanded an end to this harmful shutdown.

“Our country can’t afford to end up back in this shameful situation a few weeks from now. And we can’t afford to leave millions of Americans at greater risk for hunger, homelessness and hardship. Lawmakers must reach a long-term funding deal that protects SNAP, WIC and other vital nutrition assistance and rental assistance programs. And they should do it without seeking other policies that would hurt people who struggle to make ends meet.”

Education budget, landlord-tenant changes, HIV drug bill advance in Alabama Legislature

K-12 teachers in Alabama wouldn’t get a raise next year under the Education Trust Fund (ETF) budget that a House committee approved Wednesday. The House is expected to vote on the plan next week.

The committee’s $5.9 billion budget would restore $10 million of state funding for Alabama State University that the Senate had removed. It also would include slight increases for K-12 and higher education, though next year’s ETF funding still would not come close to pre-recession levels. Check out AL.com’s report for more details.

Landlord-tenant revisions move closer to becoming law

Bills that would adjust several parts of Alabama’s landlord-tenant law in property owners’ favor are on the move in the Legislature. Without debate, the House voted 98-0 Tuesday for HB 523, sponsored by Rep. Paul Beckman, R-Prattville. A day later, a House committee approved SB 291, sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston.

Both proposals would give landlords more time to refund a security deposit or give notice of why they are keeping some or all of it. The bills would increase that window from 35 days to 60 days. The measures also would allow landlords to treat a property as abandoned if electrical service is cut off for at least a week. In addition, landlords would have to provide only a seven-day written notice if they plan to terminate the lease for a violation that does not involve failure to pay rent. That would be down from the current 14-day timetable.

The only difference between the bills involves renters’ right to correct problems cited as a lease violation without getting the landlord’s written consent. SB 291 would give renters four chances every 12 months to correct such problems, while HB 523 would provide only two chances every 12 months.

Senate panel OKs bill to allow redistribution of some unopened HIV drugs

Pharmacies that dispense HIV medications for or in HIV clinics could redistribute certain unopened drugs under a bill that the Senate Health Committee approved Wednesday. SB 437, sponsored by Sen. Linda Coleman, D-Birmingham, moves to the Senate. A nearly identical House bill – HB 138, sponsored by Rep. Patricia Todd, D-Birmingham – passed the House 99-0 last week and awaits the Senate committee’s consideration.

HIV clinics now must destroy unopened medications if patients do not show up for treatment. HB 138 and SB 437 would allow pharmacies to dispense those drugs to other patients and would set controls on handling and oversight of the drugs. Arise and other consumer advocates last year urged Gov. Robert Bentley to support this policy change as his Medicaid Pharmacy Study Commission met to look at ways to reduce costs in the state’s Medicaid drug assistance programs.

Lawmakers will return Tuesday for the 25th of 30 allowable meeting days during the 2014 regular session, which is expected to last until early April.

By Chris Sanders, communications director. Posted March 14, 2014.

Alabama House passes bill that would erode renters’ rights

In a setback for renters throughout Alabama, the House voted 78-4 Thursday to erode protections for the state’s tenants. HB 421, sponsored by Rep. David Sessions, R-Grand Bay, now moves to the Senate.

HB 421 would reduce the number of curable, or fixable, breaches of a lease in a year from the current four to just two. The bill also would change state law to allow landlords to kick out tenants if a breach of the same provision, no matter how minor, occurs twice in a six-month period.

This bill would allow landlords to force tenants from their homes over just two or three minor mistakes. Families could be ousted as few as seven days after repeating the same minor offense, such as letting vehicle tags expire, no matter how quickly they remedy the problem. Another example: If within one year, a person parks in the wrong space, cares for a friend’s pet overnight in a pet-free apartment, and changes their own oil in the parking lot, this bill would allow eviction proceedings to begin under many rental agreements.

One bright note Thursday was when Rep. Merika Coleman, D-Birmingham, successfully amended HB 421 to remove language that would have hurt tenants even more. (Coleman was one of four House members to vote against the final bill.)

HB 421 originally would have given Alabama renters just three days to correct a lease violation, down from the current seven. It also would have cut the required notice period for lease termination from seven days to three days. But Coleman’s amendment stripped both of those harmful changes from the bill and clarified that the “seven days” in those two provisions means seven business days. The House adopted her amendment 81-5.

Despite Coleman’s amendment, the bill remains hostile to the interests of renters across the state. Alabama’s 2006 Landlord-Tenant Act set out a balanced set of protections for both sides of rental relationships. But HB 421 would tilt those scales back in landlords’ favor at the expense of more than 1 million everyday Alabamians who rent their homes.

By Dev Wakeley, policy analyst. Posted March 8, 2018.

Alabama’s renter protections at risk under HB 421

Just three days. If HB 421 becomes law, that’s all the time Alabama renters would get to correct a minor lease violation before landlords could kick them out of their homes. It would be a bad deal for more than 1 million Alabamians who rent their homes.

HB 421, sponsored by Rep. David Sessions, R-Grand Bay, would undermine important safeguards for Alabama renters. This bill would reduce the time for renters to cure, or fix, a lease violation from the current seven days to just three days. That would apply not just to unpaid rent but to any other breach of the contract. The bill also would change current state law so that any second breach of the same provision, no matter how minor, within a 12-month period would be incurable.

Current law allows tenants to cure up to four lease violations within a 12-month periodas long as those breaches don’t involve activities such as illegal drug use or criminal assault. Here’s one example of just how unforgiving HB 421’s changes would be for tenants: If a landlord on a Friday found a tenant’s guest’s vehicle parked outside a rental home for a second time without a valid tag, the tenant could end up on the street by Tuesday.

Alabama’s 2006 Landlord-Tenant Act set out a balanced set of protections for both sides of rental relationships. Families shouldn’t be kicked out of their homes over minor mistakes. But HB 421 would tilt the scales back in landlords’ favor by allowing disproportionate responses to minor breaches, while giving tenants no meaningful chance to fix issues before losing their homes.

White House’s proposed cuts to nutrition, health care and housing would hurt struggling Alabamians

Arise Citizens’ Policy Project executive director Kimble Forrister issued the following statement Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018, in response to the release of the White House’s proposed 2019 federal budget:

“The White House’s budget proposal lays out a vision of a dark and troubling future for struggling families across Alabama. This plan would slash services like nutrition assistance, health care and affordable housing, making it even tougher for hard-working Alabamians struggling to make ends meet. Life would become harder for everyday families, even as big corporations and wealthy people would continue to enjoy the huge federal tax cuts that were just enacted.

“This budget plan would cut more than $200 billion over the next decade from SNAP assistance, which helps one in five Alabama families put food on the table. It would cost Alabama more than $140 million in federal funding for affordable housing next year, even as the state faces a shortage of more than 76,000 affordable and available homes for households with extremely low incomes. And it would cut hundreds of billions of dollars by 2028 from Medicaid, which provides health coverage for one in five Alabamians – almost all of whom are children, seniors, pregnant women, or people with disabilities.

“Public policies should make it easier, not harder, for working families to get ahead. This budget is a wake-up call about the legislative goals and values of this administration. It paints a bleak picture for our country’s future, and we can’t afford to allow that vision to become a reality. Alabama’s members of Congress should reject this misguided agenda and instead work to ensure that families have the resources and opportunities they need to reach their full potential.”

Medicaid funding, public transportation highlight Arise’s 2018 priorities

New Medicaid revenue and creation of a state Public Transportation Trust Fund are among the goals on Alabama Arise’s 2018 legislative agenda. Nearly 200 Arise members picked the group’s issue priorities at its annual meeting Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017, in Montgomery. The seven goals chosen were:

  • Tax reform, including untaxing groceries and closing corporate income tax loopholes;
  • Adequate funding for vital services like education, health care and child care, including approval of new tax revenue to prevent Medicaid cuts;
  • Consumer protections to limit high-interest payday loans and auto title loans in Alabama;
  • Dedicated state revenue for the Alabama Housing Trust Fund;
  • Reforms to Alabama’s death penalty system, including a moratorium on executions;
  • Creation of a state Public Transportation Trust Fund; and
  • Reforms to Alabama’s criminal justice debt policies, including changes related to cash bail and driver’s license revocations for minor offenses.

“All Alabamians deserve equal justice and an opportunity to build a better life for themselves and their families,” Alabama Arise state coordinator Kimble Forrister said. “We’re excited to continue our work for policy changes that would make it easier for hard-working Alabamians to get ahead.”

More than one in five Alabamians – almost all of whom are children, seniors, pregnant women, or people with disabilities – have health coverage through Medicaid. That coverage plays an important role in keeping hospitals and doctors’ offices open across the state, especially in rural areas.

“Medicaid is the backbone of Alabama’s health care system, and we must keep it strong,” Forrister said. “The Legislature needs to step up and approve new, sustainable revenue for Medicaid in 2018. It’s time to stop the annual funding battles and ensure all Alabamians have access to health care.”

Lack of adequate transportation is another major challenge that limits economic growth and erects barriers to daily living for many low-income residents and people with disabilities across Alabama. Arise will push for creation of a state Public Transportation Trust Fund as a step toward closing that gap. A bill to create a trust fund passed the Senate this year and has momentum heading into 2018.

Medicaid cuts loom, payday reform falls just short as Alabama Legislature ends 2016 regular session

The Alabama Legislature’s 2016 regular session, which ended Wednesday, was more notable in many ways for what didn’t happen than for what did.

Lawmakers did not agree on a revenue solution to prevent devastating Medicaid cuts that would reduce health care access for hundreds of thousands of children, seniors, and people with disabilities in Alabama. Despite enormous public support, payday lending reform didn’t cross the finish line in the House. State education funding still hasn’t returned to where it was in 2008. And proposals to expand affordable housing and reform Alabama’s death penalty system gained little traction at the State House.

Still, progress was real on several of Arise’s priority issues. With minutes left in the session, lawmakers passed a bill to expedite voting rights restoration for thousands of Alabamians. Payday lending reform made it further in the Legislature than it ever has before, with a reform bill sailing through the Senate 28-1. And the new #IamMedicaid campaign continues to remind lawmakers and the public of the real human faces behind Alabama’s Medicaid debate.

Here is a recap of what happened on each of Arise’s issue priorities this session – and the action that may yet lie ahead on them this year.

State budgets

Deep Medicaid cuts in Alabama moved much closer to reality Tuesday when a bill that would have averted most of them died in a Senate committee. HB 569 would have used BP oil spill settlement money to help free up $70 million to go toward Medicaid’s $85 million shortfall, but the bill died when the Senate’s General Fund (GF) budget committee adjourned without voting on it. Committee chairman Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Montrose, ended the meeting after his colleagues voted 9-6 to side with a proposed substitute by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur. Orr’s plan would have reduced the amount of road money in the bill and distributed those funds to all areas of Alabama instead of just coastal areas. The substitute also would have increased the share of settlement money used for debt repayment, fully repaying the Alabama Trust Fund (which receives state revenue from oil and gas drilling) for money that the state borrowed to avoid massive GF cuts in recent years.

The Legislature may return later this year for a special session to address the Medicaid shortfall, but Gov. Robert Bentley said “everybody’s got to rest a little bit” before he makes that decision. Even though the regular session is over, lawmakers are expected to continue a series of weekly hearings on Medicaid’s funding structure and importance to the state’s health care system. Meanwhile, Alabama moves ever closer to a future when deep Medicaid payment cuts could prompt many pediatricians to leave the state and could imperil many of the rural hospitals and doctor’s offices upon which Medicaid patients and privately insured Alabamians alike depend. The cuts could end Medicaid coverage for outpatient dialysis and adult prescriptions and eyeglasses as well. Also on the chopping block could be the Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE) in Mobile, which saves the state money by allowing participating seniors to live independently in their own homes instead of being sent to a nursing home.

The Education Trust Fund (ETF) budget drew many fewer headlines than the GF this year, but state education funding is still about 15 percent below its pre-recession level of 2008, adjusted for inflation. (Even the 2008 funding level was insufficient to meet many of Alabama’s educational needs.) The 2017 ETF budget includes a 33 percent boost in pre-K funding and provides a 4 percent pay raise for most K-12 teachers. Universities and two-year colleges also received slight increases.

Payday lending reform

Alabama’s payday reform movement enjoyed an unprecedented breakthrough in the Legislature this year when a reform bill passed 28-1 in the Senate, but the plan came up just short of final passage. SB 91, sponsored by Orr, was on the House calendar Tuesday but never reached the floor for a vote after a long day of filibusters. Orr’s bill would have given Alabama payday borrowers a more realistic path out of debt by slashing interest rates, allowing installment payments and giving borrowers at least six months to repay. (Current state law allows payday loans to carry interest rates of up to 456 percent a year.) Arise will work with Alabama Appleseed and other advocates to build on this year’s momentum and growing public support as the reform movement continues into 2017.

Voting rights

Alabama will speed up the voting rights restoration process for thousands of people if Bentley signs a bill that the Legislature passed Wednesday. With just minutes left in the session, the House passed SB 186, sponsored by Sen. Linda Coleman-Madison, D-Birmingham, and sent it to the governor. The clock struck midnight just before the Senate could consider another voting rights bill – HB 268, sponsored by Rep. Mike Jones, R-Andalusia – which would have clarified what counts as a “crime of moral turpitude” that bars someone from voting in Alabama. Other proposals to expand voting access, including multi-day voting and same-day voter registration, died in committee.

Death penalty reform

A bill to establish a state Innocence Inquiry Commission for death penalty cases – SB 237, sponsored by Sen. Dick Brewbaker, R-Montgomery – cleared the Senate this year but died Tuesday when the House Judiciary Committee didn’t vote on it. Other proposed reforms to Alabama’s death penalty system, including a three-year moratorium on executions, went nowhere. The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday ordered further review of Alabama’s capital sentencing scheme, which allows judges to override a jury’s sentencing recommendation. A state circuit judge in March declared Alabama’s judicial override system unconstitutional, but the state has appealed that ruling.

Tax reform

Alabama’s tax system will remain upside down for another year, as the Legislature declined to consider measures to end the state grocery tax or close corporate tax loopholes. A bill to increase the state property tax won Senate committee approval but went no further. A proposed 75-cent cigarette tax increase won the endorsement of the Alabama Health Care Improvement Task Force but was never introduced in the Legislature. Lawmakers did, however, enact new tax breaks for small businesses and for increased use of state port facilities. The Legislature also passed a bill – SB 208, sponsored by Orr – to require annual reports on whether tax incentives are producing their intended economic effects.

“Ban the box” legislation

SB 327, sponsored by Sen. Quinton Ross, D-Montgomery, won Senate committee approval on April 7 but never reached the Senate floor. The bill would have removed the criminal history checkbox from state job and license applications, removing a potential barrier to employment for thousands of Alabamians looking to rebuild their lives and provide for their families after serving their time for a criminal offense.

Housing Trust Fund (HTF)

A bill to increase the state mortgage recording fee and distribute some of the revenue to the state HTF died in a House committee. HB 341, sponsored by Rep. Patricia Todd, D-Birmingham, would have created a dedicated state funding source for the HTF, which could create thousands of jobs while addressing Alabama’s need for more than 90,000 affordable homes for residents with extremely low incomes.