Arise legislative update: March 18, 2024

The Alabama Legislature is coming back into session after taking off last week. Arise’s Akiesha Anderson provides updates on what’s happened most recently — including unfortunate news on anti-DEI legislation — and gets you ready for another busy week ahead. Legislation we’re monitoring this week includes a bill to reform Alabama’s felony murder rule and a proposal to remove the sales tax from baby supplies and feminine hygiene products.

 

Full video text:

Hello, my name is Akiesha Anderson, and if you’re new to these videos, I’m the policy and advocacy director for Alabama Arise. After a much needed break from the State House last week, I am back to give you an update on what happened during the fifth week of the legislative session and what we’re expecting during this upcoming week.

As you likely know, legislators were not at the State House last week. Rather, they were in their districts for a constituent work week in which they were hopefully making time to talk to you and others that they represent. However, the week prior to that workweek, a whole lot happened.

Most notably, the House unfortunately passed both SB 29, which was the anti-diversity, equity and inclusion bill, and SB 1, the bill that restricts access to absentee voting. Both of these bills will be back in the Senate, where the Senate must approve of them before they will be sent off to the governor. There were some minor changes made to both in the House, and so I do not anticipate that the Senate will put up a fight, unfortunately. But most likely, these bills will get a vote this week in the Senate and then be sent off to the governor.

Also, by the time the Legislature left to take last week off, they had officially utilized half of their allocated legislative days. This means that at the time of this recording, we are officially halfway through the legislative session. While this pace feels a bit unprecedented, it is likely that the Legislature will continue its three-day workweek this week before going on a spring break next week, and then they will hopefully slow their pace somewhat in April. I’m being told that in April they will begin utilizing two-day work weeks instead of three. Two-day workweeks are definitely a bit a bit more typical, and this will allow them to buy time to pass the budgets.

Before sharing what’s happening this week, I do want to give you some status updates on bills that you’ve heard me talk about in prior weeks. So to begin, HB 29, which is the CHOOSE Act, and which could divert a minimum of $100 million in public education funds to private or home schools, was signed into law by the governor. SB 35 by Sen. Smitherman, which would require that history instruction be fact-based and inclusive, has passed out of a Senate committee and is waiting to be deliberated by the full Senate. HB 32 by Rep. England, which would reform and clarify Alabama’s felony murder rule, had a public hearing the week before last. Thus, we expect the House Judiciary Committee to vote on this bill this Wednesday, March 20.

HB 102 by Rep. Susan DuBose and SB 53 by Sen. Arthur Orr would both eliminate the eligibility to work form that children ages 14 and 15 are required to get signed by their schools before being employed. Both versions of this bill are expected to be considered by the full House sometime soon or at least to be in position to be considered by the full House sometime soon. The Senate version of this bill does still need to make it out of a House committee. However, it’s possible that that could happen as early as this week.

Other bills that we are watching this week include HB 188 by Rep. Terri Collins. This bill would create a uniform and improved process for the suspension or expulsion of public school students. The House Education Policy Committee has been assigned this bill, and they are expected to deliberate it this week. Also, HB 236 by Rep. Rafferty and SB 62 by Sen. Orr would both eliminate the sales tax for diapers, baby supplies, baby formula and feminine hygiene products. The Senate version of this bill is expected to be in House committee, whereas the House version of this bill is already positioned to be deliberated by the full House. That means that both or either of these bills will likely be in a position by this week to be deliberated by the full House.

And then lastly SB 31, which has been making a lot of news, will be in committee this week. And so SB 31 is a bill introduced by Sen. Waggoner. It has already made it out of the Senate and is in a House committee this week. But this is the bill that would be that is designed to get the state to give Birmingham-Southern a loan. It is also scheduled for a public hearing on Tuesday, March 19, at 11:30 a.m., and that public hearing will take place in the Ways and Means General Fund Committee.

Other things to keep an eye out for this week are new bills that legislators may introduce. So for example, the child tax credit bill that has been touted in the news as well by Lt. Gov. Ainsworth and others is expected to be introduced by Sen. Gudger and Rep. Daniels as early as this week. If legislators are hoping to get any legislation passed that has not been introduced yet, it is definitely to their benefit, especially for the sake of time, to try to have those bills filed as soon as possible. This week is ideal given the fact that they will be on the spring break next week.

Now the last thing to make sure you have on your radar is Arise’s upcoming advocacy day. So if you have not already marked your calendars to join us at the State House on Tuesday, April 2, please do. We hope to have as many people as possible to talk to legislators about our various issues, so register to join us. All you have to do is visit alarise.org and click on “Get Involved” and then click on “Upcoming Events.” That will take you directly to the page that you need to utilize to sign up. We definitely need you to let us know that you’re coming so that we can make sure we have an adequate head count, enough room for everyone, as well as meals for everyone. So I look forward to hopefully seeing you there, and in the meantime, take care.

How can Alabama ensure Summer EBT for 2025?

What is Summer EBT?

Inspired by Pandemic EBT (P-EBT), Summer EBT provides $120* in SNAP benefits per categorically eligible child throughout the summer months. (*Indexed for inflation). 

What Can Alabama Do Today? 

Alabama can pull down federal matching funds in 2024 to support implementation in 2025, according to the USDA’s Interim Final Rule for the program.

This would require a $15 million  state appropriation to help refine Alabama’s application process.

Why Does it Matter? 

1 in 4 Alabama children are experiencing food insecurity. Hundreds of thousands of Alabama children struggle with hunger even more during the summer because they no longer receive free school meals.

Who Would Benefit? 

545,000 children across Alabama

What would be the Economic Impact?

$98 Million to $117 Million annually

Join Alabama Arise 

Visit alarise.org to sign up for alerts and donate to become an Arise member today!

Here’s what Alabama Arise heard from you in summer 2023!

Alabama Arise listens because we deeply value the input we get from members, partners and most importantly, those directly affected by the work we do together. We depend on what we hear to help guide our issue work and our strategies.

We held three statewide online events this summer: two Town Hall Tuesdays and one public transportation listening session. And we facilitated eight additional listening sessions around the state, engaging a total of about 375 people.

The town halls happened on July 18 and Aug. 8, and the public transit event was Aug. 9. Other meetings took place throughout the summer. This year we are sharing the direct notes and highlights from each of the meetings as recorded during the sessions.

Town Hall Tuesdays & Public Transportation Listening Session

  • Building on our vision: We had three breakout rooms during this session. We asked folks in each group to discuss their thoughts on current issues and to share other priorities they had. Here’s what we heard:

Group One: Participants generally thought Arise should continue working on the current issues. They noted that the issues are interconnected, and that makes it hard to prioritize. Concerns about criminal justice conviction practices were raised, along with the need for continued work on voting rights and Medicaid expansion. Other issues raised were the need for more affordable housing, paying a living wage versus a minimum wage, and the need to discuss the impact of the opioid epidemic on grandparents now raising children because their parents suffer with addiction. Participants also raised reapportionment as an important issue.

Group Two: Participants strongly believed all of the Arise priority issues are important and that we should continue to work on them. Some of the specific issues lifted up were transportation, voting rights, payday lending and Medicaid expansion. Some issues that are not current Arise priorities raised were housing, disability, mental health access and accountability and prison reform.

Group Three: Medicaid expansion received the most support for continued work. Several people voiced prisons and criminal justice as a concern, including the need for prison reform and bail reform. Voting rights and the concern about the many voter suppression bills was a high-priority topic. Participants discussed passionate concern about payday loans, and the group supported the present slate of issues.

  • Building on our hope: We had three breakout rooms during this session. We asked folks in each group to discuss what motivates them to act on issues and how Arise supports their actions. We also asked them to indicate their priority issues. Here’s what we heard:

Group One: 

  1. The discussion in the group was hot and heavy concerning voting rights and specifically the absentee ballot application. The group concluded that a no-excuse absentee ballot should be the norm and should be an Arise issue for 2024.
  2. The group felt strongly that the 2023 Arise slate of issues should all remain on the 2024 list of Arise priority issues. Medicaid is an issue we need to keep fighting for, they said.
  3. This group had a primary focus and lengthy discussion around voting rights.

Group Two: 

  1. All members of the group strongly believe all the Arise priority issues are important and that we should continue to work on them.
  2. Members also strongly believe affordable housing and public transportation should receive a strong voice like Medicaid expansion.
  3. Members said that to further our support of advocacy work, Arise can help unite nonprofits and grassroots organizations across the state to work together toward shared goals as opposed to working separately toward shared goals.
  4. Members lifted up our education and lobbying work as essential to connecting the people to those who represent them in the Legislature.

Group Three: Voting rights emerged as a strong theme from this group’s discussion. Participants stressed the importance of voter education and folks making the connection between voting and the policies elected officials make that impact their lives. Other voting themes included restoration of voting rights and engaging younger and BIPOC voters. Other issues raised were around public transportation and the need to fund mental health services. One participant expressed appreciation for the storytelling work Arise does related to Medicaid expansion and urged similar storytelling to help move elected officials around other Arise issues.

  • Public Transportation Listening Session: We had three breakout rooms during this session. We asked folks in each group to discuss what’s needed to improve public transit in Alabama, what strategies are needed to move the issue forward and how public transit impacts quality of life in their communities.

Group One: 

  1. Private companies like Uber and Lyft are not equipped to serve the disability community, group members said. This is very important when talking about transportation for the disability community wherever they may be, rural or urban. In other words, the private companies are not a viable resource, participants said.
  2. Rural linkage: Many rural counties have transportation-on-demand systems, but they only serve the county boundaries. Many health services reside in urban centers, and the rider needs to get from Blount County to UAB or Children’s Hospital in Birmingham. These riders are out of luck. Transfer hubs for rural to urban systems do not exist.
  3. A state transportation planning system is needed to coordinate all the existing public systems, rural and urban. Participants hoped Arise’s forthcoming transit study will shine some light on the need for a statewide public transportation planning entity.
  4. The group felt a need for massive public education around the benefits of public transportation. Somehow, Arise or a group of organizations should seek funding for an advertising budget, participants said.
  1. The real cost of owning a car versus using public transportation. This kind of information should be available to the public.
  2. The fact that public transportation is good for business development throughout the state should be targeted to legislators and local business councils and chambers of commerce.

Group Two: 

  1. This group believes public transportation is essential.
  2. There is a need for more hubs and covered stops for locations that already have public transportation in place.
  3. There is a need for more routes with more frequent buses each hour, as well as drivers who are paid livable wages.
  4. Specific strategies discussed included working with for-profits, chambers of commerce, small businesses and corporations to improve transportation for their employees. Participants also suggested surveying the need for transportation by including a question on applications to ask if transportation is needed.
  5. Public transportation impacts the quality of life across the board: health, food, employment, education, leisure, etc.
  6. People have a right to comfort, dignity, pride and independence that public transportation can provide.
  7. One member said reaching out to people who do not need or use public transportation is important to educate them that they can still benefit from it. It helps reduce traffic and road congestion, decreases likelihood of drinking and driving, and helps people out of desperate situations, which can help decrease poverty and crime.
  8. A member of the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind shared how losing the ability to drive caused depression. But oppression is felt when there are no options for transportation other than relying on friends or family if you have them, or simply being unable to go to doctor’s appointments, shop for groceries or pick up medications when needed.
  9. Some members suggested a public Lyft/Uber service.

Group Three: 

  1. Needs: Money/state funding, alternative models, transit-oriented development at local levels, accessibility, buy-in from agencies like ALDOT, changed perception of public transit.
  2. Strategies/tactics: Collect public transit stories, share statistics on earning power with vs. without good public transit and other data relevant to workforce development, and highlight workforce development as a theme for legislative lobbying. Participants discussed a license plate fee, tire fee or special license plate (like public schools have, for example).
  3. Quality of life: A visually impaired participant described how a trip to the grocery store or polling place only a couple miles away is a $25 Uber ride one way. Another participant who works with clients described how their lack of access to public transit affects not just work but health appointments, visiting DHR to secure SNAP, applications for housing, etc. They also mentioned that even “low-cost” transit can be a barrier to low-income folks who may not have a dollar for a ride.

Additional listening sessions

Following are the brief notes/summaries from eight other sessions our organizers held during the summer. In general, all participants strongly affirmed Arise’s work on the current issue priorities. They also highlighted some other issues of concern.

  • Cullman, July 26 (Stan Johnson) – This was a well-informed group with a lot of comments and questions concerning criminal justice, public transportation, death penalty and new prison construction.
  • Opelika, July 26 (Formeeca Tripp) – This group discussed issues surrounding housing, transportation, food insecurity, health care and the legal system. Housing was a top issue.
  • Zoom, Aug. 3 (Formeeca) A death penalty group discussed issues related to recent executions in Alabama, as well as upcoming executions nationwide. Participants said more attention and connections are necessary to bring more awareness to death penalty reform.
  • Tuscaloosa, Aug. 7 (Stan) – The most passionate suggestion from this meeting was the need for legislative action to provide funding for mental health.
  • Opelika, Aug. 17 (Formeeca) – Arise conducted listening sessions in the form of a series of small group meetings.

Group 1: Predominantly parents, people of the community and law enforcement. They supported all current issues but wanted to focus on housing and transportation.

Group 2: Predominantly school staff, counselors, superintendents, principals, resource providers, etc. They wanted resources for non-English-speaking families, housing, transportation and effective mental health services.

Group 3: Predominantly youth, teenagers and support staff. They wanted to learn more about their representatives and how to lift up their own voices, as well as better wages and job opportunities.

  • Montgomery, Aug. 17 (Formeeca) – This group discussed their strategic plan to add to the existing public transportation priority issue. They want to add a $1 fee to license plates to fund the Public Transportation Trust Fund.
  • Birmingham, Sept. 10 (Stan) – This group showed special interest in fair housing and criminal justice reform. Voting rights also was a concern to the group, specifically absentee voting bills that may be reintroduced in the upcoming session.
  • Auburn, Sept. 21 (Formeeca) Students from an Auburn University class filled out a 2024 issue proposal survey form asking them to rank issues of priority. The top three issues that seemed to rank the highest were public transportation, voting rights and criminal justice reform.

What would an ideal plan to untax groceries in Alabama look like?

Several tax bills (including grocery tax cut bills) will be discussed this year in the Alabama Legislature. What makes a tax reform bill good for Alabamians? Here are four important factors to keep in mind:

It provides a tax cut for families with low incomes (not just wealthy households).

Alabama’s state sales tax on groceries is a cruel tax on survival. It increases hunger rates, drives struggling families deeper into poverty and adds pressure to household budgets with every trip to the grocery store. 

The average Alabama family spends approximately $600 a year on state grocery tax. By reducing or eliminating the state grocery tax, we are taking an important first step toward making it easier for working families to make ends meet.

It protects education revenue to ensure our children’s classrooms are adequately funded in the years to come.

Revenue from Alabama’s individual income tax and sales tax (including the grocery tax) goes to the Education Trust Fund, which supports public education throughout the state.

Lawmakers should ensure their proposals to untax groceries protect funding for public schools while making life better for families across our state. We can and should do both.

It is broad enough to have a meaningful and long-lasting impact.

It is important that any bill to reduce the grocery tax allows SNAP-eligible foods (rather than only WIC-eligible foods) to be untaxed.

If only WIC-eligible foods are untaxed, grocers would have a hard time implementing the bill. Families would be confused when grocery shopping, as relatively few items would be untaxed, while most would not be.

The reduction should be sustainable in the long term, rather than just being a temporary fix.

An ideal grocery tax proposal will do all the things on this list while eliminating the state’s entire 4-cent grocery tax, rather than just a fraction of it.

It provides an immediate grocery tax reduction.

As prices continue to rise on many of the essentials that folks need to survive, families across Alabama are struggling now.

We need to help Alabamians at a time when they need a grocery tax reduction the most, rather than putting it off until future years.

Fresh opportunities to push for a better Alabama

The Alabama Legislature will welcome 37 new lawmakers to its halls when its 2023 regular session begins March 7. Alabama Arise sees this as an opportunity to educate new legislators and identify new allies on issues of importance to our members. We urge folks to join us in calling for change, including at Arise Legislative Day on April 11.

Eliminate the state grocery tax

In early February, 11% of Alabama households said they sometimes or often didn’t have enough food to eat. And those hunger challenges are even more severe in communities of color. More than 23% of Black Alabamians and 13.6% of Hispanic Alabamians said they sometimes or often didn’t have enough food.

Untaxing groceries would help families across Alabama keep food on the table. As we have for more than two decades, Arise once again will support bills this year to remove the state’s 4% sales tax on groceries. We also will support replacing the grocery tax revenue by limiting or ending a tax loophole for the wealthiest households. This legislation by Sen. Andrew Jones, R-Centre, and Rep. Penni McClammy, D-Montgomery, would empower Alabama to untax groceries while protecting funding for public schools.

Expand Medicaid to close the health coverage gap

For nearly a decade, Alabama has been outside looking in on a good deal. While hundreds of thousands of Alabamians continue to struggle without health insurance, state leaders have failed to expand Medicaid. Alabama is one of just 11 states that has yet to expand Medicaid. And that inaction has left more than 220,000 Alabamians in a health coverage gap.

Fifteen rural hospitals in Alabama are at imminent risk of closing this year if state leaders don’t act soon to protect health care access. Gov. Kay Ivey should act swiftly to expand Medicaid herself, but the Legislature’s support also will be vital. Arise will keep working to educate lawmakers and the public on the economic, budgetary and humanitarian benefits of Medicaid expansion.

Take bold steps to reform our criminal justice system

Legislators have an opportunity and an obligation to make strides in solving the many problems within Alabama’s criminal justice system. This issue has added urgency as Alabama faces a U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit alleging unconstitutional prison conditions.

Many avenues for progress exist. Arise will urge lawmakers to end the practice of suspending driver’s licenses for debt-based reasons. We will advocate for reform of the state “three-strikes” law, known as the Habitual Felony Offender Act. And we will support a bill to require the jury to be unanimous before imposing the death penalty.

Address housing and transportation needs

State House insiders expect the Legislature to go into a special session this spring to decide how to use remaining federal funds under the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). From the start, Arise has taken the position that Alabama should use some of its ARPA funds to jump-start public transportation and help thousands find an affordable place to call home.

During the probable special session, we will continue to uplift the need for these investments in the people of Alabama. Learn more at alarise.org/arpatoolkit.

Budget priorities for the people

Two weeks before the Alabama Legislature’s 2023 regular session, lawmakers, lobbyists and advocates packed into the State House in late February for the annual joint legislative budget hearings. One might call it the Super Bowl for budget nerds.

After years of scarcity, both Alabama budgets are starting out with a revenue surplus. There’s $351 million in “excess” revenue for the General Fund, and $2.7 billion for the Education Trust Fund. That’s not even counting the remaining $1.1 billion in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds still awaiting allocation.

What we heard at this year’s budget hearings was not surprising. Public services like education, health care, mental health and supportive services need more resources after years of underinvestment. State agencies are struggling with worker shortages and the consequences of underfunding – and understaffing – critical programs. It’s no surprise that lawmakers heard a long, detailed list of opportunities to meet these needs. Most agency heads were clear that new funding can’t fix all of the problems – but it’s a start.

Some lawmakers have floated the idea that this one-time surplus is a sign we need a tax rebate. If that proposal materializes, Arise will be front and center advocating for funds to go directly to low- and moderate-income households bearing the brunt of higher costs. But Arise’s proposal, which comes directly from listening to our members, is a longer-term solution to our upside-down tax code. Our bill to untax groceries would help families keep food on the table while also protecting funding for public schools. It’s a solution that goes beyond just one year to create more foundational and sustainable change.

One concern you may have heard is that nobody has enough workers. Too many Alabamians are still disconnected from the workforce due to missing critical infrastructure investments in child care, public transportation, health care and affordable housing. This year, we’ll be pushing for investments in these supports to help people get and keep work, and to build the healthy and educated workforce Alabama needs.

Our 2023 policy proposals provide that roadmap for change. Expand Medicaid to ensure nobody has to die for lack of preventive care or live in poverty because they have a chronic health condition. Invest in infrastructure to support workers, including child care, housing, public transportation and education. Stop funding public services with punitive fines and fees, and start ensuring the wealthiest Alabamians pay their fair share.

We look forward to seeing you all at our Legislative Day this April. If we continue to stand and work together, we will make significant progress for Alabama.

End of emergency SNAP allotments will increase hunger in Alabama

For many of us, the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted nearly all of normal life. Businesses closed, either temporarily or permanently. People lost jobs and income. Children were not attending school in person. And millions of Americans were suddenly facing an unexpected problem: hunger.

Temporary increases to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits helped ease that suffering for families across Alabama and nationwide. But those benefits will expire at the end of February, and that means hunger is likely to get worse again. As the end of the official federal pandemic emergency declaration approaches, Alabama families receiving SNAP benefits are facing a benefit decrease that will cut their food assistance significantly.

State and local officials can’t stop the expiration of these temporary SNAP benefits. But they can and should act in other ways to help Alabama families deal with higher food costs. School districts should expand access to free school meals. The state should fund a program that makes fruits and vegetables more readily available for SNAP participants. And legislators should untax groceries to make it easier for every Alabamian to keep food on the table.

The pandemic put a spotlight on hunger

By mid-2020, 12% of Alabama families said they sometimes or often didn’t have enough food to eat, according to the Census Bureau. And those hunger challenges were more severe in communities of color early in the pandemic. Nearly 19% of Hispanic Alabamians and 21% of Black Alabamians said they didn’t have enough food. Enrollment for SNAP food assistance rose to record levels, but that wasn’t enough to solve the sudden and severe hunger crisis.

In response, Congress and the U.S. Department of Agriculture approved emergency food assistance benefits for both child nutrition programs and SNAP. One of the most important improvements was SNAP emergency allotments.

This policy raised SNAP benefits for eligible participants to the maximum allowed as long as state and federal emergency declarations existed. In 2021, emergency allotments were revised to ensure all SNAP households received at least an additional $95 a month in emergency food assistance.

Those increases are about to expire, though. Congress passed a budget in December that will end SNAP emergency benefits in February 2023.

What happens now

The Alabama Department of Human Resources has begun sending letters to SNAP participants telling them the extra benefits will stop after Feb. 28. Nearly 400,000 Alabama households will see average cuts to their SNAP benefits of around $170 a month.

Particularly hard hit will be older adults and people with disabilities who live alone. Before the pandemic, SNAP benefits for these households were often minimal and could be as low as $16 per month. Emergency allotments boosted these folks’ benefits to the maximum of $281 per month for an individual. But with these increases ending, all of these participants will now see their food budgets decline, possibly to as little as the current minimum of $23 per month.

The loss of SNAP emergency allotments almost certainly will increase hunger, both in Alabama and nationwide. But individual participants have a few options to help reduce the financial pain:

  • SNAP benefits don’t have to be spent in the month in which they are received. Emergency SNAP allotments will roll over on Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards as long as the card is used at least once a month. This will allow participants to stretch their emergency dollars as far as possible.
  • Older adults or people with disabilities are eligible to deduct medical costs, including transportation to the doctor or pharmacy, before calculating SNAP benefits. Updating medical costs may result in more assistance than people are receiving.
  • All households participating in SNAP can deduct the cost of housing and dependent care. Updating housing costs and the cost of child care or care for adults with disabilities could increase SNAP benefits.
  • Some grocery stores and farmers markets offer extra fruits and vegetables for SNAP participants. Find out where you can get these Double Up Food Bucks.

What policymakers can do to help

Hunger is a systemic problem that requires systemic solutions. Federal, state and local officials all have roles to play in helping to reduce hunger in Alabama and the nation. Below are a few of the many policy options available.

Untax groceries

Alabama is one of only three states with no tax break on groceries. Removing the state sales tax from food would allow everyone to afford an extra two weeks’ worth of groceries. Lawmakers will introduce legislation to end the state grocery tax during the 2023 regular session, and Arise will support these bills. Join our email list for updates on these bills and alerts on how you can help end the state grocery tax.

Expand free school meals

Many local schools and districts provide free school meals for all their students. Universal free meals improve students’ health and education. They also reduce the financial burden on families struggling to make ends meet.

Eligible school districts that have not adopted the Community Eligibility Provision should work to do so. And state policymakers should remove administrative barriers for schools seeking to expand free school and summer meal programs.

Provide state funding for Double Up Food Bucks

The Double Up Food Bucks program offers extra fruit and vegetables for SNAP participants. This program promotes better health for SNAP participants and more money for Alabama’s farmers. But the absence of state dollars limits the number of stores where these extra benefits are available. Arise encourages the Legislature to provide state funding for Double Up Food Bucks in the 2024 budget year.

Strengthen SNAP in the Farm Bill

Congress must reauthorize the Farm Bill, which includes SNAP, next year. Many advocates are calling for Congress to make the emergency allotment amounts permanent, either in the Farm Bill or through other legislation. Other groups are encouraging Congress to increase all SNAP benefits to a level that better reflects the real cost of food. Sign up for Arise’s email list for action alerts and updates as we get closer to the Farm Bill reauthorization.

Public transit, healthy food access among key pathways to increase economic opportunity in Birmingham area, new report finds

Greater Birmingham has experienced a resurgence in economic growth and civic engagement in recent years. But the benefits of this prosperity are not widely shared among everyone living in the region – and a new comprehensive report that Alabama Arise and the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) released Thursday shows that people across Jefferson County know it.

The report, Homecoming: The Greater Birmingham Community Speaks on Regional Cooperation and a More Inclusive Economy, includes a professional survey of 1,024 residents of the Greater Birmingham area conducted this year. Three in four residents said the region’s economic resources are not distributed fairly. And only one in four said they are personally included in the Birmingham area’s economic revival.

Economic opportunity and financial vulnerability across Greater Birmingham vary widely by race, gender and geography, the report finds. Homecoming highlights the critical problems facing the region’s residents – and the solutions they want to see. The report defines Greater Birmingham as Jefferson County, the City of Birmingham and 33 other municipalities within Jefferson County.

Picture of the Birmingham skyline. Report cover text: Homecoming: The Greater Birmingham Community Speaks on Regional Cooperation and a More Inclusive Economy.

“The results of this comprehensive study of the issues facing Greater Birmingham residents speak volumes, especially in the wake of the results of the midterms, about where communities stand on the major issues that impact not only Alabama, but our country as a whole,” said Marc Bayard, associate fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies and the report’s co-author.

“Alabama’s economy is growing, but ordinary people aren’t seeing the same changes to their bottom line. We see the real-life effects of economic and racial inequality, and we also see the profound need for change in how the government responds to the most urgent needs and concerns of Alabama residents.”

Click here to read the full report.

Policies to promote broadly shared prosperity

The study includes a professional survey of 1,024 Greater Birmingham residents conducted in 2022. It focuses on ensuring broad representation across race, gender, political ideology and geography.

“Too many people are being left behind in Birmingham’s economy these days. The region needs broadly shared prosperity that creates good jobs that provide a living wage and upward mobility,” said Allan M. Freyer, Ph.D., visiting fellow with Alabama Arise and the report’s lead author.

“Our study provides local governments across the Birmingham area with a toolbox of potential strategies for promoting equitable economic growth that benefits everyone. Better transit, access to healthy foods, affordable housing, accountability for development projects, and more local authority are the key to a more prosperous, thriving region.”

Key findings

  • Two-thirds of survey respondents identified transportation – especially lack of public transit – as the top challenge facing Greater Birmingham. The region is one of the country’s most auto-dependent metro areas.
  • More than 55% of residents cited lack of access to healthy food in certain neighborhoods as a significant problem.
  • Almost 80% of respondents identified rising housing costs as a problem. Another 73% said the same about the overall lack of affordable housing.
  • More than 73% of survey respondents rated lack of good jobs as at least somewhat of a problem. This included 82% of Black respondents and 62% of white respondents.
  • Nearly 60% of respondents said gaining access to job training programs is a challenge, and those fortunate enough to complete these programs might not find available jobs calling for their new skills.
  • More than 60% saw child care as a significant challenge for the region’s economy.
  • More than three-quarters of residents want their local government to ensure companies create the jobs they promise in exchange for public subsidies or tax incentives – and require those jobs to pay living wages.
  • A supermajority of residents (nearly three in four) oppose preemption (through which states can limit the authority of local governments) and support home rule (where localities are relatively autonomous). Large majorities of Black and white residents alike said local governments should be able to set their own minimum wage.

“Hope for a brighter future is a value shared by people of every race and in every part of the Greater Birmingham area,” Alabama Arise executive director Robyn Hyden said. “For prosperity to be shared more broadly, residents are telling us we need to invest in recruiting high-quality, better-paying jobs. We can support workers in getting to those jobs with better public transportation and stronger investments in child care and affordable housing.”

Methodology

To capture a range of ideas and perspectives effectively, the Arise and IPS report:

  • Commissioned a professional survey in 2022 of 1,024 Greater Birmingham residents. The goal was to understand the challenges residents are facing and the policy solutions they support.
  • Conducted 12 focus groups with key categories of stakeholders to learn more about the biggest challenges facing Greater Birmingham residents. Researchers engaged approximately 80 people, including corporate leaders, business owners, faith leaders across the racial spectrum, grassroots activists, leaders of women’s groups, youth development groups, and other nonprofit leaders working in various aspects of equitable development across the area.
  • Conducted two dozen one-on-one interviews with community leaders to hear their concerns and proposed solutions. These included staff at local governments, regional foundations, regionwide civic initiatives, grassroots activists, policy advocates, nonprofit leaders, neighborhood association presidents and local developers.

Read the full report here.

52 Alabama groups urge Shelby, Tuberville to support Child Tax Credit, EITC improvements this year

U.S. Sens. Richard Shelby and Tommy Tuberville should support expanding the Child Tax Credit (CTC) and Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) in year-end budget legislation, 52 organizations across Alabama wrote in a letter sent to the senators Tuesday. Alabama Arise is among the groups that signed the letter.

The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) temporarily expanded the CTC for hundreds of thousands of Alabama children last year. The law also temporarily increased the maximum EITC for workers without children and broadened the age range for EITC eligibility. Those temporary improvements have expired, but Congress can renew them in the “lame duck” session beginning this week.

“We urge you to put families and workers first,” the groups wrote to Shelby and Tuberville. “There should be no expanded tax breaks for businesses and corporations without expanding the CTC and EITC.”

Click here to read the organizations’ full letter to Shelby and Tuberville.

Child Tax Credit improvements helped cut U.S. child poverty rate by nearly half

Nearly 350,000 Alabama children would benefit from renewing the CTC improvements, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), a nonprofit research organization in Washington, D.C. The impact would be especially significant for children of color across the state. Among Alabama children who would benefit from renewing the CTC improvements, 161,000 are Black, 130,000 are white and 41,000 are Hispanic, according to CBPP estimates.

The temporary CTC expansion worked swiftly and powerfully to ease suffering and expand economic opportunity, Census data shows. Monthly CTC payments last year helped families cover rising costs for necessities like food, utilities, rent and diapers. Overall, the policy kept more than 5 million Americans above the poverty line. It also contributed to a major nationwide reduction in the child poverty rate in 2021, with the Supplemental Poverty Measure for children falling from nearly 10% to about 5%.

ARPA’s one-year CTC expansion increased the maximum credit for children under age 6 to $3,600, and for all other children to $3,000. It made the full CTC available to children living in families with low or no earnings. And it extended the credit to 17-year-olds, who previously were ineligible.

“Our nation’s historically high child poverty rate is a choice,” the organizations’ letter said. “Recent U.S. Census data reveals a fundamental truth: Congress has the power to make a different choice.”

EITC expansion increases boost financial stability for Alabama workers

The EITC improvements under ARPA also eased hardship for people across Alabama. More than 280,000 Alabamians with low incomes benefited from last year’s temporary EITC expansions. Nearly three in four had incomes below $20,400, according to estimates by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.

ARPA temporarily raised the maximum EITC for working adults from roughly $530 to roughly $1,500. It also increased the income eligibility limit and expanded the age range of eligible workers. Those changes allowed adults aged 19-24 who are not full-time students to qualify, as well as people 65 and over.

“[CTC and EITC expansions] have proved effective to reduce child poverty and boost incomes for people who work but aren’t paid enough to make ends meet,” the groups’ letter said. “We hope we can count on you to fight for these policies to support kids and workers.”

Click here to read the organizations’ full letter to Shelby and Tuberville.

Alabama Arise, 51 partner groups urge U.S. senators to support Child Tax Credit, EITC improvements

The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) temporarily expanded the Child Tax Credit (CTC) for hundreds of thousands of Alabama children last year. The law also temporarily increased the maximum Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for workers without children and broadened the age range for EITC eligibility. Alabama Arise joined 51 partner organizations Tuesday in a letter asking Alabama’s U.S. senators, Richard Shelby and Tommy Tuberville, to support renewing these CTC and EITC improvements this year. The full text of the letter is below.

Letter text

Dear Senators Shelby and Tuberville,

Our nation’s historically high child poverty rate is a choice. Recent U.S. Census data reveals a fundamental truth: Congress has the power to make a different choice. Congress can and should put families and workers first by expanding the Child Tax Credit (CTC) and Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). These strategies have proved effective to reduce child poverty and boost incomes for people who work but aren’t paid enough to make ends meet.

We, the undersigned organizations representing people with low incomes in Alabama, are writing to urge you to prioritize expanding these programs as part of the anticipated end-of-year budget bill. The time to pass these policies is now, as this may be the last chance this Congress has to act.

Even as Congress has this tremendous opportunity to deliver for families and workers, press reports indicate lobbyists are pressuring Congress to deliver more significant tax breaks for businesses and corporations. One example is the push for a tax break for companies engaged in “research and experimentation,” including tech, pharmaceuticals and other large corporations.

We urge you to put families and workers first. There should be no expanded tax breaks for businesses and corporations without expanding the CTC and EITC.

Under current law, too many children in families with the lowest incomes receive no CTC or receive a smaller credit than children in families with higher incomes. Expanding the CTC so that it reaches more of those children will go a long way toward improving families’ ability to make ends meet and reducing child poverty.

As you know, the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) temporarily expanded the CTC for 480,000 children in Alabama, but the expansion has expired. The overwhelming majority of families with low incomes used ARPA’s monthly CTC payments to cover everyday challenges and basic expenses, such as food, utilities, rent and diapers. Before ARPA was passed, roughly 27 million children received less than the full CTC, including many who got no credit at all — not because their families earned too much, but because of a flaw in the law that excludes kids from families with the lowest incomes. Those children excluded from the full credit include roughly half of all children in rural areas.

The Rescue Plan’s CTC expansion, combined with other relief efforts, helped lower child poverty by more than 40% between 2020 and 2021, Census data shows. Investing in children in low-income families by expanding programs like the Child Tax Credit also has shown success in improving outcomes for those children over their whole lives, including higher educational attainment, better health and higher earnings as adults.

We also urge you to expand the EITC for workers paid low wages who do not have children living with them. This part of the EITC has not been adjusted for nearly 30 years (outside of a temporary, one-year Rescue Plan expansion). As a result, about 6 million of these workers 19 and older have incomes below the poverty line, once federal taxes are taken into account.  This commonsense proposal is long overdue and has enjoyed bipartisan support in the past.

Congress has a critical choice to make now: Will it expand the CTC and EITC, to put more kids on an upward trajectory for life and help working people make ends meet? Or will it go home without reaching a bipartisan agreement on these straightforward policies?

We hope we can count on you to fight for these policies to support kids and workers – and to make sure any final legislative package in December doesn’t give more tax breaks for corporations without supporting Alabamians.

Should you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact Robyn Hyden with Alabama Arise at robyn@alarise.org. We appreciate your time and your consideration of our views.

Signatories

¡HICA! Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama

Advocacy for Social Justice Team of the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church

AIDS Alabama

Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice

Alabama Arise

Alabama Civic Engagement (ACE) Coalition

Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice

Alabama Council on Human Relations (ACHR)

Alabama Forward

Alabama Institute for Social Justice

Alabama Justice Initiative

Alabama Possible

Alabama State Nurses Association

Bay Area Women Coalition, Inc.

Beloved Community Church, UCC

Chat World Home Daycare

Childcare Resources

Cody S. King Home Daycare

Communities of Transformation

Community Action Association of Alabama

Community Enabler Developer, Inc.

Community Food Bank of Central Alabama

DayKara’s Group Home

Dee’s Daycare

Edmundite Missions

Fairhope Friends

Faith in Action Alabama

First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) of Montgomery

First Presbyterian Church of Birmingham

Gadsden Outreach Ministries

Grace Presbyterian Church, Tuscaloosa

Greater Birmingham Ministries

Hometown Action

Jobs to Move America

League of Women Voters of Alabama

Monte Sano UMC

Montgomery PRIDE United

Mrs. Mazaheri’s Day Care

NAACP: Tuscaloosa Branch

Nana’s Nursery

North Alabama Peace Network

Open Table UCC

Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty

Redemption Earned, Inc.

Restorative Strategies

Sisters of Mercy in Alabama

SPLC Action Fund

Unitarian Universalist Church of Birmingham

University of Montevallo Alabama Arise Student Chapter

Valley Christian Church

Volunteers of America, Southeast (VOA)

YWCA Central Alabama