Alabama should build a more equitable and inclusive future by using federal COVID-19 relief money for transformational investments in public health and economic opportunity, according to a letter that 42 churches and organizations across the state sent to Gov. Kay Ivey this week. Alabama Arise is among the groups that co-signed the letter.
The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) will provide Alabama $2.3 billion of federal assistance for education and other vital services. Local governments across the state will receive another $1.7 billion.
Affordable housing, education, nutrition and public transportation are a few key areas of need identified in the letter. The letter urges Alabama to use ARPA funds to expand Medicaid, increase broadband internet access in underserved areas and increase funding for child care, early childhood education and mental health care, among other investments.
“New funding at this scale can be transformative for our state, but only if we take a transformative approach to how we spend it,” the letter says. “For too long, Alabama’s leaders … have settled for poor outcomes in health, education, community development and other measures of shared prosperity, because they thought we couldn’t tackle such deep problems. The pandemic is challenging us to reclaim – and redefine – the common good. ARPA funding gives us a rare opportunity to meet the challenge, if we’re willing.”
The full letter, “To Strengthen the Common Good: Six Principles for Allocating Alabama’s ARPA Funding,” is available here.
Principles for effective, transparent use of ARPA money
COVID-19 and its associated recession exacerbated preexisting racial, gender and regional disparities that prevent Alabama from reaching its full potential. Enduring recovery will require breaking away from a mindset of scarce resources and limited opportunities, the letter says.
The letter encourages state leaders to allocate ARPA funds using these six principles as a framework:
- Engage local communities at every step.
- Aim for equity in outcomes.
- Maximize well-being by addressing health in all policies.
- Invest in existing assets and capacities to help funds work faster, go further and avoid duplication.
- Think big and create a 21st-century infrastructure for the common good.
- Build public trust and engagement by following the highest standards of documentation, transparency and accessibility of information about funding awards and expenditures.
Investments to increase equity, expand economic opportunity in Alabama
ARPA funds offer the state an opportunity to lift communities toward better health and broadly shared prosperity. They also can help Alabama address chronic challenges in education, health care, housing and other quality-of-life measures. Among the letter’s key recommendations for allocation of ARPA funds:
- Expand Medicaid to save lives and ensure health coverage for more than 340,000 Alabamians with low incomes.
- Invest in mobile mental health crisis services and expand mental health crisis centers and school-based mental health services.
- Increase funding for in-home early childhood education and in-home services for older adults and people with disabilities.
- Provide funding for the state’s Housing Trust Fund and Public Transportation Trust Fund.
- Promote equity in high-speed internet access by targeting earmarked broadband funding to help providers expand into underserved areas.
- Invest in workforce development by creating subsidized apprenticeships, two-year scholarship programs and subsidized certificate programs for workers with low incomes.
- Provide a grocery tax rebate and other cash assistance to households with low incomes.
“Recovery from COVID-19 will require Alabama to go beyond a return to an inadequate status quo,” Alabama Arise executive director Robyn Hyden said. “Our elected officials must make better policy choices now to build thriving communities in the future, and ARPA funds offer a powerful pathway to help make that vision a reality. We urge the governor to seize this opportunity to increase public trust and build a brighter, more equitable future for all Alabamians.”