Alabama Arise joins state commission on elimination of state grocery tax

The state sales tax on groceries is a cruel tax on survival, and Alabama Arise is committed to eliminating it. That is why I am grateful that Sen. Bobby Singleton nominated me to serve on the Joint Study Commission on Grocery Taxation on behalf of Arise. I am extremely excited about and honored for this opportunity, and I know that together, we will move Alabama closer to the goal of untaxing groceries once and for all.

How the commission came to be

After years of persistent advocacy by Arise members, policymakers took an important step toward tax justice this year by passing HB 479, a law that will cut the state grocery tax in half. The first decrease – from 4% to 3% – took effect in September 2023. The next decrease – from 3% to 2% – will occur in September 2024, or in the first year when Education Trust Fund (ETF) revenues grow by at least 3.5% annually.

Arise supports eliminating the state grocery tax sustainably and responsibly. That means ending the tax while also protecting vital funding for public schools. Lawmakers created the Grocery Tax Commission this year to figure out a pathway to do that.

This commission formed as the result of HJR 243 by Rep. Penni McClammy, D-Montgomery. The commission’s purpose is “to study a proposed elimination of the sales and use tax on food items,” according to the enabling legislation.

Arise’s testimony on untaxing groceries

I testified during the Grocery Tax Commission’s first meeting on Nov. 14 about the importance of untaxing groceries to help Alabama families make ends meet. And I suggested ways that Alabama could make it happen, including capping or eliminating the state deduction for federal income taxes.

Watch my testimony here, and download my presentation here.

I was one of three presenters at the first meeting. The others were representatives from the Alabama Grocers Association and the Fiscal Division of the Legislative Services Agency. During my presentation, I spoke about:

  • Arise’s 30-year history of advocating to reduce and ultimately eliminate the state’s grocery tax.
  • The harmful impact that taxing groceries has on families with low incomes.
  • Ways in which Alabama compares to other states regarding taxing groceries.
  • Innovative solutions and ways to eliminate the remainder of the state’s grocery tax while protecting the ETF.

What will happen next

In serving on the commission, Arise is charged with helping to evaluate the effects of eliminating the state sales and use tax on groceries. The factors we will help assess include:

(1) Household expenses of Alabamians with low and moderate incomes.
(2) Education Trust Fund revenues.
(3) County and municipal revenue collection.
(4) Community food banks and other nonprofit organizations that provide food.
(5) Hunger and malnutrition experienced by children and older adults.

Here is the full list of commission members:

  • Sen. Andrew Jones, R-Centre – co-chair of the Grocery Tax Commission 
  • Rep. Penni McClammy, D-Montgomery – co-chair of the Grocery Tax Commission 
  • Rep. Danny Garrett, R-Trussville – House Ways and Means Education Committee chair and sponsor of HB 479
  • Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur – Senate Finance and Taxation Education Committee chair
  • Rep. Troy Stubbs, R-Wetumpka – appointee of Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter
  • Akiesha Anderson (Alabama Arise) – appointee of Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro
  • Michael Coleman (Heart of Alabama Food Bank) – nonprofit representative appointed by Senate President Pro Tem Greg Reed, R-Jasper
  • Rosemary Elebash – representative of the National Federation of Independent Business
  • Catherine Gayle Fuller – staffer for and appointee of Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth
  • Allison King (Alabama Education Association) – designee of House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels, D-Huntsville
  • Wade Payne (Mitchell Grocery Co.) – representative of the Alabama Grocers Association

The Grocery Tax Commission will meet periodically between now and 2026, when it will release findings and recommendations. The next meeting will be in 2024. Arise will work closely with the commission in the coming years to lay the groundwork for eliminating the state grocery tax forever.

Alabama Arise testimony in support of untaxing groceries

Alabama Arise’s Robyn Hyden testified Wednesday before the House Ways and Means Education Committee in support of a bill to reduce the state sales tax on groceries. HB 479, sponsored by Rep. Danny Garrett, R-Trussville, would reduce the state grocery tax from 4% to 2% over time. It also would make this cut contingent on growth in the Education Trust Fund (ETF). Here’s the full text of Hyden’s prepared remarks:

Good morning! I’m Robyn Hyden, executive director of Alabama Arise. We’re a nonprofit coalition of 150 congregations, organizations and individuals promoting public policies to improve the lives of Alabamians who are struggling because of poverty. I want to say thank you to the 100 House co-sponsors and the 35 Senate co-sponsors who support HB 479 and its Senate companion bill.

For decades, Alabama Arise has hosted community conversations and listening sessions around to state to understand what we can do to build fairer opportunities for people to succeed and thrive. Untaxing groceries has always been at the top of the list for regular, everyday, working-class Alabamians, who spend a disproportionate amount of their income on sales taxes, like the grocery tax. Last month, we brought more than 125 grassroots advocates to the State House to ask you all to consider several ways to remove the grocery tax. And we are very pleased to see this bill receive your attention today.

Alabama Arise supporters gather outside the State House in Montgomery during Arise’s Legislative Day on April 11, 2023. More than 100 Alabamians came to urge their lawmakers to end the state sales tax on groceries.

An unjust burden

We believe that the grocery tax is an unjust burden on people who simply need to eat. While we had hoped that this bill would include a way to replace the revenue lost over the four years that we cut the tax in half, we are pleased to see that the bill offers a safeguard by limiting the tax cut if the ETF fails to grow.

We share concerns about cutting more revenue to support education. However, we believe that of all the proposals that have been introduced this year to divert ETF funds away from public schools, this bill provides a benefit to low-wage and working-class families who are struggling with the high cost of food. We urge this committee to consider additional ways to cut the full 4% state sales tax on food by finding ways to replace the lost revenue.

Arise appreciates the unprecedented levels of support for this bill from across the political spectrum. We support Rep. Garrett’s proposal and urge you to pass this bill promptly.

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 We appreciate your time and your consideration of our views.


¡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

Alabama Arise, 81 partner groups urge Alabama to fund public transportation

American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) relief funding provides an opportunity for Alabama to jump-start public transportation across the state. Alabama Arise joined 81 partner organizations Wednesday in a letter asking lawmakers to allocate ARPA money to public transportation. The full text of the letter is below.

Letter text

Dear Governor Ivey, Lieutenant Governor Ainsworth, members of the Cabinet and the Alabama Legislature:

Public transportation creates jobs, improves lives and keeps people connected to their communities. As you consider how to allocate the remaining estimated $1 billion of state funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), we strongly encourage you to support Alabama’s public transportation systems. Specifically, we ask you to invest $20 million of ARPA funds into Alabama’s Public Transportation Trust Fund (PTTF).

The PTTF was established in 2018 but remains unfunded to this day. Alabama is one of only three states that provide no state funding for public transportation. A 1952 constitutional amendment bars the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) from using revenue from the state gas tax or license fees for public transportation, which is how most states fund public transportation. Instead, nearly all money for public transportation in Alabama comes from federal dollars administered by ALDOT.

It is clear to the undersigned organizations that the COVID-19 pandemic only worsened the harm resulting from lack of state support for public transportation. Limited funding has forced some local transit systems to curtail specialized services for riders with disabilities or serious health conditions.

We know robust investments in public transit will provide strong benefits for people across Alabama. Greater access to work, school, child care and medical care are just a few examples of how public transit is critical not only for an individual’s quality of life but for the state’s economic development and prosperity.

We urge you to invest $20 million in the PTTF using ARPA’s designated revenue replacement funds. This move will allow those funds to go even further by matching incoming federal dollars for public transportation. And it will make Alabama a better place to live and work for years to come.

Thank you for your consideration.



82 Alabama community-based organizations:

  1. AIDS Alabama
  2. Alabama Arise
  3. Alabama Black Women’s Roundtable
  4. Alabama Coalition Against Domestic Violence
  5. Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice
  6. Alabama Forward
  7. Alabama Rivers Alliance
  8. Alabama Rural Ministry
  9. Alabama State Conference of the NAACP
  10. All Nations Church of God (Montgomery)
  11. All Saints Episcopal Church (Mobile)
  12. Amalgamated Transit Union Local 770
  13. American Association of University Women Alabama (AAUW)
  14. American Association of University Women (AAUW) – Huntsville Branch
  15. Anniston First United Methodist Church – Church & Society Committee
  16. Baldwin County Trailblazers
  17. Bay Area Women Coalition, Inc. (Mobile)
  18. Beloved Community Church, UCC (Birmingham)
  19. Birmingham Footmad
  20. Birmingham Friends Meeting (Quakers)
  21. Bold Goals Coalition (Central Alabama)
  22. Childcare Resources (Birmingham)
  23. Christian Methodist Episcopal Church – Birmingham District Lay Leadership
  24. Church Women United Montgomery
  25. Citizens’ Climate Lobby – Alabama
  26. Collaborative Solutions (Birmingham)
  27. Communities of Transformation
  28. Community Action Association of Alabama
  29. Community Enabler (Anniston)
  30. Eastwood Neighborhood Association (Birmingham)
  31. Edgewood Presbyterian Church (Homewood)
  32. Fairhope Unitarian Fellowship
  33. Faith in Action Alabama
  34. First Presbyterian Church of Birmingham
  35. GASP
  36. Grace Presbyterian Church, PCUSA (Tuscaloosa)
  37. Greater Birmingham Ministries
  38. Gulf Coast Creation Care
  39. ¡HICA! Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama
  40. H.I.V.E. Alabama
  41. Heritage Training and Career Center (Montgomery)
  42. Holy Comforter Episcopal Church Gadsden Missions Committee
  43. Hometown Action
  44. Immanuel Presbyterian Church PCUSA (Montgomery)
  45. Independent Living Center of Mobile
  46. Inspire United Appeal Fund Corporation (Mobile)
  47. Jackson District Women’s Home and Overseas Missionary Society A.M.E. Zion Church
  48. Jobs to Move America
  49. League of Women Voters of Alabama
  50. Lighthouse Community Development Corporation (Mobile)
  51. Low Income Housing Coalition of Alabama
  52. Mary’s House Catholic Worker (Birmingham)
  53. Mission Committee, First Presbyterian Church of Auburn
  54. Mobile Environmental Justice Action Coalition
  55. Monte Sano United Methodist Church – Missions Chair
  56. NAACP Tuscaloosa Branch
  57. National Federation of the Blind of Alabama
  58. Neighborhood Concepts, Inc. (Huntsville)
  59. North Alabama Peace Network
  60. One Roof (Birmingham)
  61. Open Table United Church of Christ (Mobile)
  62. Ozanam Charitable Pharmacy, Inc. (Mobile)
  63. Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty
  64. Sisters of Mercy Alabama
  65. SPLC Action Fund
  66. St. Luke’s Episcopal Church (Jacksonville)
  67. St. Peter AME Church (Montgomery)
  68. SWEET Alabama (Birmingham)
  69. Systems Change/Economic Justice Workgroup – Greater Birmingham Ministries
  70. The Downtown Jimmie Hale Mission (Birmingham)
  71. The Horizons School (Birmingham)
  72. The Institute for Community, Youth & Family Services (Birmingham)
  73. The Right Place, Inc. (Anniston)
  74. The Sisters (Tuscaloosa)
  75. Thrive Alabama (Huntsville)
  76. Transform Alabama
  77. Transit Citizens Advisory Board (Birmingham)
  78. Trinity United Methodist Church (Homewood)
  79. Unitarian Universalist Church of Birmingham
  80. Unitarian Universalist Church of Huntsville
  81. YMBC Civic Forum (Birmingham)
  82. Youth Towers Incorporated (Birmingham)

Alabama Arise, partners urge no disruption to summer food program in Alabama

The Summer Food Service Program has been a critical tool to fight child hunger during the COVID-19 pandemic. But many key program flexibilities will expire June 30 unless Alabama applies for a waiver. Alabama Arise and our partners in the Hunger-Free Alabama coalition wrote a letter Thursday to state school Superintendent Eric Mackey to urge him to request federal permission to continue uninterrupted program service throughout the summer:

Letter text

Dear Dr. Mackey,

Alabama Arise appreciates the Alabama State Department of Education’s (ALSDE) commitment to ensuring that Alabama’s children receive the meals they need to learn and thrive, especially during these last few difficult pandemic years. As you know, access to nutritious meals is key to our children’s ability to learn and succeed in school and in life. Nowhere is that access more important than in our schools, both during the school year and during the summer, when childhood hunger often increases.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently informed state Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) administrators, including the ALSDE, that some program flexibilities, scheduled to expire on June 30, could now be continued for the entire summer if the state requests to do so. These flexibilities include:

  • Permitting non-congregate meal service, which allows parents, guardians or children to take meals from the pickup site and allows meal provision for multiple days at once;
  • Allowing parents or guardians to pick up meals for their children; and
  • Allowing state flexibility in program monitoring.

Alabama Arise, our 150 member groups and more than 20 partners in the Hunger-Free Alabama coalition believe these flexibilities are critical for the 2022 Summer Food Service Program. We strongly encourage you to take advantage of, and apply for, these waivers.

The June 30 end of the original waivers would happen right in the middle of summer food service. This could not be more problematic for both families and providers. Changing food service operations, including the reimposition of on-site food consumption, would disrupt families’ work and child care arrangements and would require that providers completely alter how they feed children in midstream. Providers would have to try to communicate these changes, and the reason for them, adequately to children and their parents. We expect this would result in considerable confusion and frustration. For exactly these reasons, many SFSP providers already have decided to discontinue operations on July 1 if this waiver is not extended. Others, unfortunately, may not participate in the program at all this summer.

We know the hunger crisis caused by the pandemic and its economic disruption has not ended yet. The latest Census Household Pulse Survey (March 30-April 11) found that 15% of responding families with children said they sometimes or often did not have enough to eat. Of those families with children identified by the Census Bureau as food insecure, 25% said their children sometimes or often were not eating enough because food was unaffordable. School meals and the SFSP are critical for these families and their children.

The SFSP waivers have been important during the pandemic, addressing health concerns, supply chain disruptions and community program disruptions caused by the health crisis and economic challenges. Keeping these flexibilities in place for the remainder of the summer will help feed children and help summer meal sites operate safely and efficiently. We urge you to apply for these waivers as quickly as possible, knowing that time is of the essence as providers and families complete their summer planning process.

We appreciate your attention and your continued concern for the needs of our children. And we look forward to working with you to continue to feed Alabama’s schoolchildren this summer and into the future.


Robyn Hyden
Executive Director, Alabama Arise

Alabama Arise testimony on ARPA funding priorities in Alabama

Alabama Arise’s Robyn Hyden testified Wednesday before a joint meeting of the House and Senate’s General Fund budget committees. She discussed Arise’s top priorities for lawmakers’ allocation of federal relief funds under the American Rescue Plan Act. Here’s the full text of Hyden’s prepared remarks:

Good afternoon. My name is Robyn Hyden. I am the executive director of Alabama Arise, and I appreciate the opportunity to speak to you today.

The passage of the American Rescue Plan Act gives us an opportunity to create vital long-term improvements for Alabama – if we spend these funds wisely and well. We recognize that there are many serious needs in the state and that not all of them can be addressed with the funds that will be appropriated during this special session. Therefore, my comments are about the funds currently under consideration and those that will be received later this year.

Last July, Alabama Arise and more than 40 other organizations wrote Governor Kay Ivey and other Alabama leaders outlining our principles for the use of ARPA funds. One of our first principles was that we should aim for equity in outcomes, providing assistance to those most deeply impacted by COVID-19.

We applaud the commitment in the draft bill to clean water and sewer infrastructure, particularly in Alabama’s Black Belt, where sewer infrastructure is a critical need. We urge you and the Department of Environmental Management to provide these funds with as few barriers and as little red tape as possible so that the communities most in need can benefit the most.

Prioritize health care, housing, public transportation

Just last week, Alabama Arise and Cygnal surveyed a random sample of likely 2022 voters and asked them how Alabama should spend ARPA dollars. Strong majorities supported spending these funds to expand access to medical care, including Medicaid and mental health services, and as an investment in rural hospitals and access to affordable care.

Strong majorities also supported using ARPA dollars to expand access to affordable housing and public transportation, particularly in rural areas.

Alabama Arise also has some additional recommendations for how ARPA funds can most benefit the state and its neediest citizens:

Thank you for your time and attention.

Alabama Arise testimony on distribution of federal rental assistance funds

Affordable housing advocates rally outside the Alabama State House in Montgomery in 2015.

Arise’s Dev Wakeley testified Wednesday before the Legislative Oversight Committee of the Alabama Housing Finance Authority (AHFA). He discussed Arise’s concerns about the slow distribution of federal rental assistance authorized under the American Rescue Plan Act. He also shared recommendations to speed up disbursement and increase participation. Here’s the full text of Wakeley’s prepared remarks:

Thank you. My name is Dev Wakeley. I’m here on behalf of the 158 member organizations and nearly 2,000 individual members of Alabama Arise. We are united in our goal of advancing public policies that improve the lives of Alabamians who are marginalized by poverty.

Few policies meet that standard better than emergency rental assistance during a public health crisis. But Alabama’s distribution of federal aid money to prevent eviction during the pandemic has fallen far short of the Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) program’s goals. This failure has caused long delays in getting aid to thousands of qualified people who need it.

Our first request is for the AHFA to increase transparency in the process of reviewing applications and assisting people in completing them. Specifically, we would like to see public posting of state and local contracts and agreements with companies and entities engaged in the application process, especially the contract and payment details regarding Horne LLP. Arise believes full transparency regarding these vital operations will help increase confidence in the process. That will increase participation and could allow the state to access additional funding upon timely use of existing funds. Horne’s slow pace of progress in ensuring application processing and payment is a matter of public concern.

Faster distribution needed

An increase in obligated money is a step toward using this money the right way. But obligating funds for program use doesn’t keep people housed. Thousands of people who qualify for assistance face eviction. To stop those evictions, relief money must actually reach all qualified renters. Only about $66 million of the $263 million ERA funds will go to renters who have already been paid or are pending payment, just a 25% rate. The only measure that ensures the right policy outcome is actual use of these funds to stave off eviction. This is especially important because an eviction is not just an inconvenience or temporary hardship. Evictions ruin families financially. And the data is clear: Evictions kill, especially during this pandemic.

According to the most recent monthly report, as of Aug. 31 ‒ five days after the CDC eviction moratorium expired ‒ Horne had distributed just 7% of the rental assistance available through this program. Yet that private company has already reaped $6.2 million, or 67% of its maximum permissible fees under the contract. At this rate, Horne will max out their contractually permissible payment five full years before distribution of the remaining assistance funds. The money paid to Horne is more than a third of the entire ERA amount distributed through Aug. 31. Real disbursement rates must increase dramatically and immediately to justify this level of expenditure on a contractor.

The pace of approval and disbursement statewide has improved over the past month. But Arise has spoken with landlord representatives who report the initial and ongoing difficulties have left some companies reluctant to engage in the ERA process at all. To convince more landlords to participate, Arise has specific requests to help separate the current program from the difficulties associated with standing up an assistance program from scratch.

Recommended improvements

We ask the AHFA to reach out to local jurisdictions and encourage the broadest possible reading of eligibility standards and application criteria at all local agencies. Some localities have been slow in following updated federal guidance, resulting in a wide disparity of distribution rates across agencies. The federal government is aware these funds are being sought and used by people who genuinely need them, and there is no reasonable possibility of clawback of disbursed funds.

Next, we ask the AHFA to “rebrand” the program and reach out to landlord groups and the public to indicate a break with earlier inconsistent practices. A commitment to faster processing and disbursement alongside more flexible documentation requirements could build confidence in a program that requires active public engagement.

Emergency rental assistance is a clear example of a program that benefits all involved. Landlords and tenants both benefit. And the state will benefit greatly from smoothing out the existing process, both through that money making its way into the broader economy and through fewer expenses associated with evictions and housing insecurity.

Standing up these programs has involved a steep learning curve, but the AHFA has an opportunity to make improvements now. Alabama Arise asks the AHFA to seize this opportunity to make process efficiency improvements that could keep thousands of vulnerable Alabamians housed as winter approaches while a dangerous virus continues to spread in the community. Thank you for your time and willingness to hear our perspective.

To strengthen the common good: Six principles for allocating Alabama’s ARPA funding

To strengthen the common good: Six principles for allocating Alabama's American Rescue Plan Act funding


Dear Governor Ivey,

One of the darkest years in recent memory has put Alabama’s families, communities, health system, businesses – and our leaders at all levels – to the test. Thank you for all your efforts to keep Alabamians safe and secure during this unprecedented emergency. Now that a post-COVID world is dawning, the leadership test doesn’t end. Rather, it enters a critical new phase: Your vision and your actions will help determine what a post-COVID Alabama looks like, and history will record the results. Will the comfort of the familiar pull us back into “the way we’ve always done things”? Or will we count this ordeal as an awakening to bold new possibilities for our state?

For the organizations listed below, all signs point to the second option: The opportunity to address chronic problems that the pandemic has only worsened; a chance to inspire Alabamians with a recovery plan that lifts all communities toward a healthier, more prosperous future; and – most pragmatically – the power of $4 billion in new federal funding to turn vision into reality. We enclose for your consideration six principles that we believe can guide state and local leaders in the most productive, equitable and lasting use of these tax dollars.

The signers of this letter are advocates who work closely with the communities hit hardest by the COVID-19 health and economic crises. For these Alabamians, recovery from the pandemic must mean more than restoring the pre-COVID status quo. With courageous and creative leadership, community engagement across the state, and wise use of historic levels of funding, we have what we need to move Alabama forward and strengthen the common good.

We stand ready to answer any questions you may have about our recommendations.

Respectfully submitted,

The Undersigned Alabama Organizations


The following organizations support a principled approach to American Rescue Plan Act funding that will strengthen Alabama’s common good:

AIDS Alabama
Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice
Alabama Arise
Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice
Alabama CURE
Alabama Possible
Alabama Solutions
Alabama State Conference of the NAACP
Bay Area Women Coalition, Inc.
Birmingham Society of Friends
BirthWell Partners Community Doula Project, Birmingham
Church & Society, Anniston First United Methodist Church
Community Enabler Developer, Inc.
Disabilities Leadership Coalition of Alabama
Disability Rights & Resources
The E.WE Foundation
Faith and Works Statewide Civic Engagement Collective
Grace Presbyterian Church (PCUSA), Tuscaloosa
Greater Birmingham Ministries
Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama
Hometown Action
Immanuel Presbyterian Church (PCUSA), Montgomery
Jobs to Move America
League of Women Voters of Alabama
Medical Advocacy & Outreach
The Nightingale Clinic, Birmingham
Nurse Practitioner Alliance of Alabama
Open Table United Church of Christ, Mobile
People First of Alabama
Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty
Restorative Strategies, LLC, Birmingham
Sisters of Mercy
Sisters of St. Joseph
The Sisters, Tuscaloosa
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Jacksonville
Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Mobile
University of Montevallo Social Work Program
Volunteers of America Southeast
West Alabama Women’s Center
YMCA of Birmingham
YWCA of Central Alabama

Letter text

To Strengthen the Common Good: Six Principles for Allocating Alabama’s American Rescue Plan Act Funding

The COVID-19 crisis has created enormous new challenges for Alabama, while shining a harsh light on long-neglected ones. To strengthen and expedite recovery, the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), passed by Congress in March 2021, is pumping $4 billion into Alabama’s economy over the next three years. 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 starting point is recognizing and breaking our old mindset of scarce resources, limited possibilities and patchwork policy solutions. For too long, Alabama’s leaders – and the voters who empower them – 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 undersigned organizations offer the following six principles as a framework for seizing this unprecedented opportunity to build a better Alabama for all.

  1. Engage local communities at every step.

    The COVID pandemic has hit people where they live, work, learn and play. The best use of ARPA funds will reflect the needs and goals identified by ordinary Alabamians through a process that solicits, accommodates and heeds public input.

Crucial question

How are local leaders, advocates and community members involved in identifying and prioritizing both needs and solutions?

  • Identify or create effective, inclusive, results-oriented, nonpartisan, community-based councils in each county or region to develop recommendations for local ARPA funding priorities. Potential lead organizations may include United Way, community foundation or Community Action Agency advisory bodies; children’s policy councils; university extension services; or community round tables convened by local governments. Make it a priority to engage segments of the community underserved by the status quo, such as Alabamians of color, people who work for low wages or have lost jobs, and those who lack adequate basic services.
  • Provide opportunities for broad public participation in developing and finalizing local, regional and state ARPA spending plans. State leaders should agree not to appropriate ARPA funds until the public engagement process is completed.
  • Review existing community and state needs assessments to identify common local concerns, as well as gaps in information and perspective.
  • Facilitate information-sharing and coordination among local, regional and state efforts to enhance efficiency, leverage capacity and avoid duplication.
  • Designate a statewide source of technical assistance, best practices and other aids to local and regional decision-making.
  1. Aim for equity in outcomes.

    Some regions, counties, municipalities and populations have suffered deeper blows than others from the pandemic because of chronic gaps in resources, infrastructure, services and opportunities. Rural Alabamians, people of color, people with disabilities, and women have faced disproportionate impacts from both the health and economic crises. Simply restoring the prior status quo is not transformation. ARPA funding decisions should take into account the un-level playing field of COVID recovery, targeting investment toward improving the basic standards of living for areas and people long left behind. Assistance to those most deeply impacted by COVID-19 should come with as little “red tape” and administrative delay as possible. Direct cash assistance to people with low incomes should be a priority.

Crucial question

How do proposed funding allocations contribute to the removal of historic barriers to individual, family and community well-being?

  • Within each jurisdiction (state, region, county, city), use socioeconomic indicators such as poverty, unemployment and workforce participation rates, and racial/ethnic health disparities to target strategic, expedited community investments.
  • Provide grants to minority- or women-owned small businesses, especially those that did not receive earlier federal business loan assistance.
  • Provide up to $13 per hour in bonus or “premium” pay – on top of their regular pay – to essential public and private workers, up to $25,000 per worker per year, as allowed under the Rescue Plan, for work performed during the public health emergency, awarding the largest bonuses to the lowest-paid workers.
  • Provide cash assistance to SNAP food assistance recipients with incomes below 50% of the Federal Poverty Level.
  • Provide a grocery tax rebate to households earning less than 200% of the federal poverty level.
  • Fund and train organizations that already help people access SNAP, Medicaid, tax credits and other supports as navigators for the full range of ARPA assistance, including the expanded federal Child Tax Credit.
  1. Maximize well-being by addressing health in all policies.

    What began as the COVID-19 health emergency quickly became an economic and social crisis. In turn, the toll the virus has taken on communities of color, people with disabilities and the uninsured revealed how deeply socioeconomic conditions are connected to health risks and outcomes. Nutrition, housing, transportation, education and other factors are widely recognized as social determinants of health, but Alabama has been slow to broaden our approach to health policy and funding. ARPA offers us the chance to apply the lessons of COVID-19 and design a recovery plan that puts eliminating health disparities and improving health at the center of investments in every sector.

Crucial question

How does this funding proposal advance the goal of a healthier Alabama?

  • Name it and claim it: There’s enough ARPA funding to achieve significant health improvement in Alabama if leaders set clear, ambitious goals and plan accordingly. 
  • Engage public health experts to incorporate health goals and strategies across the full span of ARPA allocation planning.
  • Increase professional staffing at county health departments.
  • Strengthen our workforce, families and communities by using the generous ARPA incentives (an estimated $720 million) to expand Medicaid and close the coverage gap for 340,000 Alabamians with low incomes.
  • Invest in mobile mental health crisis services and expand mental health crisis centers.
  • Expand school nurse programs and school-based mental health services.
  • Fund Healthy Food Financing grants for fresh food markets, including mobile markets, as well as local worker-owned food cooperatives to boost local economies, provide jobs and expand availability of fresh foods in food apartheid areas (where healthy food access is hindered by racially discriminatory economic or political factors) and food swamp neighborhoods (where food and beverage sources like fast food outlets, convenience stores and liquor stores crowd out healthier food options).
  1. Invest in existing assets and capacities to help funds work faster, go farther and avoid duplication.

    Over recent decades, budget cuts to education, public health and other essential services – and our failure to expand Medicaid – have left Alabama unprepared for a prolonged emergency like COVID-19. Similarly, charitable nonprofit organizations across the state have faced unprecedented demand for their services during the pandemic and risen to the challenge. By directing ARPA funds to restoring critical services and supporting experienced, trusted charitable nonprofits, state and local governments can strengthen community resources, meet needs efficiently, avoid reinventing the wheel, and multiply the economic benefit.

Crucial question

What programs and organizations are already working to meet the goals of this ARPA funding proposal, and how can a partnership approach improve outcomes?

  • Fund organizations that are well-positioned to reach people with significant barriers to accessing support, such as immigrants, people with disabilities and people of color with low incomes.
  • Expand community schools in neighborhoods where the pandemic has taken a particularly heavy toll.
  • Provide additional funding for existing in-home early childhood education services like HIPPY, Parents as Teachers and Nurse-Family Partnership programs.
  • Increase support for school-based social and health services, particularly in high-poverty neighborhoods and districts.
  • Help children catch up on unfinished learning by expanding the teacher workforce through pay increases and other supports for early childhood teachers, child care workers and special education teachers who work in at-risk communities and schools.
  • Expand existing in-home and community-based services for the elderly and people with disabilities.
  • Expand or develop local alternatives to incarceration such as specialized courts, community correction programs, re-entry programs and services for people at risk of offending.
  • Invest in workforce development by creating subsidized apprenticeships, two-year scholarship programs, and subsidized certificate programs for low-income workers.
  1. Think big and create a 21st-century infrastructure for the common good.

    Alabamians have long recognized the human cost of inferior and outdated public works and services like sanitation, health care, transportation and information technology systems. But the monetary cost has kept our leaders from modernizing them. COVID has revealed the deadly consequences of that neglect, and ARPA includes massive funding aimed at moving states forward on all of these fronts, including a large share for education (not addressed in these recommendations because of specific earmarking). The opportunity calls for bold leadership and vision. Our spending plan must seek to coordinate local, regional and statewide investments for fundamental and long-lasting impact.

Crucial question

How will today’s investments benefit future generations of Alabamians?

  • Modernize and align state agency computer systems to create a “no wrong door” approach to streamlined eligibility and enrollment across benefit programs.
  • Modernize and improve state unemployment insurance (UI) technological infrastructure, application and payment systems.
  • Upgrade water and sanitation systems, prioritizing communities with a history of unsafe water quality and waste-water disposal.
  • Provide critical infrastructure and equipment (such as trucks, refrigeration, trainers, lift gates, etc.,) to local food banks and food pantries to expand emergency food distribution.
  • Expand Alabama’s affordable housing capacity, stabilize families and communities and reduce homelessness by seeding the Affordable Housing Trust Fund with $25 million and providing grants for eligible new construction, renovation and maintenance.
  • Recognizing that lack of reliable transportation is a major hindrance to health care, economic activity and workforce development in many areas of the state, seed the Public Transportation Trust Fund with $20 million and provide state match for increased federal public transportation funding.
  • Promote equity in high-speed internet access by targeting earmarked broadband funding to help local service providers expand into underserved areas and by ensuring community oversight of access and quality standards.
  • Provide state technical assistance to localities in consolidating, evaluating and negotiating broadband contracts to minimize the danger of approving projects with little public benefit.
  1. Build public trust and engagement by following the highest standards of documentation, transparency and accessibility of information about funding awards and expenditures. 

    Spending taxpayer dollars is always a tremendous responsibility. When it comes to spending billions in a short time, the potential for slow uptake, poor decisions and misuse only increases. Alabama can ensure that the generous ARPA funds do their appointed job by establishing clear guidelines and full disclosure for the entire funding process, from eligibility of applicants to allocation decisions to project expenditures and results.

Crucial question

How will Alabamians be able to track the allocation, use and impact of their federal ARPA tax dollars in the state?

  • Create and maintain a public database of state and local ARPA funding allocations and expenditures, easily searchable and sortable by project or partner name, policy topic, service area, grant amount, award date, expenditure date and other key factors.
  • Adopt simple, accessible application and reporting requirements that allow grantees and recipients to establish their credibility and tell their story without jumping unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles.
  • Use local ARPA planning groups as conduits for ongoing reporting and feedback about plan implementation, obstacles, impact and sustainability. Build a robust outreach operation to help people access available federal, state and local aid.

Alabama Arise, partners urge COVID-19 vaccine priority for Alabamians served through Medicaid waivers

Alabamians served through home- and community-based Medicaid waivers qualify for nursing home care but receive their care at home from community providers through the state’s Medicaid waiver program. The Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) has acknowledged that these individuals belong in the Phase 1a priority level for the COVID-19 vaccine. But they have not yet received access to the vaccinations.

Alabama Arise and partner groups sent the following letter to Gov. Kay Ivey on Thursday in response:

Letter text

Dear Governor Ivey,

We hope you are well and breathing a little easier as spring approaches with better COVID news each day. In response to our previous letter of a month ago, you invited us to get back with you in a few weeks if we had further concerns about the vaccination roll-out. Recent trends are encouraging, but we do want to highlight an ongoing issue that has not been resolved.

After we sent our Jan. 15 letter, we learned that program directors at Alabama Medicaid, Alabama Department of Senior Services, Alabama Department of Mental Health and Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services contacted Dr. [Scott] Harris to express their concern about the lack of vaccination planning for the Medicaid long-term care patients they serve through home- and community based service waivers. As individuals who qualify for nursing-home care but receive their care at home from community providers, waiver patients are equivalent to nursing home residents in their vulnerability to COVID-19, as well as their legal status. ADPH has acknowledged that these patients belong in the 1a vaccination priority level, but they have not been granted access to vaccinations.

We understand that the agencies offered to assist ADPH with outreach and other logistical planning to ensure timely vaccination of these vulnerable individuals. “Timely” is the critical word. The longer we wait to vaccinate the top priority populations, the more hospitalizations and deaths Alabama will experience on our way to generalized immunity. As of Wednesday afternoon, the other health agencies were still waiting to hear how they could engage with ADPH in this vital effort. We recognize the enormous task facing the department and applaud its perseverance under trying circumstances. Rather than calling that work into question, we offer this appeal in the belief that an inter-agency strategy will lighten ADPH’s load.

One example of such collaboration comes from Delaware, where paratransit resources are being deployed in a “reverse paratransit” network to deliver vaccines and vaccinators to the homes of paratransit users as vaccine supply becomes available. We have shared this model with ADPH and understand that Dr. Mary McIntyre has contacted the Delaware program to learn more. We hope to see similar ideas embraced here in Alabama. We would appreciate anything you can do to expedite an inter-agency partnership to make vaccinations available to our most vulnerable Alabamians as soon as supplies allow.

Thank you for your consideration.


Respectfully submitted by:

Jim Carnes
Policy Director, Alabama Arise

James A. Tucker, Esq.
Director, Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program
The Protection and Advocacy System for the State of Alabama

Eric M. Peebles, Ph.D., CRC
Chair, Consumer Advisory Committee, Alabama Select Network
President, Disabilities Leadership Coalition of Alabama
Treasurer, State of Alabama Independent Living Council
President and Chief Executive Officer, Abilities Unlimited LLC dba Accessible Alabama

Alabama Arise testimony in opposition to corporate COVID-19 immunity bill

Arise’s Robyn Hyden testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday in opposition to SB 30. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, would provide corporations with a broad range of civil immunity against lawsuits related to exposure to coronavirus or contraction of COVID-19. Here’s the full text of Hyden’s prepared remarks:

Good morning. I’m here to represent Alabama Arise, our 158 member organizations and thousands of members and partners around the state of Alabama who believe that poor and working-class people deserve equal protection and opportunity for dignity, equity and justice.

We know you are a deliberative body, and we believe that more deliberation is needed on this bill. First, we are concerned that provisions are being made in this legislative session to protect business and corporate interests without a similar focus on protecting workers and everyday people who are the true economic engine of our state. This bill provides virtual blanket immunity, harming workers and rewarding bad actors.

Second, the standard of “clear and convincing evidence” required in this bill is simply too high and will prevent legitimate claims from being addressed. We would propose the “preponderance of evidence” standard used in other civil cases.

Inconsistent standards and lowered expectations

Third, there are major inconsistencies that need to be addressed. This bill creates two competing standards of care: one in section 4, and one in section 3. Section 4 appears to be retroactive and includes a clear link to compliance with public health standards. Section 3 does not mention anything about compliance with public health standards. Those standards should be consistent. And further, disallowing lawsuits for negligence, as this bill does, gives irresponsible entities a free pass for acts committed during the COVID-19 pandemic that would normally subject them to liability.

Finally, we believe the references to “applicable public health guidance” in the introduction should include guidance issued by federal agencies, not just state agencies. The federal SAFE TO WORK immunity legislation supported by Sen. Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans tied immunity to reasonable compliance with public health standards, as have immunity bills in most other states. There’s no logic in lowering our expectations of businesses moving forward when they already know so much about how to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

In conclusion, I urge you all to consider actions to protect and nurture workers’ well-being through worker supports that will allow people who are medically vulnerable to protect both their health and their financial well-being during this pandemic. Front-line workers deserve access to health care, hazard pay and social support programs if they are unable to work in a high-risk field. Too many workers are being driven into risky working conditions with no alternatives.

Thank you so much for your time.