May 2022 newsletter

Alabama Arise members speak out in favor of legislation to end the state sales tax on groceries during a March 15 rally at the State House in Montgomery. Arise members brought a variety of creative signs to show their support for untaxing groceries.

Highs and lows: Alabama Arise’s look back at the 2022 regular session

By Rebecca Howard, policy and advocacy director

The Alabama Legislature’s 2022 regular session adjourned sine die on April 7. Lawmakers capped off the session’s last week with intense debates and late nights, with the final gavel dropping just before midnight.

Alabama Arise is grateful for the many positive outcomes that came out of the State House this year. We also were glad to play a role in stopping several misguided pieces of legislation from becoming law. These wins wouldn’t have been possible without the support of Arise’s determined members and various coalition partners.

We were not able to get every good bill across the finish line or stop every harmful legislative effort from happening. But Arise saw real progress on several important issue priorities this year. Keep reading for recaps on some of the key bills we supported or opposed in 2022. Then visit our Bills of Interest page for updates on all of the legislation we tracked.

Adequate state budgets

Alabama’s fiscal year 2023 General Fund and Education Trust Fund budgets are both among the largest in state history. The General Fund budget of $2.7 billion includes a provision to extend Medicaid postpartum coverage from 60 days to 12 months, which will help reduce maternal mortality and improve health outcomes for more than 30,000 women. Rep. Laura Hall, D-Huntsville, has been a longtime legislative champion for postpartum Medicaid extension.

The Education Trust Fund budget of $8.2 billion will provide a major boost in teacher pay. The increases will range from 4% all the way to 21% depending on seniority.

SB 140, sponsored by Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, did not pass this session. The bill would have allowed the diversion of hundreds of millions of dollars from public schools to private schools. Arise opposed this effort.

SB 261, sponsored by Sen. Dan Roberts, R-Mountain Brook, passed out of both chambers. This bill will increase the income tax credit filers can claim for contributions to scholarship granting organizations for private schools. Arise opposed this effort.

Tax reform

HB 163 and SB 19, sponsored by Rep. Lynn Greer, R-Rogersville, and Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, passed out of both chambers. This legislation will increase the standard deduction and dependent exemption. That change will provide a small but significant income tax cut for low- and moderate-income Alabamians. Arise supported this effort.

SB 43, sponsored by Sen. Andrew Jones, R-Centre, did not pass this session. The bills would have repealed the state’s 4% grocery tax and capped the state deduction for federal income taxes. Despite strong bipartisan leadership from Jones and Rep. Penni McClammy, D-Montgomery, the plan did not come up for committee consideration.

Arise strongly supported efforts to end the state grocery tax. This included dozens of members gathering for an Untax Groceries Rally at the State House in Montgomery on March 15. The rally was Arise’s first major in-person event since February 2020.

Voting rights

HB 53 and SB 6, sponsored by Rep. Laura Hall, D-Huntsville, and Sen. Linda Coleman-Madison, D-Birmingham, passed the Senate but did not advance to the House floor. The bills would have eliminated application requirements for voting rights restoration. They also would have restored the right to vote for many indigent individuals. Arise supported this effort.

HB 63, sponsored by Rep. Debbie Wood, R-Valley, did not pass this session. The bill would have criminalized the prefilling of any voter application or absentee ballot application. Arise opposed this effort.

Hall’s HB 167 failed to pass this session. This legislation would allow inmate identification cards to be used as valid ID for voting. Arise supported this effort.

HB 194, introduced by Rep. Wes Allen, R-Troy, passed out of both chambers. The bill will prohibit state and local election officials from soliciting, accepting or using donations for election-related expenses. Arise opposed this effort.

Criminal justice reform

HB 52, sponsored by Rep. Jim Hill, R-Moody, passed out of both chambers. This bill will allow judges to use discretion in the length of someone’s sentence if their probation is revoked. Arise supported this effort.

HB 95, sponsored by Rep. Jeremy Gray, D-Opelika, passed out of both chambers. The bill will create a 180-day grace period for people to repay court-imposed fines and fees following release from incarceration. Arise supported this effort.

SB 203, sponsored by Orr, passed out of both chambers. This bill will require the Administrative Office of Courts to establish a database of municipal fines and fees. Arise supported this effort.

HB 230, sponsored by Rep. Rolanda Hollis, D-Birmingham, passed out of both chambers. This bill will ban the routine shackling of incarcerated individuals during pregnancy, delivery and immediate postpartum time. Arise supported this effort.

HB 200 and SB 117, sponsored by Rep. Merika Coleman, D-Birmingham, and Sen. Will Barfoot, R-Montgomery, failed to pass this session. The bills would have ended driver’s license suspensions for failure to pay fines and fees. Arise supported this effort.

SB 220, sponsored by Sen. Linda Coleman-Madison, D-Birmingham, failed to pass this session. The bill would have required that time served awaiting a hearing for parole violation be applied retroactively. Arise supported this effort.

HB 2, sponsored by Rep. Allen Treadaway, R-Morris, did not pass this session. This anti-protest bill would have created minimum holding periods for people accused of the crimes of rioting or interfering with traffic. It also would have penalized certain local jurisdictions that reduce funding for law enforcement. Arise opposed this effort.

Hill’s HB 55 failed to pass this session. The bill would have required every judicial circuit to establish a community corrections program. Arise supported this effort.

Unemployment insurance benefits

Orr’s SB 224 passed out of both chambers. This bill will impose additional job search requirements as a condition of eligibility for unemployment insurance benefits.

Specifically, the bill will require individuals to show a “reasonable and active effort” to find work by providing proof every week that they have contacted at least three prospective employers. Unless a new job notice has been posted, a job seeker cannot apply for or seek work at an employer where they already made contact. Arise opposed this effort.

Food security

Orr’s SB 156 did not pass this session. The bill would have required both custodial and non-custodial parents to cooperate with child support enforcement to qualify for SNAP food assistance. Arise opposed this effort.

‘Divisive concepts’

HB 312 and SB 292, sponsored by Rep. Ed Oliver, R-Dadeville, and Sen. Will Barfoot, R-Montgomery, did not pass this session. The bills would have prohibited the teaching of “divisive concepts” related to race, religion and sex in public K-12 schools, colleges, universities and certain state training programs. Arise opposed this effort.

Join us online for Town Hall Tuesdays!

By Presdelane Harris, organizing director

Listening is key to shaping and advancing public policies that matter most to those marginalized by bad policies. Alabama Arise depends on what we hear to help guide our work toward our vision of a better Alabama for all.

Our online Town Hall Tuesdays will return once again this year. These events are a chance to hear issue updates and share your vision for our 2023 priorities.

Please join us this summer to help identify emerging issues and inform our actions. Visit al-arise.local/2022townhalltuesdays to register (required) for any or all of the sessions. These virtual events will begin at 6 p.m. on July 12, July 26 and Aug. 9.

Annual meeting: Save the date

Mark your calendars for the Arise annual meeting on Saturday, Sept. 24.

Member groups can submit 2023 issue proposals by Aug. 5. More details about the meeting and issue proposal process are coming soon.

Summer food service programs need to be preserved

By Carol Gundlach, senior policy analyst, and Celida Soto Garcia, hunger policy advocate

The COVID-19 pandemic added to the hunger challenges already facing many Alabamians. In response came a wave of federal flexibilities and waivers for the nation’s programs that feed children. As a result, many Alabama students have received nutritious, often free meals with fewer administrative barriers.

However, many of these child nutrition waivers could be coming to an end soon ‒ unless state officials and concerned Alabamians act quickly.

For the past two summers, the Summer Food Service Program’s flexibilities have included permitting non-congregate meal service. This allows parents, guardians or children to take meals from the pickup site. It also allows meal provision for multiple days at once.

But unless the Alabama State Department of Education requests an extension, these flexibilities will end June 30. That would be in the middle of summer food service, causing undue stress and confusion to students, educators and families. Alabama Arise and other partners in the Hunger-Free Alabama coalition sent a letter to state school Superintendent Eric Mackey urging him to ask the U.S. Department of Agriculture for an extension for the rest of summer. Read the full letter at al-arise.local/summerfoodletter.

Above: Arise’s Celida Soto Garcia explains how community eligibility helps keep Alabama children fed.

The continued push for community eligibility

As we continue pushing for extended flexibility, it is important to keep building support for the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP). This option allows more than 450 high-poverty schools across Alabama to offer breakfast and lunch at no charge to all students. Arise members should contact their local school superintendents and urge them to opt into CEP if they haven’t already. Parents and guardians can take an extra step by submitting their school meal application to the appropriate school district.

Food insecurity is a challenge for 16.1% of Alabamians, including 20.4% of Alabama’s children, according to 2021 projections from Feeding America. These numbers are unacceptable and should not increase further because of preventable deadlines. Arise will continue to work proactively with local, state and national partners to expand food access across the state.

A life-saving move: Alabama extends postpartum Medicaid coverage

By Jane Adams, Cover Alabama campaign director

Alabama is on its way to reducing maternal mortality and improving health for families across the state ‒ but we can’t stop here.

Lawmakers and Gov. Kay Ivey last month enacted a budget that extends postpartum Medicaid coverage to a full year after childbirth. That is up from the previous cutoff of only 60 days after birth. Alabama Arise and other members of the Cover Alabama Coalition will continue to work with the governor’s administration and legislators to ensure this program is sustainable and permanent.

Alabama has the nation’s third-worst maternal death rate. Each year, nearly 40 new mothers in the state die within one year after delivery. The toll on Black mothers is nearly three times that of white moms.

Research shows that outcomes improve when moms have access to high-quality, equitable and uninterrupted care. Extending the Medicaid postpartum coverage period is a big step to save lives and improve the health and well-being of families, communities and the entire state.

Arise story collection coordinator Whit Sides speaks at a March 9 rally in Montgomery to support extending postpartum Medicaid coverage. Arise joined the American Heart Association and other Cover Alabama partners at the event.

The work that remains

This is an exciting win, but we know that one year of coverage is, ultimately, not enough. And we know the solution: The most effective way to reduce maternal deaths is to make sure people giving birth have access to care before, during and after pregnancy. We need full Medicaid expansion, and we won’t stop until we get it.

Medicaid restrictions are not affecting only new parents. More than 220,000 Alabamians are caught in our health coverage gap, earning too much to qualify for Medicaid and too little to afford private insurance. And another 120,000 are stretching to pay for coverage they cannot afford. Expanding Medicaid would give these Alabamians the health care that they need to survive and deserve to thrive.

By working together, postpartum Medicaid extension will be only the first of many wins toward creating a more equitable state health care system. It’s been a long fight, but I know we can do this.

Community-driven ideas can improve health outcomes

By Presdelane Harris, organizing director

Imagine a world where the people most harmed by hunger and food insecurity exercise their power to propose their own solutions to address this social determinant of health.

What might happen if health care systems were responsive to those solutions? And what if a group of dedicated community leaders, organizations and civic groups rallied together to implement those solutions? That’s what Alabama Arise and our partners resolved to find out near the Gulf Coast.

In Mobile and Baldwin counties, 55% of people live in food deserts. These are defined as Census tracts with low or no access to healthy foods. So after convening more than 100 community members and their families for a series of listening sessions, our grassroots partners from Mobile’s Trinity Gardens neighborhood proposed launching a “produce prescription” project to benefit regional Medicaid participants. Thanks to community organizing, mobilization and partnership, their dream is becoming a reality.

Once a month, participants receive a box of fresh produce as part of a Produce Prescription Program developed by our partners at the American Heart Association and staffed by community partners and volunteers. The Heart Association’s data has shown that where this program has been implemented, participants experience measurable health improvements. Organizing and advocacy for community-based solutions improves health outcomes.

Arise continues to work with community leaders and partners to urge Medicaid to fund more community-led projects. When we facilitate getting resources to communities, they become hubs for equity and innovation. Community-driven ideas can help shape programs that improve overall health outcomes.

To learn more about this program and how you can help, email me at .

Alabama needs to invest in its people

By Robyn Hyden, executive director

Do you know how hard it is to pass just one bill in the Alabama Legislature? We often measure progress on our issue priorities over periods of four-year quadrenniums, or even decades. So it’s remarkable that during the 2022 regular session, Arise members helped pass numerous priority bills on everything from equitable tax reforms and adequate state budgets to criminal justice reforms.

Still, many of our lawmakers do not share our vision for a truly inclusive economic recovery. When it comes to spending the remaining $1 billion in American Rescue Plan Act funds to build a lifeboat for all Alabamians hit hard by COVID-19, it’s our job to help them see the vision. As we look ahead to another special session on ARPA funds, we’re working to tell lawmakers what you all know to be true: Investments in our people, our most valuable resource, are what matter most.

Check out our ARPA advocacy resources at al-arise.local/arpatoolkit. And tell your lawmakers now that you expect them to use this opportunity to address longstanding human needs.

Donate today to keep momentum going!

By McKenzie Burton, development associate

Because of your support, we made some important gains during this legislative session that will benefit Alabamians with low incomes. But we know we still have a long way to go. Will you donate today to keep up this momentum toward a more equitable Alabama?

Over the course of the session, we built more bipartisan support for untaxing groceries than ever before. We successfully extended postpartum Medicaid coverage from 60 days to a full year. And we stopped harmful legislation that would have made it more difficult for single parents to receive SNAP food assistance.

We know that with continued, concerted effort, we can expand SNAP benefits for people who need it. We can end the tax on groceries once and for all to make food more affordable for all Alabamians. And we can finally expand Medicaid statewide.

Will you join Alabama Arise or renew your membership to support our year-round advocacy and organizing efforts? Together, we can make a difference in the lives of people with low incomes across our state. You can donate online today, or send a check to P.O. Box 1188, Montgomery, AL 36101.

Welcome, Formeeca and Jennifer!

Alabama Arise continued to expand its staff this year, and we are happy to welcome both Formeeca Tripp and Jennifer Harris to the team!

Formeeca Tripp joined Arise as our southeast Alabama organizer in April. She has served as a community health worker addressing health disparities and providing free COVID-19 testing and vaccine sign-ups at mobile sites and clinics throughout southeast and east-central Alabama. She also served as an intervention/behavior specialist for the Alabama Council on Human Relations, advocating for children, families and education staff.

Formeeca is originally from Syracuse, N.Y., and has lived in Auburn for more than 12 years. She is a single mother of two children, one of whom has autism. Formeeca is pursuing her undergraduate degree in social work at Auburn University. She is set to graduate in December 2022 and will be the first in her family ever to receive an undergraduate degree.

Jennifer Harris joined Arise in April as our health policy advocate. Born and raised in Alabama, she is a two-time graduate of the University of Alabama, where she earned her J.D. and B.S.W. Jennifer has worked her entire career in advocacy and nonprofit administration.

Most recently, she was the executive director of the Sickle Cell Association – West Alabama Chapter Inc. Jennifer previously worked as a social worker trainer/recruiter for prospective foster and adoptive parents and was the executive director of Shoals CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) in Florence.

Other staff moves

Arise also recently had two other staff members take on new and expanded roles. Dev Wakeley is now Arise’s worker policy advocate, after serving as a policy analyst since 2018. Mike Nicholson is now a policy analyst after serving as our southeast Alabama organizer since 2018.

Speaking out at our Untax Groceries Rally

Alabama Arise held a rally at the Alabama State House on March 15 to urge lawmakers to untax groceries. We were grateful that more than 50 Arise supporters came to Montgomery to speak out. We also appreciated hearing from two legislative champions of untaxing groceries: Sen. Andrew Jones, R-Centre, and Rep. Penni McClammy, D-Montgomery.



Photo captions: Rep. Penni McClammy, D-Montgomery, and Sen. Andrew Jones, R-Centre, spoke on the importance of removing the state sales tax on groceries in Alabama. And Arise members brought a variety of creative signs to show their support for untaxing groceries. Thank you to Jill Friedman for taking photos during the rally!

March 2022 newsletter

On Feb. 15, dozens of well-wishers gathered for an online retirement party for outgoing Arise policy director Jim Carnes. We salute Jim for his 18 years of service at Arise and his lifelong dedication to building a better world. Thank you, Jim!

Grocery tax, health care key Arise focuses this year

By Chris Sanders, communications director

Untax groceries. Expand health coverage. Make the criminal justice system more just. Those are a few of Alabama Arise’s major priorities during the Legislature’s 2022 regular session. And we’re making real progress toward turning those goals into realities.

Untaxing groceries

Ending the state’s regressive sales tax on groceries has been a longtime Arise priority. It was the centerpiece of Alabama Arise Action’s online Legislative Day on Feb. 15, which attracted nearly 200 advocates from across the state. It also will be the focus of a March 15 rally in Montgomery.

Legislative Day attendees heard from two lawmakers working to untax groceries: Sen. Andrew Jones, R-Centre, and Rep. Penni McClammy, D-Montgomery. Jones’ and McClammy’s bills reflect growing support for untaxing groceries while protecting funding for public schools.

McClammy said the grocery tax is a policy concern that transcends political lines. “It’s important that we stand together united as one and show the citizens that we all care about what’s going on in our homes,” she said.

Jones expressed optimism that lawmakers are nearing a breakthrough on the grocery tax. “This is not a partisan issue,” he said. “Montgomery is not Washington, D.C., so we get a lot of bipartisan work done here.”

Nearly 200 advocates from across Alabama attended Arise’s virtual 2022 Legislative Day on Feb. 15. Supporters gathered to learn more about our issue priorities and get updates on where things stand legislatively on them. Sen. Andrew Jones, R-Centre (top right), and Rep. Penni McClammy, D-Montgomery (bottom left), joined us for a discussion of their bills to untax groceries.

Expanding health coverage

The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored a cruel fact: Hundreds of thousands of Alabamians can’t afford the health care they need. Gov. Kay Ivey can remove that financial barrier by expanding Medicaid to cover nearly 300,000 adults with low incomes. Arise and our Cover Alabama campaign are working hard to make that happen.

Public support for Medicaid expansion is strong and growing. More than seven in 10 Alabamians support expansion, according to a statewide Arise poll conducted in January. Expansion would create more than 20,000 jobs and save the state almost $400 million annually, a recent report estimated.

Extending Alabama Medicaid’s postpartum coverage to one year (up from the current 60 days) is another key goal this year. Nearly 70% of Alabama’s maternal deaths in 2016 were preventable, one study found. That’s why Arise is working hard to ensure legislators fund this life-saving coverage extension in the General Fund budget.

Advancing justice

Numerous reforms of Alabama’s criminal justice system are moving in the Legislature this year. Arise supports two bills – HB 200 by Rep. Merika Coleman, D-Birmingham, and SB 117 by Sen. Will Barfoot, R-Montgomery – to end driver’s license suspensions for failure to pay fines and fees. Arise also backs HB 57 by Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, and SB 215 by Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, which would increase transparency in parole decisions.

Together, we can make a difference. Subscribe to our email list for timely alerts on these bills and others. And visit the Bills of Interest page to track legislation throughout the year.

Join us for the Untax Groceries Rally on March 15!

By Matt Okarmus, communications associate

Join Arise in Montgomery to tell lawmakers that now is the time to untax groceries! We can’t miss this opportunity to help families make ends meet.

The Untax Groceries Rally will be from noon to 1 p.m. on Tuesday, March 15. We will gather outside the State House steps. In the case of inclement weather, we have a backup plan for those who feel safe to gather inside.

Visit untaxgroceries.org today to register for the event. Please note that we will observe COVID-19 safety precautions should we gather indoors. Masks will be required for rally participation.

We see you, Alabama, and we’re with you

By Robyn Hyden, executive director

As I think about each of you receiving and reading these updates, in the midst of a hectic and uncertain time, I’m amazed by the strength and resilience of the people like you who make up Arise’s membership and our community.

The single parent who has been holding it together during COVID-19 child care closures and home schooling, all while trying to keep their family safe.

The college student who isn’t sure what the future holds but just wants to make the world a better place.

The full-time essential worker who goes home and works a second shift as a community organizer, caregiver or volunteer, keeping the threads of society woven together.

The person living with disability or mental illness, struggling to find dignity, care and inclusion.

I see you. Alabamians. United in our belief that our state can be better. We’ll make it happen together.

Untaxing groceries is the right path for Alabama

By Carol Gundlach, senior policy analyst

Alabama’s sales tax on groceries is a cruel tax on survival, particularly in times of economic insecurity. It increases hunger rates and drives struggling Alabamians deeper into poverty.

Three bills in the 2022 regular session – SB 43 by Sen. Andrew Jones, R-Centre; HB 173 by Rep. Mike Holmes, R-Wetumpka; and a forthcoming bill by Rep. Penni McClammy, D-Montgomery – would end the state grocery tax while protecting funding for public schools.

Why and how to end the state grocery tax in Alabama

Alabama lawmakers have a real opportunity this year to untax groceries responsibly. Here’s why it needs to happen this year – and how the state can do it:

  • Alabama is one of only three states with no tax break on groceries.
  • The state grocery tax is 4%, equal to two weeks’ worth of groceries each year.
  • Alabama can untax groceries and protect education funding by limiting its state income tax deduction for federal income taxes (FIT). The FIT deduction is a skewed tax loophole that overwhelmingly benefits rich households.

All three bills would end the state grocery tax and protect education funding by capping the FIT deduction for individuals. McClammy’s bill also would remove the state sales tax on over-the-counter medicines. All of the bills would require voter approval of a constitutional amendment. The graph below shows how millions of Alabamians would benefit.

Under SB 43 and HB 173, the FIT deduction cap for Alabamians who file as single, head of household or married filing separately would be $4,000 annually. For married couples filing jointly, the limit would be $8,000 a year. Under McClammy’s bill, those annual caps would be $3,500 and $7,000, respectively.

Both sales tax revenue and individual income tax revenue go to the Education Trust Fund. By capping the FIT deduction, these bills would allow Alabama to untax groceries without cutting school funding. This plan would be a significant tax cut for nearly all Alabamians, and the largest benefit would go to people with low and middle incomes who need it most. The Legislature should pass this proposal this year and send it to voters for final approval.

Bottom line

Untaxing groceries quickly and responsibly would boost economic and food security for all Alabamians. By ending the state grocery tax and capping the FIT loophole, lawmakers could protect funding for public schools and make life better for families across our state.

You are the strong force behind Arise’s advocacy

By McKenzie Burton, development associate

Your support holds lawmakers accountable during this legislative session. Will you donate to Alabama Arise today?

Right now in Montgomery, elected officials from across Alabama are proposing laws that would infringe on our constitutional right to protest, limit our children’s access to a quality, well-rounded education and increase barriers to receiving unemployment insurance benefits, even as the pandemic rages on.

There is so much at stake. But our members are the strong force behind our sustained advocacy at the State House – and we are already seeing progress. Lawmakers are willing to hear our concerns, and we need your help to ensure they listen. Your donation will strengthen our calls to stop this harmful legislation and pass laws that ensure all Alabamians have the opportunity to live happy and productive lives.

Will you join or renew your Arise membership today to demand our elected officials promote fair policies to alleviate poverty?

Together, we can make a difference in the lives of our children and neighbors. You can donate online at al-arise.local/donate, or send a check to P.O. Box 1188, Montgomery, AL 36101.

Welcome, Rebecca!

Photo of Rebecca HowardRebecca Howard joined Arise as our new policy and advocacy director in January. She is an Alabama native who grew up in Alexander City. She earned a B.A. in political science from the University of Alabama and an M.A. in European public policy from King’s College London. Before joining Arise, Rebecca worked for former U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, serving as his legislative policy adviser on education and agriculture policy, among other issues. She most recently worked as a federal policy adviser at the Learning Policy Institute in Washington, D.C., where she worked on teacher shortages, early childhood education and school discipline issues.

December 2021 newsletter

Special sessions set stage for fast-paced 2022 regular session

By Dev Wakeley, policy analyst

The Alabama Legislature’s two special sessions this fall brought mixed results on Alabama Arise issue priorities. Lawmakers improved the state’s post-incarceration reentry policies in the first special session in September. And in the second session, which ended in November, they allocated $80 million of federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds for costs related to COVID-19. Hospitals and nursing homes will split that amount.

But the first session ended with a misguided appropriation of $400 million – nearly a fifth of Alabama’s ARPA money – toward prison construction. And the second session saw a rush to pass bills that will slow COVID-19 vaccinations in a state with one of the nation’s lowest vaccination rates.

The second session’s primary purpose was to draw new districts for the Legislature, U.S. House and state school board. Lawmakers approved maps after little debate, in part because they understand litigation is nearly certain. Concerns about diluting Black voters’ power will be a major aspect of those suits.

Federal funds to be major topic in 2022 session

Next up is the 2022 regular session, beginning Jan. 11. One pressing issue the state faces is ensuring equitable, transformative use of federal funds. That includes remaining ARPA money, plus funds from the infrastructure package and potentially the Build Back Better (BBB) Act. The U.S. House passed BBB in November, and the Senate may vote on it later this month.

That money could advance several Arise issue priorities. Public transportation, Medicaid expansion and adequate emergency relief for people facing eviction are a few ways those funds could improve life for every Alabamian.

Alabama also faces a U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit over atrocious conditions in the state’s broken prison system. Arise will advocate for expanded safe releases for older and severely ill people, alongside sentencing and death penalty reforms. And we will continue beating back attacks on voting and democratic participation.

Legislators’ desire to hit the campaign trail means this session likely will be fast-paced. Advocates must act quickly to move policy decisions toward an Alabama that works for everyone.

Arise unveils members’ 2022 roadmap for change

By Chris Sanders, communications director

Nearly 300 Alabama Arise members selected our 2022 legislative agenda following our online annual meeting on Sept. 25. The seven issues chosen were:

  • Tax reform
  • Adequate budgets for human services
  • Voting rights
  • Criminal justice reform
  • Death penalty reform
  • Payday and title lending reform
  • Public transportation

Arise will work hard to advance positive change on these priorities throughout the Legislature’s 2022 regular session, which will begin Jan. 11. One key advocacy opportunity will be Arise Legislative Day on Feb. 15 at the State House in Montgomery. We plan to offer both in-person and virtual participation opportunities for our members. See the graphic below or click here for more on our 2022 agenda. And watch your email for further details on Legislative Day.

Graphic listing Alabama Arise's 2022 issue priorities

A year to strengthen our communities

By Robyn Hyden, executive director

We can’t even begin to summarize all the momentous federal policy advances realized in 2021 in one newsletter. This year brought passage of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and the infrastructure package. It brought expansion of the Child Tax Credit. And we hope it will bring the forthcoming passage of the Build Back Better (BBB) Act. That means 2022 will be a year of working diligently to advocate for fair, equitable implementation of these new investments in Alabama.

ARPA provided millions of new dollars in incentive funding to support Medicaid expansion. It also provided $2.1 billion for state COVID-19 relief and $1.9 billion for local governments. Check out our ARPA toolkit for resources to ensure ARPA funding goes to the priorities we all share to strengthen our communities.

If the Senate passes BBB this month, we anticipate more than 220,000 Alabamians gaining immediate access to no-cost health insurance via healthcare.gov for the next three years. Then the work of enrollment will begin! It’s not a permanent solution to our state’s health care coverage gap, but it would be a major step forward for Alabamians with low incomes. Stay tuned for alerts and ways you can support – and celebrate! – when the time comes.

Arise keeps up advocacy to prevent evictions

By Dev Wakeley, policy analyst

Emergency rental assistance programs are falling short in Alabama even as tens of thousands of renters remain at risk of eviction. The Alabama Housing Finance Authority (AHFA) has received more than 70,000 applications for federal rental assistance. But fewer than 4,000 households had been helped as of Oct. 31. The AHFA has distributed only about 17% of the state’s federal rental aid dollars.

Horne LLP, the AHFA’s third-party application processor, stated on Sept. 24 that bank account verification was the only step necessary to bring Alabama’s number of assisted households from 3,300 to more than 10,000. But the delays have continued. Problems have plagued the state since the AHFA signed its no-bid contract with Horne. As of Sept. 24, the company had received more than $2 million for administration while paying out less than $20 million in assistance.

Alabama’s statewide payout rates lag significantly behind neighboring states. Alabama Arise and partner groups are building public and legislative pressure on the AHFA to speed fund distribution. We have driven news coverage on the issue, and we testified at a legislative oversight hearing in September.

Several local ERA programs have performed much better than the statewide program. Jefferson and Mobile counties have done particularly well, distributing more than 80% of their available funds. AHFA distribution also increased significantly in October after a troubling slowdown in September. These increases must continue to reduce the application backlog ‒ and to keep Alabamians housed during a pandemic winter.

Funding boosts bring opportunity to invest in Alabama’s future

By Carol Gundlach, policy analyst

Alabama’s broken tax system usually starves our state of money to fund basic responsibilities adequately. But 2022 may be different. Record tax revenues and a surge of federal recovery dollars could allow lawmakers to address longstanding state needs and inequities – if they have the political courage.

State revenues that pay for our schools, including income taxes earmarked for teacher salaries, went up 16% in 2021, according to the Legislative Services Agency. Internet sales taxes and other revenues for non-education programs grew more than 11% in 2021. Alabama also has received federal funds under the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to aid recovery from the COVID-19 recession. Alabama has $580 million remaining in 2021 ARPA funds, plus another $1.06 billion coming in 2022.

Coming fast behind ARPA are federal infrastructure dollars for roads, bridges and public transportation. And if the U.S. Senate passes it, the Build Back Better Act will include new funds for child care, health care and senior services.

Transformative changes for a better Alabama

Legislators already have begun talking about how to spend this money. Alabama Arise believes wise use of these funds can make Alabama a better place for generations to come. Many of our recommendations are in our statement of principles for spending recovery dollars. A few key Arise recommendations include:

  • Untax groceries. Tax cuts should help struggling Alabamians who already pay a disproportionate share of state taxes. Ending the state grocery tax is a good place to start.
  • Expand Medicaid. Federal recovery dollars can help free up state money for Medicaid expansion. This would save hundreds of lives and ensure affordable health coverage for more than 340,000 Alabamians every year.
  • Make the criminal justice system more just. Legislators just made a misguided decision to spend $400 million of ARPA money on new prison construction. They now should invest in meaningful policy changes like sentencing reform and other alternatives to incarceration.

Alabama lawmakers have a chance to make far-reaching and lasting changes in 2022. Arise and our members will work hard to ensure they seize this opportunity.

Join Alabama Arise today!

By Amber Haywood, development director

This year, Alabama Arise deepened our commitment to ensuring we center those most impacted by poverty as we forge a new path toward a more equitable Alabama. This means we must be intentional about expanding the demographics of our membership base to be more reflective of the populations we serve.

On Giving Tuesday (Nov. 30), we launched a gift membership campaign to realize this vision. We were blown away by our members’ generosity. Together, we raised more than 1,200 gift memberships to bring in more young people, people of color and people with low incomes.

As you know, so much is at stake for families with low incomes in Alabama. But these challenges are not insurmountable. When we come together across lines of difference to demand fair and just policies for all Alabamians, we can hold our lawmakers accountable. It means we can make a difference, together.

I hope you will consider renewing your membership today. Your contribution makes you eligible to vote during our annual meeting, where members choose our issue priorities. But more importantly, your gift allows us to sustain our efforts to promote better policies to alleviate poverty.

One of Arise’s generous partners will match all new or increased gifts, DOUBLING your impact this year. Please donate today to join or renew your membership!

Welcome to Arise, McKenzie!

Photo of McKenzie BurtonMcKenzie Burton joined Arise as a development associate in October. She has a background in electoral campaigns at many levels, where she worked to develop and implement grassroots field strategies. Before then, she worked in youth ministry and outreach in the Episcopal Church. McKenzie graduated high school in Birmingham and has a dual B.A. from the University of Georgia in history and women’s studies.

We’re still growing! Alabama Arise is preparing to hire both a health policy advocate and a Southeast Alabama organizer. Visit our employment page in the coming days to learn more and apply.

Veterans to Ivey: Cover Alabama!

Nearly 150 Alabama veterans wrote to Gov. Kay Ivey and legislators in November urging them to expand Medicaid. Closing the state’s coverage gap would ensure affordable health care for about 5,000 veterans and 8,000 family members. The joint letter is part of Alabama Arise’s Cover Alabama campaign. Read it at coveralabama.org/veterans-health.

September 2021 newsletter

Special session(s) ahead? How Arise is preparing

By Chris Sanders, communications director

Alabama Arise’s work for equity, justice and opportunity persisted after the Legislature’s regular session ended. We’ll renew our commitment to those principles when Arise members choose 2022 issue priorities after the Sept. 25 annual meeting. And we’ll keep up the drumbeat when lawmakers return later this year for one or more potential special sessions.

A decades-long humanitarian crisis, Alabama’s overcrowded and antiquated corrections system may prompt a special session this fall. Gov. Kay Ivey and many legislators hope to build and renovate multiple prisons. Alabama may seek federal permission to use COVID-19 relief money for those purposes.

Arise believes meaningful sentencing reforms should accompany any plan for new prisons. Repeal of the outdated Habitual Felony Offender Act would be one long-term step to reduce overcrowding. Parole reform and stronger investments in community corrections and reentry supports would help as well. Arise will advocate for these policy changes and others during any prison-related special session.

Redistricting is another likely focus of a special session. Legislators will use new Census data to draw new districts for the Legislature, state school board and U.S. House. Arise urges members to participate in public hearings that the Joint Reapportionment Committee will hold across Alabama this month. Click here for more information and a full schedule.

Arise will continue advocacy on federal funds, too. We’ll support efforts to make recent Child Tax Credit improvements permanent. We’ll urge legislators to use federal relief money for Medicaid expansion, public transportation and other long-term investments. And we’ll seek to build on an August federal rule change that permanently boosted Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.

Big wins in the policy margins

By Robyn Hyden, executive director

Unlike legislative advocacy, administrative advocacy is an aspect of Alabama Arise’s work we don’t talk about often. Yet that’s where some of our biggest policy wins happen.

State agencies and leaders can accomplish some important policy changes via rule changes. Sometimes legislators pass policies with good intentions, but administrative barriers and red tape stop them from being fully effective. Our members and constituents often help identify barriers to remove.

Given the nature of Alabama politics, it’s strategically important at times to keep some changes under the radar. But in recent years, administrative action has led to big steps forward on some top Arise priorities:

  • Streamlining the process to access Medicaid, SNAP food assistance and TANF income assistance.
  • Creating more openings for Medicaid home- and community-based long-term care services.
  • Expanding the emergency flexibility of Medicaid and SNAP to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic via emergency waivers, and expanding the types of support available to TANF participants.
  • Stopping onerous Medicaid work penalty proposals.
  • Advocating for transparency and equitable distribution of federal COVID-19 relief funding.

As we see new opportunities to expand and shore up the social safety net this year, a portion of our policy advocacy work will continue to be this type of behind-the-scenes administrative analysis and advocacy.

One example we’re working on now: pushing the Alabama Housing Finance Authority to distribute federal rental assistance more quickly. We’re also working with local advocates to streamline how city and county aid gets out into communities.

If you see a way programs aren’t being implemented effectively in your community, let us know! We’re continuing to expand our ability to track and support this type of advocacy. And we’re looking for new ways to engage more directly impacted people in our feedback to state agencies and decision-makers.

Things to know for our annual meeting

Flyer for Alabama Arise annual meeting

When:
Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021, 9:30 a.m. to noon

Where:
Online via Zoom. There is no cost to attend, though donations are welcome. To get the link, register at al-arise.local/annualmeeting2021.

Voting rules:
Member groups may cast up to 42 votes for issue priorities. Before the annual meeting, groups may designate up to six representatives to get seven votes each. Individual members get five votes each. (A person can vote as an individual or as a member group’s representative, but not both.)

Groups must be current on dues to be eligible to vote. Individual members must have given between July 1, 2020, and Aug. 26, 2021, to be eligible.

Voting for issue priorities will be conducted online. Members will present issue proposals during the meeting. (See summaries of proposed issues below.) Eligible voters will receive a link and instructions after the meeting. If Arise doesn’t have your email, you will receive a postcard with voting information.

For more information:
If you have questions or need to update your contact info or group voters, call 334-832-9060 or email .

Permanent issue priorities

Tax reform

Alabama legislators failed to improve the state’s broken tax system during the 2021 regular session. Instead, they handed out large tax breaks to the wealthy with tax exemptions, a restructured corporate income tax formula and tax breaks for companies that received federal recovery loans and grants. To improve life for everyday Alabamians of all backgrounds and strengthen public services that benefit us all, the Legislature should:

  • Eliminate the regressive state income tax deduction for federal income taxes. About 80% of the deduction’s benefits go to the top 20% of households.
  • Reject future corporate tax cuts and adopt combined reporting to prevent corporate tax avoidance.
  • Eliminate the state sales tax on groceries and replace that revenue through progressive income tax changes. Alabama is one of three states with no grocery tax break.
  • Increase property taxes on large landowners and raise taxes on items like tobacco and vaping products.

Compiled by Carol Gundlach, policy analyst

Adequate state budgets

Alabama dodged a revenue crisis last year thanks to a strong beginning balance before the COVID-19 recession and strong internet tax collections during the pandemic. As a result, both the 2022 education and General Fund (GF) budgets managed to squeak through with anemic increases. But yet again, Alabama’s chronically inadequate budgets failed to make key investments in our future that could have helped the state weather the pandemic and recession with much less human suffering and fewer unmet needs.

Now Alabama legislators have begun preparing for one or more special sessions and the 2022 regular session. In doing so, they face some major challenges. The governor’s proposed prison construction plan has collapsed, and legislators will need to find money to replace or repair aging prisons and to invest seriously in alternatives to imprisonment. One of the more dubious places they’re looking for prison construction money is the $4 billion in federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds, which the Legislature must appropriate. Use of ARPA money for prison construction would require approval from the U.S. Department of Treasury. At nearly twice the size of the annual GF budget, the ARPA relief could be transformational for Alabama — but only if legislators take a strategic rather than expedient approach.

New pathways for Medicaid expansion

Medicaid — a frequent focus of legislative concern in the GF — continues to benefit from a 6.2-percentage-point boost in federal match during the pandemic. Alabama’s increase meant an additional $570 million this year, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimated.

Alabama Medicaid thus far has not applied those additional funds toward program services. Instead, the agency reduced its 2022 budget request by part of that amount, plus some savings resulting from pandemic-related shutdowns. That margin would have more than paid for the first year of Medicaid expansion. In total, COVID-19 relief funding includes incentives that would cover expansion for more than four years.

Compiled by Carol Gundlach, policy analyst, and Jim Carnes, policy director

New issue proposals

Increase Alabama Literacy Act funding

Submitted by Joanne Compton, Church Women United, Montgomery

Starting this year, the 2019 Alabama Literacy Act requires teachers to test students for reading proficiency twice each year through third grade and provide remedial support as necessary. Students who read below grade level by the end of summer after third grade will not be promoted to the fourth.

Church Women United, Montgomery, proposes an amendment to the Alabama Literacy Act to increase funding for impoverished school systems. Increased funding should allow under-resourced school systems to implement the act fully by hiring additional reading coaches and intervention teachers, providing resource materials for schools and parents, and providing for the recruitment of teachers, including incentives for teachers who agree to teach in impoverished school districts. This amendment to the Literacy Act is necessary for the children in these districts to meet the requirements for promotion. It also would give the community a better chance to get out of poverty because they will have a more educated population. The entire state would benefit from this change for the poorest counties in Alabama.

Ensuring equitable implementation

The change that Church Women United proposes is necessary to ensure the Alabama Literacy Act will be equitably implemented across the state. Many counties lack sufficient resources to meet this law’s requirements. If the state provides adequate funding to buttress the efforts of the teaching communities, then it will raise the literacy rate and create a better future for children.

The possible byproduct also could be that the guardians of these children may make up any literacy/education deficiencies that they may be experiencing themselves as they help their children improve their reading and comprehension skills.

We hope the amended act will pass in the 2022 session because children who are entering the third grade this school year will be impacted by potential retention, even though the resources that would help them are not available.

The amendment to the Literacy Act would promote equity by ensuring the state is not looking out only for more affluent school districts that already have the resources to implement the law successfully. The amendment also would help disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline.

Public transportation

Submitted by Helen Rivas, Unitarian Universalist Church of Birmingham

Funding public transportation through the Public Transportation Trust Fund would improve the quality of life for many Alabamians. It also would expand opportunity and improve connectivity across the state. Transit availability affects a wide range of Alabamians of diverse geographies, incomes and races. Many people, whether transit-dependent or not, have witnessed or experienced barriers posed by the state’s inadequate transit service.

For seniors, workers with low incomes and people with disabilities, the transit gap is a barrier to daily living. Many folks can’t get to work, school or the doctor’s office in a reasonable time. And during the pandemic, activity restrictions and business closures have reduced fare revenues nationwide. This increases the utility of a state appropriation that could draw up to $4 in federal grants for each $1 the state invests.

The Legislature created the Public Transportation Trust Fund in 2018, but the law did not allocate state money for the fund through a dedicated funding source or initial appropriation. Each $1 million in funding would create 24 to 41 high-wage, full-time jobs. Those jobs would fuel economic recovery and improve quality of life in our communities.

In the next few years, Alabama has a unique opportunity to advance public transportation via federal funds to help mitigate COVID-19’s impacts. This would allow the state to use funds to improve quality of life for everyone in the state through expanded, reliable public transportation.

Current issue priorities

Criminal justice reform

Court fees and fines impose heavy burdens on many struggling families. Driver’s license suspensions over unpaid fines can cause Alabamians with low incomes to lose their jobs. Draconian sentences keep many people in prison far beyond any bounds of proportionality or purpose. Cash bail for minor offenses can imperil families’ economic security. And multiple fees can stack up, making it impossible to move on from a conviction because consequences never end. In Alabama, people are subject to 63 separate fees in the criminal justice system – including a $1 fee for paying fee installments.

This year, Arise emphasized reforming civil asset forfeiture under the umbrella of criminal justice debt. The people of Alabama won a significant reform to asset forfeiture laws with the passage of SB 210, which reined in some of the practice’s worst abuses. But further reform is still necessary. Law enforcement agencies continue to have incentive to use forfeiture because they are often able to keep much of the seized property for their own use.

The state’s sentencing scheme also still needs systemic overhaul. Broad coalition efforts to reform the state’s sentencing structure, decouple financial payments from voting rights restoration, and institute other reforms that allow Alabamians to rebuild their lives after convictions continue. Arise has the opportunity to advance our core mission by pushing these reforms forward.

Death penalty reform

Alabama’s capital punishment system is unjust, unreliable and often racist. Our state hands down death sentences at nearly double the average national rate. Alabama is the only state that doesn’t fund legal aid to death row prisoners. And state laws offer insufficient safeguards against executing people who are mentally incapable of understanding their actions.

The death penalty often is implemented for reasons that have nothing to do with justice. In January, federal officials rushed to kill three people before the incoming administration could reinstitute a moratorium on federal executions. Justice shouldn’t depend on which federal administration is in power or whether state judges face election that year. Arbitrariness in death sentences is a longstanding failure of the criminal justice system.

Alabama is the last state sentencing people to death via non-unanimous jury sentences. Arise has supported a bill to remedy that injustice, as well as bills to create an execution moratorium and increase transparency in lethal injection procedures. And we back legislation to make retroactive the 2017 ban on judges overriding a jury’s life sentence recommendation.

Alabama’s death penalty practices reflect deep racial inequities. Before the judicial override ban, judges imposed death against a jury’s determination more often when victims were white. The state argued as recently as 2016 that it should be able to kill a prisoner even when a judge explicitly cited race at the sentencing hearing. Much work remains to modernize Alabama’s justice system and prevent unjust executions.

Payday and title lending reform

Every year, high-interest loans trap thousands of struggling Alabamians in a cycle of deep debt. Payday loans are short-term (usually two-week) loans charging high annual percentage rates (APRs), most commonly 456%. Auto title loans charge up to 300% APR and also carry the risk of repossession of the vehicle. Alabama also has no title loan database, leaving the extent of harm from these loans unknown.

These high-cost loans strip wealth from borrowers and hurt communities. Payday lenders are on track to pull approximately $1 billion in fees out of Alabama communities over the next decade, with most of that money flowing to out-of-state companies. Predatory lending practices disproportionately target people of color and exacerbate the economic challenges in struggling rural and urban areas.

Arise and partners have supported reforms for more than 15 years. Recent state-level efforts have run into well-financed lobbying to stall popular reforms, but the federal landscape has improved recently. The U.S. House voted in June to roll back a rule allowing payday lenders to use federal bank rules to avoid state interest caps. And in the U.S. Senate, the Veterans and Consumers Fair Credit Act would extend the Military Lending Act’s 36% rate cap to other consumers. Strong advocate engagement remains vital to overcome the lenders’ deep pockets.

Universal broadband access

Advocates for universal broadband access saw a major victory this year with passage of the Connect Alabama Act. The law creates the Alabama Digital Expansion Authority to oversee expansion of affordable high-speed internet services across all regions. This move comes just as federal COVID-19 relief funds are arriving to help address inequities revealed by the sudden switch to remote learning and work during the pandemic. This is a welcome start, but much work remains to ensure transparency, affordability and community engagement.

Broadband is especially difficult to deploy in rural areas. And it is not always available in urban neighborhoods with high concentrations of people living in poverty. These realities have prompted a growing number of communities to seek other options, such as launching fiber-to-the-home networks. However, many major commercial internet providers oppose local government involvement.

They have persuaded at least 20 states to prevent or discourage cities or towns from owning or operating high-speed networks.

  • Building on the momentum of the Connect Alabama Act, policymakers should:
  • Ensure all communities maintain the right to own, operate or deploy their own broadband network and services. Those networks should be allowed to expand to new areas.
  • Support targeted and transparent state or local tax credits to promote broadband to underserved populations.
  • Make affordability a primary requirement for expanded broadband services.

Voting rights

One shameful legacy of Alabama’s history of white supremacist policies is a voting rights structure hostile to democratic participation. The state still creates and preserves barriers that prevent otherwise qualified citizens from voting. One recent example was Alabama’s attempt to close driver’s license offices in the Black Belt soon after creating a photo ID requirement for voting.

Arise seeks to remove systematic barriers to democracy by creating automatic voter registration (AVR) and ending the modern poll tax of ordering people convicted of certain crimes to pay all fines and fees before regaining voting rights. AVR would save the state millions of dollars compared to registration by hand and likely would increase turnout rates significantly. (Georgia’s turnout rate increased more than 10% after implementing AVR.)

The 2021 regular session saw modest progress, as a bill to improve the rights restoration process passed the Senate. But passage came only after removal of a provision to end the fine repayment requirement, and the bill did not pass the House.

Many bills to restrict voting rights have been introduced recently as well. Over fierce opposition, the Legislature this year passed a bill prohibiting curbside voting, a practice that eases voting barriers for people with disabilities and older Alabamians. Anti-democratic bills passed in other states may be introduced in Alabama ahead of the 2022 elections, requiring advocates to mount a strong defense.

Compiled by Dev Wakeley, policy analyst, and Jim Carnes, policy director

Supreme Court overturns eviction moratorium; thousands in state at risk of homelessness

By Dev Wakeley, policy analyst

Tens of thousands of Alabamians are at risk of losing their homes after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) eviction moratorium on Aug. 27. This moratorium — the latest in a series at the state and federal level — would have allowed renters harmed by the COVID-19 recession more time to apply for and receive federal rental assistance funds through local agencies.

The moratorium’s end has increased the urgency for Alabama to ramp up distribution of that money. The state had distributed less than 3% of its federal rental assistance funds as of Aug. 30, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC).

In Baldwin County, a COVID-19 hot spot, 86% of vetted applicants have been determined eligible for assistance. But only 5.8% of total applicants have received money. More than 1,000 households in that county alone now face eviction if their funds do not arrive before the eviction cases are heard. Removing the moratorium will fuel a harmful, avoidable increase in evictions leading into winter. This decision will put thousands of Alabamians at risk of homelessness or force people into already-crowded shelters while the delta variant rages through the state.

The full resumption of the eviction crisis magnifies the need for Gov. Kay Ivey to renew state-level eviction protections like those she instituted in April 2020. Alabama Arise also has asked courts to direct renters and landlords to available rental assistance when a landlord files for eviction. These steps could prevent many evictions even if Congress and state authorities continue their failure to protect renters.

Resources for immediate assistance

To seek help paying rent, check Arise’s rental assistance resource guide or the NLIHC’s website at nlihc.org/rental-assistance to find the local agency serving your area. If your landlord serves you an eviction notice, call Legal Services Alabama at 866-456-4995. If you become homeless due to eviction or another reason, call 2-1-1 for shelter referral and rehousing assistance.

Welcome to Arise, Jilisa!

Jilisa Milton joined Arise in August as a State Policy Fellow through the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Jilisa graduated from the University of Alabama as the first person to complete its J.D./M.S.W. joint degree program. She is passionate about using her interdisciplinary background to ensure that policy and laws are equitable and intersectional. Jilisa has nearly a decade of experience working on issues such as anti-racism, criminal justice reform, critical race and feminist theory, mental health advocacy and reproductive justice.

We’re hiring!

Policy director Jim Carnes will retire later this year after 18 great years at Arise. That’s why we’re seeking a full-time policy and advocacy director to ensure our research, analysis, advocacy and legislative engagement remain as impactful as possible. The ideal candidate is an experienced manager and public policy advocate who is passionate about justice, opportunity and racial equity. Visit al-arise.local/about/employment to learn more. Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis until the position is filled.

Good news: The expanded Child Tax Credit is here!

The American Rescue Plan Act made the Child Tax Credit fully refundable and boosted the maximum from $2,000 per child to $3,000 per child. The law also increased the maximum for children under age 6 to $3,600. Overall, about 94% of Alabama’s children will benefit. Most households will receive half of the money through monthly payments from July through December.

Image: Parents and their two young children smiling while taking a selfie. Text: Monica and Eric will get $7,200 thanks to the newly expanded Child Tax Credit. Learn how you can get yours at irs.gov.

 

Image: Parents holding their smiling children while standing next to a fence. Text: The Millers will receive a total of $6,000 with the expanded Child Tax Credit. Make sure you get yours at irs.gov.

Click here to learn more about these improvements – and the need for Congress to take action and make them permanent.

Arise, 40+ other groups urge Ivey to drive transformative change in Alabama with federal COVID-19 relief funds

By Chris Sanders, communications director

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 in July. 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.

Image of a family of four standing inside an outline of Alabama. Text: To strengthen the common good: Six principles for allocating Alabama's American Rescue Plan Act funding.

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.”

Principles for effective, transparent use of ARPA money

Arise and partners encourage 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.

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. Read the full letter at al-arise.local/rescueplan.

June 2021 newsletter

Arise advances justice in a pandemic session

By Chris Sanders, communications director

Advocacy barriers for Alabama Arise members were extraordinarily high during the Legislature’s 2021 regular session. The COVID-19 pandemic limited physical access to the State House and made a difficult policy landscape even rockier.

But Arise members were undeterred. They spoke out forcefully and repeatedly for justice and opportunity. And the result was real, meaningful progress on multiple issue priorities.

This year brought advances on criminal justice reform and internet access. It delivered stronger investment in early education and preserved funding for Medicaid and mental health care. And it saw efforts to chill free speech and erode the Department of Public Health’s effectiveness defeated.

Wins on expanding broadband, reforming civil asset forfeiture

Arise members made their presence known throughout the session. They gathered monthly for online Membership Monday events to stay engaged and connect with advocates across Alabama. On May 18, nearly 100 people attended a virtual recap event to debrief the session and prepare for next steps. And throughout the year, our supporters flooded email inboxes and rang phones off the hook, contacting legislators and Gov. Kay Ivey more than 14,000 times.

Arise action alerts by the numbers This year, Arise’s dedicated members and supporters consistently reached out to lawmakers when we asked. It’s impossible to overstate just how critical it is for our legislators to know what their constituents want. We’re so grateful to everyone who sent messages from our action alerts during this session. Here are a few examples of just how many messages you sent to legislators and the governor in response to Arise and Cover Alabama action alerts during the 2021 regular session: Medicaid expansion: 12,442 Voting rights and protecting free speech: 597 Protecting public health: 406 Civil asset forfeiture reform: 266 Other criminal justice reforms: 389

 

That advocacy worked. Lawmakers passed SB 215 by Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, to promote broadband expansion to rural communities and other underserved areas. And legislators finally began to rein in civil asset forfeiture, a practice that allows law enforcement to seize property without a criminal conviction.

SB 210 by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, doesn’t end civil asset forfeiture, but it makes some important initial improvements. Those changes include exempting some property from forfeiture and strengthening protections for innocent owners.

Successful defense against public health threats, anti-protest bill

Arise advocacy helped stop harmful proposals as well. Our members played a key role in blocking a plan to limit the governor and public health officials’ ability to respond to emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic. After our members sounded the alarm, SB 97 by Sen. Tom Whatley, R-Auburn, lost a House procedural vote in the session’s final hours.

Arise members also helped halt a threat to free speech. HB 445 by Rep. Allen Treadaway, R-Morris, would have expanded law enforcement’s powers to arrest protesters for “rioting” and imposed harsh mandatory minimum sentences on people convicted under the law. The bill passed in the House but died in the Senate.

The Legislature likely isn’t done this year. Lawmakers expect one or more special sessions to address unfinished business like redistricting, prison overcrowding and allocating federal relief funds. Whenever the next session may be, Arise members will be ready, advocating as always for a better, more inclusive Alabama.

Help shape Arise’s vision for a better Alabama

By Presdelane Harris, organizing director

Arise again will hold an all-remote annual meeting via Zoom for 2021. Please mark your calendar for the Alabama Arise annual meeting on Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021. You’ll receive more details in the coming weeks about the meeting time, format and voting process.

Member groups that want to make a new recommendation for a 2022 issue priority should submit the proposal online to put the idea before the membership. The form is available on our website at al-arise.local/issueproposals. Proposals for new issue priorities or a strategic change to an existing one must be submitted by July 23, 2021.

2021 Listening Sessions: We also will be holding Town Hall Tuesdays this summer. Click here for more information.

A new era for Alabama, for Arise and for the nation

By Robyn Hyden, executive director

During the bleakest days of 2020 (a seemingly unending year), I could not have predicted the tremendous opportunities we would now find ourselves facing. After one of the darkest periods in recent memory – a year of loss, isolation and hardship, when our deepest values and institutions were under attack – I am relieved to reflect now on all the progress made in this momentous spring.

Thanks to a series of ambitious infusions of federal relief funding via the CARES Act, the Rescue Plan and the forthcoming American Families Plan, we are pivoting to play offense once again via our Cover Alabama Coalition and the Hunger Free Alabama campaign. Instead of fighting consistent efforts to defund our social safety net, this year will see the expansion of the Child Tax Credit to cut child poverty rates in half. Together, we will have the opportunity to reduce economic and racial inequities, to feed more families and care for more sick people.

Thanks to your steadfast support, we’re fighting for everyday people’s survival. Together, we’re making progress on all fronts. And yes, I do believe that we will win!

The dark road not taken in the 2021 regular session

By Jim Carnes, policy director

Predicting actions and outcomes of a legislative session is never an easy bet. When the Alabama Legislature opened its 2021 regular session in February, our crystal ball was even cloudier than usual.

Strong currents of anxiety were sweeping the country amid fear and frustration over COVID-19 and precautionary measures, conflicting beliefs about racial justice and law enforcement, and the aftershocks of a bitter presidential election. In state after state, lawmakers proposed harsh reactions to each of these pressures, and Alabama appeared ready to follow suit.

On the pandemic front, governors and public health officials faced new limits on their emergency authority. Basic freedoms of assembly and speech came under threat by officials seeking to prevent protests like those that followed George Floyd’s murder by a Minneapolis police officer. Dissatisfaction with election results fueled efforts to narrow access to the electoral process, particularly for communities of color.

Harmful bills targeting all of these goals began surfacing when the Legislature convened. And limited public access to the State House only raised the stakes.

But Alabama bucked the trend. Thanks to strong, persistent advocacy from Arise members and our partners, legislation that would have tied the hands of public health officials, rolled back civil liberties and erected more barriers to voting mostly died. We also made some progress on several important Arise priorities this year.

In the Legislature as in life, mistakes avoided are often a big measure of success. Alabama’s refusal to follow the reactionary path of neighboring states is a victory to celebrate. Thank you to our members for helping make that happen.

Federal relief funds could transform Alabama’s future

By Jim Carnes, policy director and Carol Gundlach, policy analyst

How often have we gotten to say that it’s raining money in Alabama? That’s the image that comes to mind as the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), passed in March, begins to direct more than $4 billion in new federal funds into the state over the next three years.

The funding could help Alabama make historic progress in public health, education, family well-being and community viability if spent wisely and equitably. It also offers generous incentives that would more than offset the state’s initial cost to expand Medicaid. This new COVID-19 relief comes on top of $1.9 billion Alabama got under the CARES Act last year.

The state government will receive more than $2 billion under ARPA. Counties will get nearly $1 billion. Alabama’s 21 largest cities will receive more than $400 million, and other municipalities will get nearly $400 million as well. Both the state and localities may use funds to offset the pandemic’s strains on families, small businesses, public health and infrastructure like water and sewer systems and high-speed broadband networks.

Portions of ARPA money are earmarked for direct payments to local school districts. Other funds are dedicated to provide rental assistance and make child care more affordable and accessible.

The act also temporarily boosts the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit and temporarily increases food aid under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and WIC. In addition to these supports, ARPA also provides one-time cash payments ($1,400 each for most Americans) and direct assistance for health care, funeral expenses and other essential needs.

Arise will continue to follow these funding streams with the goal of ensuring equitable distribution and transparency. And we will advocate to make the temporary improvements permanent in the next round of federal relief.

Arise members are a force for change in Alabama

By Amber Haywood, development director

Alabama Arise members are the force behind our fight for the equitable policies that low-income Alabamians deserve. With Arise represented across the state, our lawmakers and legislative officials know that their constituents are knowledgeable, caring individuals willing to hold them accountable. In short, your membership makes a difference.

When you join Arise, your contributions fund the policy analysis, advocacy and organizing necessary to move the needle toward justice. And we’re winning! During the legislative session, we made strides to increase access to universal broadband. And we defeated bills to limit voting rights, bills to limit protests and bills to limit public health authority. Arise members are truly a force for change!

If you have never joined Arise before, now is the time. Your new gift will be matched 1:1 by a generous supporter, DOUBLING your impact! If you haven’t given since July 1, 2020, I hope you will renew today. Your contribution of any amount makes you eligible to vote and choose our legislative priorities for the year.

We can’t do this work without you. Please donate today at al-arise.local/donate and help us build a better Alabama for all.

We’re hiring!

Alabama Arise is seeking a full-time development associate to steward and grow our individual and group member giving programs. This position reports to development director Amber Haywood. The ideal candidate loves customer service and is enthusiastic, flexible, detail-oriented and focused. Applicants also should be passionate about building a better Alabama for all and value dignity, racial equity, justice and opportunity. So if you’re interested, visit al-arise.local/about/employment to learn more and apply through Monday, June 14, 2021.

April 2021 newsletter

American Rescue Plan Act offers path to recovery

By Chris Sanders, communications director

As vaccinations continue across Alabama, COVID-19’s viselike grip on our lives is loosening. The pandemic has caused immense physical, emotional and economic suffering, and those aftereffects will not fade quickly. But the American Rescue Plan Act – the federal relief package that President Joe Biden signed March 11 – includes many important policies to begin the healing.

Some of the most crucial investments come in health care. The law increases subsidies for marketplace health coverage under the Affordable Care Act. It also creates new incentives that would more than offset the cost of Medicaid expansion. The incentives would remove Alabama’s last financial barrier to extending coverage to more than 340,000 adults with low incomes.

If Gov. Kay Ivey agrees to expand Medicaid, Alabama would receive between $740 million and $940 million over two years. That would result from a 5-percentage-point federal funding increase for traditional Medicaid coverage.

Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery

“Medicaid expansion is the single biggest step Alabama can take to recover from the pandemic,” Alabama Arise campaign director Jane Adams said.

“Congress did their job. Now it’s time for the governor and state lawmakers to do theirs.”

The act also slashes poverty by boosting unemployment insurance and nutrition assistance benefits and expanding the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit. It funds rental and mortgage assistance to help prevent evictions and foreclosures. And it provides Alabama’s state and local governments with $4 billion of federal assistance to help avoid cuts to education and other vital services.

Persistent disparities – and how to end them

The relief package provides opportunities to begin dismantling longtime structural barriers in Alabama. Arise offers many such policy recommendations in our recent report, The State of Working Alabama 2021, which details how COVID-19 cost hundreds of thousands of Alabamians their jobs and fueled a rapid surge of hunger and hardship across our state.

COVID-19’s toll has been especially heavy for women and people of color, the report finds. The pandemic exacerbated Alabama’s preexisting racial, gender and regional disparities in health care, housing, nutrition and economic opportunity. These inequities – the legacy of bad policy decisions – prevent Alabama from reaching its full potential.

“Alabama’s economic, racial and gender inequities are preventable and reversible,” Arise policy director Jim Carnes said. “By making better policy choices now and in the future, we can chart a path toward a more equitable economy.”

Connect with us wherever you are!

Alabama Arise Action 2021 Membership Meeting

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Noon – 1 p.m. via Zoom

At our 2021 Alabama Arise Action meeting, Arise staff will review our progress during the 2021 legislative session. Staff members also will share opportunities for you to engage with your lawmakers.

To register, visit alariseaction.org. Member groups in good standing will receive details on sending member group representatives.

Participants will receive updates on the Alabama Arise Action budget, board nominations and new member groups who have joined our coalition. (Alabama Arise Action is Alabama Arise’s 501(c)(4) sister organization.)

Arise Membership Mondays

Our organizers are convening monthly membership meetings to review opportunities for action during the 2021 regular session.

We will schedule a May meeting after the session ends. To register, visit al-arise.local/2021membershipmondays.

In 2021, big changes are possible in Alabama

By Robyn Hyden, executive director

We knew going in that this year’s legislative session would be tricky. Lawmakers returned to Montgomery in early February determined to pass bills to protect big businesses and did so immediately. Bills designed to help the rest of us have been a different story, and access to legislators remains limited. Despite these challenges, Arise members are doing what you do best: demanding that lawmakers do more to help people struggling because of poverty and economic oppression.

Halfway through the 2021 regular session, legislators have failed to pass one of any number of bills from our agenda for change. But it’s not for a lack of member engagement, education and lobbying. And we can’t let them off the hook.

With an unprecedented amount of federal funding, Alabama has an opportunity to distribute massive support to people who are struggling. We can reduce racial and economic health disparities by expanding Medicaid. We can supplement new federal tax credits for low-income families and point our tax code in the right direction.

If we have learned anything from the last year, it’s that a whole lot can change overnight. With your support, we’re ready to see those changes you helped us envision become a reality.

We want to raise another $50,000 toward Medicaid expansion. Will you join us?

By Amber Haywood, development director

Alabama Arise members have worked diligently to fight for the equitable policies that Alabamians with low incomes deserve. We have come together to hold lawmakers accountable, taking action on our state’s most critical issues.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shined a light on one issue that simply can’t wait: health care. Right now, more than 340,000 of our friends and neighbors would benefit from Medicaid expansion because they are either uninsured or struggling to afford coverage.

That means more than 340,000 members of our communities live in fear of a minor injury. More than 340,000 of our neighbors would be financially ruined by an unexpected hospital visit. And more than 340,000 of our loved ones don’t have access to vital preventive care and ongoing treatment.

With your support, we’re on a mission to change this. With your additional gift, you can be a part of expanding Medicaid in Alabama!

Will you consider an additional gift toward our year-end campaign? We have set an ambitious goal of raising another $50,000 in individual contributions before our budget year ends June 30.

We can’t do this work without you. Will you join today and help us work to expand Medicaid? Please donate today at al-arise.local.

Money matters: Budgets top priority for session

Lawmakers also discussing Medicaid expansion, criminal justice reform, voting rights this year

By Jim Carnes, policy director, and Carol Gundlach and Dev Wakeley, policy analysts

As the Alabama Legislature approaches the 2021 regular session’s final days, both state budgets are halfway to passage. The Education Trust Fund (ETF) budget has passed in the Senate and is in the House’s education budget committee. The General Fund (GF) budget, which funds all non-education services, has cleared the House and awaits Senate committee approval.

Despite the COVID-19 recession, both budgets eked out small increases – 3% in the GF and 6% in the ETF. This will allow pay raises for teachers and state employees. It also will fund one-time additional 2022 teacher units and a new salary matrix for certified math and science teachers.

While budgets progressed, the Senate divided over whether to pass a gambling bill that would increase revenue for one or both. After Sen. Del Marsh’s lottery and gaming bill failed March 9, Sens. Garlan Gudger, R-Cullman, and Jim McClendon, R-Springville, introduced lottery bills. Meanwhile, Marsh, R-Anniston, introduced both a new lottery and a new gaming bill.

The Senate may consider some combination of these measures later this session. If approved by legislators and voters, expansion of gambling could increase state revenues anywhere from $118 million to $550 million. (Arise takes no position for or against gambling legislation.)

Health care

A big change on the health care front this year is the prominent role of Medicaid expansion in legislative discussions, both on and off the chamber floors. Gov. Kay Ivey can propose expansion through administrative steps, but lawmakers still control the purse strings. So legislative advocacy is essential!

As the pandemic highlights the need for rigorous health data, Alabama had been one of only two states lacking a statewide hospital discharge database. Now we’ll be shedding that dubious distinction with the enactment of HB 210 by Rep. Paul Lee, R-Dothan, a bill that Arise supported.

The Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) has been the target of several proposals to increase political control over the agency’s leadership and decision-making. McClendon’s SB 240, for example, would abolish the State Board of Health, the medical body that appoints the state health officer, and make ADPH’s director a gubernatorial appointment. Other bills would limit state and county health officials’ authority to declare health emergencies. One such measure, SB 97 by Sen. Tom Whatley, R-Auburn, passed the Senate in early April.

Criminal justice reform

Several criminal justice improvements have moved forward this year. These include partial reform of sentencing under the Habitual Felony Offender Act (HFOA) and expanded alternatives to imprisonment. Bigger reforms like HFOA repeal and abolition of driver’s license suspension have been slowed due to opposition, though. That inaction has persisted even in the face of a U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit over unconstitutional prison conditions.

Voting rights

Efforts to protect and expand voting rights continue to face an uphill battle. Bills prohibiting curbside voting have advanced, despite the practice’s success in Mississippi and other states. Meanwhile, a bill allowing no-cause absentee voting stalled, as did measures on early voting and same-day voter registration. Legislation improving voting rights restoration did advance, but only after removal of a provision that would have ended a de facto poll tax: the requirement for people with convictions to pay all fines and fees before regaining voting rights.

You give me hope for a brighter future in Alabama

A farewell column from Brenda Boman, former Arise development director

When I joined the Alabama Arise staff 16 years ago as its development director, I came to this work with little to recommend me other than a sincere desire to help the organization achieve its mission: to improve the lives of Alabamians with low incomes.

Brenda Boman retired in January after 16 years as Alabama Arise’s development director. We’re grateful for her hard work to build our membership and strengthen our movement for change.

As a retired English teacher who had spent several years at a small rural school in the Black Belt, I had seen the struggles my students and their families faced on a daily basis. I observed how circumstances beyond their control compounded on one another to push them deeper into poverty.

Alabama’s lopsided tax structure creates great inequities in educational opportunities compared to more affluent communities. This can forecast a future of low-paying jobs without the benefits of health insurance, paid sick leave or child care.

Without public transportation, keeping a job often depends on being able to purchase a vehicle and keep it running. That’s a need that can send a panic-stricken mama or daddy to high-cost payday lenders. And Alabama’s insistence on taxing groceries makes this one of the most expensive states for struggling families to keep food on the table.

Opportunities on the horizon

What I came to realize is that changing these and other conditions would take policy shifts at the state level. And that’s what led me to Arise.

I wish I could say that more progress has been made. But I do know one thing: As Arise has grown, so has its reputation and influence. With my retirement effective Jan. 31, 2021, I leave Arise with the hope for great opportunities on the horizon.

I have great confidence in the current staff and membership, many of whom have become friends as well as supporters. I’ll be cheering from the sidelines as I continue to support Arise, and I hope you will, too!

December 2020 newsletter

How Arise is working to build a brighter future after the pandemic

By Chris Sanders, communications director

After a year of darkness, the light at the end of the tunnel is finally in sight. Promising vaccine news offers hope that public health officials can rein in COVID-19 in the coming months. And as our state and nation seek policy solutions to rebuild from the pandemic’s health and economic devastation, Alabama Arise will seek to advance equity and shared prosperity for Alabamians who are marginalized and excluded.

That vital work won’t be fast or easy. In the meantime, the pandemic’s harrowing toll continues to grow. COVID-19 has killed more than 1.5 million people worldwide, including more than 3,700 Alabamians, and sickened tens of millions. It has fueled a deep recession, caused millions of layoffs and left more than 40% of U.S. households with children struggling to make ends meet. It has stretched hospitals to the breaking point and disrupted education, commerce and social interactions in every community.

COVID-19 has created suffering on a staggering scale. It also has highlighted long-standing economic and racial disparities and underscored the urgency of ending them. A new legislative session and a new presidency will offer new opportunities to right those wrongs in 2021 and beyond.

The federal and state work ahead

The most immediate needs will require federal action. Congress must extend state aid and additional unemployment insurance (UI) benefits before they expire this month. But those extensions should be just a down payment on a more comprehensive response.

Arise will urge further UI benefit increases and more federal relief to help states avoid layoffs and damaging cuts. We also will advocate for emergency rental and mortgage assistance and a 15% boost to food assistance under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). And we’ll support regulatory efforts to lift harmful Medicaid and SNAP barriers created in recent years.

The Alabama Legislature will begin its 2021 regular session Feb. 2. As the health and economic tolls of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to mount, Alabama Arise will keep working hard to empower people who live in poverty and to lift up their voices in state policy debates.

We’ll also keep working for better state policies when the Legislature returns in February. Our top focus will be Medicaid expansion, which we’ll pursue along with partners in the Cover Alabama Coalition. Expansion would cover more than 340,000 Alabamians with low incomes and ease the financial strain on rural hospitals. It also would attack structural health care disparities that led COVID-19 to take a disproportionate toll on Black Alabamians.

Arise’s work won’t stop there. We’ll support legislation to expand voting rights and ensure broadband internet access for all Alabamians. We’ll seek to increase consumer protections and overhaul the state’s criminal justice system. And we’ll fight to untax groceries once and for all.

Breakthroughs on many of these issues won’t be fast or easy. But together, we’ll emerge from dark times into the light of a brighter, more inclusive future for Alabama.

Arise unveils members’ 2021 roadmap for change

By Matt Okarmus, communications associate

Nearly 300 Alabama Arise members selected our 2021 legislative agenda following our online annual meeting on Oct. 3. The seven issues chosen were:

“Arise believes in dignity, equity and justice for all Alabamians,” Arise executive director Robyn Hyden said. “And our 2021 issue priorities would break down many of the policy barriers that keep people in poverty. We can and will build a more inclusive future for our state.”

See our graphic below or click here for more on our 2021 legislative agenda.

Flyer on Alabama Arise's 2021 issue priorities. For more information, visit https://www.alarise.org/news-releases/alabama-arise-unveils-members-2021-roadmap-for-change.

We must bring light to a dark winter

By Robyn Hyden, executive director

As I reflect on 2020, I’m enraged by the political and policy failures that have led to the devastating public health and economic crisis we’re facing.

Hundreds of thousands are dead, sick or suffering. Evictions, hunger and homelessness are increasing rapidly. But federal leaders have failed to make sure people have the resources and support needed to fight this virus effectively. The people suffering the most – Black, Indigenous and Latino communities, low-wage workers and women – desperately need the safety net that has been slowly dismantled over the past decades.

In Alabama, lawmakers seem more focused on protecting corporate interests, not “we the people,” as though the economy can be strong while large numbers of people are dying. This narrative is poisonous, and we must fight it.

Arise will continue working for universal health care access and adequate COVID-19 relief. Early next year, we’ll also release a report on the toll this crisis has taken on low-wage workers, including many on the pandemic front lines.

During this grim season, it’s on us to fight for the future we hope to see: a world where everyone is valued, included and safe from harm.

Join Alabama Arise today and make a difference!

By Amber Haywood, development director

Alabama Arise members are the force behind sustained advocacy for policies that improve the lives of Alabamians with low incomes.

When we come together across lines of difference to demand fair and just policies for all Alabamians, we are able to hold our lawmakers accountable. Identifying yourself to an elected official as an Arise member makes a tremendous difference. It means you have a community of support as you work toward a more equitable Alabama.

As an indication of your personal commitment to Arise’s mission, individual membership requires a financial contribution each year. We suggest a donation of $15 or more, but we strive to ensure money is not a barrier to membership.

You can keep your membership current with a gift in any amount with which you feel comfortable! Your contribution makes you eligible to vote during membership meetings, including our annual meetings, where members choose our issue priorities.

Our goal is to reach 2,020 individual members by the end of 2020. Please click here to join or renew your membership today!

Meet our new staff!

Amber Haywood

Amber Haywood is Arise’s new development director. She is an Alabama native who grew up just outside of Birmingham. She graduated from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where she earned a B.A. in African American Studies and led the undergraduate chapter of the NAACP. Before joining Arise, Amber served as the director of development for Teach for America Alabama, and as a development consultant for YR Media, Brothers @ and the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation.

Whit Sides

Whit Sides is Arise’s story collection coordinator. A writer and journalist based in Birmingham, Whit spent more than a decade working in media and advertising before returning to college as a new mom. She earned a B.A. in mass communication from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Before joining Arise in 2020, she investigated stories involving the opioid epidemic, social justice and white supremacy as a reporter in both radio and print. In partnership with the Cover Alabama Coalition, Whit spends her time as a storyteller highlighting the experiences of uninsured Alabamians and empowering people caught in the state’s health coverage gap.

Whitney Washington

Whitney Washington joined Arise in 2020 as a communications associate. She recently returned to Alabama after living in Nashville for the past eight years. She has a B.A. in history from the University of Montevallo. Whitney worked as a religious researcher for several years before becoming involved in social justice and politics. Prior to joining Arise, Whitney worked for the Black Lives Matter Global Network, Stand Up Nashville and a political campaign.

Kate Blankinship

Kate Blankinship has joined Arise as an Emerson National Hunger Fellow from the Congressional Hunger Center. Originally from Memphis, Kate graduated from the University of Chicago with a major in linguistics. As an undergraduate, Kate was heavily involved in public service, working with local preschools and community-based organizations while pursuing independent and supervised research on anti-poverty, child welfare and other social welfare programs. As a research assistant, Kate analyzed poor civil litigants’ access to the federal legal system, the availability of public health resources in tribal communities and U.S. territories, and the resilience of SNAP and Medicaid in the current administration. Before joining Arise, Kate served with Americorps, working with the nonprofit College Possible in Chicago.

Curtis Hills

Curtis Hills has joined Arise as an Emerson National Hunger Fellow from the Congressional Hunger Center. A native of Lexington, Miss., Curtis graduated from the University of Mississippi with a degree in English. His passion for social justice began in the eighth grade, while working with the nonprofit Nollie Jenkins Center to help dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline and research ways to alleviate food insecurity in Holmes County. A former Associated Student Body Judicial Council member and congressional intern for Rep. Bennie Thompson, Curtis also served as a Catalyzing Entrepreneurship and Economic Development (CEED) Scholar with the McLean Institute. Curtis spent the summer of his junior year helping migrant families in Spain find housing and jobs and facilitating career development and resume-building workshops in Holmes County.

Arise presents…

Screenshot from Alabama Arise communications director Chris Sanders' virtual presentation during the Impact 2020 Conference
Alabama Arise highlighted our Medicaid expansion work to advocates across the country this fall. Arise staff gave two virtual presentations at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities‘ Impact 2020 Conference. Communications director Chris Sanders (above, top right) and communications associates Matt Okarmus and Whitney Washington discussed the launch of the Cover Alabama Coalition and the rollout of Arise’s Medicaid Matters report during the conference’s annual Communications Day on Oct. 29. Story collection coordinator Whit Sides talked about the importance of story-focused activism at a Nov. 10 workshop on storytelling during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Join us at Alabama Arise’s 2021 action briefings!

Alabama Arise action briefings flyer

Alabama’s 2021 legislative session begins Feb. 2. It will not proceed as usual given the extraordinary times in which we live. But we still need to be prepared to move our issues forward. This series of briefings will both inform and equip us to act strategically to continue the work for a better Alabama for all.

Please join us at any or all of these sessions! Click here to get more information and register today.

September 2020 newsletter

Town Hall Tuesdays keeping Arise connected

By Presdelane Harris, organizing director

Listening is often an underdeveloped skill, yet it is critical for mutual understanding and working together for meaningful change. That’s why Arise is committed to listening to our members, to our allies and most importantly, to those directly affected by the work we do together. We depend on what we hear from you to guide our issue work and our strategies.

This year’s COVID-19 pandemic challenged us to be creative in finding ways to listen. Instead of our usual face-to-face meetings around the state, we hosted a series of six statewide online Town Hall Tuesdays. We held events every two weeks, starting in June and ending Sept. 1. We averaged 65 attendees at each session. Here’s some of what we heard from members and supporters:

  • Affirmation for Medicaid expansion, untaxing groceries and other current Arise issues as important for achieving shared prosperity.
  • Empathy for those who were already living in vulnerable circumstances further strained by the pandemic.
  • Concern about barriers to voting, especially during the pandemic.
  • Passion and concern about many other issues, including housing; living wages and pay equity; prison and sentencing reform; gun safety; juvenile justice reform; defunding the police; the Census; environmental justice; quality and funding of public education; and food insecurity and nutrition.
  • Willingness to take informed actions to make a difference in the policies that impact people’s lives.
  • Hope that Alabama can be a better place for all our neighbors to live despite systemic issues and ongoing challenges.
Get in touch and stay in touch with Arise

We didn’t stop listening just because the town halls ended. Please let us continue to hear from you! Reach out to your local organizer and share your thoughts and suggestions:

Arise counts on you to stay active and engaged in this work. And we count on you to encourage other folks to join our movement as we work together to build a better Alabama for all!

Online annual meeting to chart Arise’s 2021 course

By Chris Sanders, communications director

Grassroots democracy will be on display in a new way when Alabama Arise members choose our 2021 issue priorities at our annual meeting Saturday, Oct. 3. For the first time ever, we will hold the meeting online via Zoom.

As a member, you have the power to select the legislative priorities we will pursue in 2021. Two new proposals will compete with five current priorities for five slots on next year’s issue roster.

Arise members voting at the 2019 annual meeting
The venue will change, but the mission remains the same. Alabama Arise members will gather Oct. 3 for our annual meeting and vote online for our 2021 issue priorities.

Below, you’ll find more information on the annual meeting, along with member groups’ summaries of new and modified issue proposals. You’ll also find our policy staff’s overviews of the current issue priorities and updates on our two permanent priorities: adequate state budgets and tax reform.

We hope to see you in October as we gather virtually to renew our shared commitment to building a better Alabama for all!

Things to know for our annual meeting

When: Saturday, Oct. 3, 2020, from 10 a.m. to noon.

Where: Online via Zoom. Attendance is free! Click here to register and get the link.

Voting rules: Member groups may cast up to 42 votes for issue priorities. Before the annual meeting, groups may designate up to six representatives to get seven votes each. Individual members get five votes each. (A person can vote as an individual or as a member group’s representative, but not both.)

Groups must be current on dues to be eligible to participate. Individual members must have given between July 1, 2019, and Sept. 4, 2020, to be eligible.

Voting for issue priorities will be conducted online. Eligible voters will receive a link and instructions after the meeting. If Arise doesn’t have your email, you will receive a postcard with voting information.

For more information: If you have questions or need to update your contact info or group voters, call 334-832-9060 or email .

P-EBT, rapid school actions keep Alabama children fed

By Celida Soto Garcia, hunger advocacy coordinator

Six months ago, COVID-19 forced school officials to reinvent public education on the fly. For more than 400,000 Alabama students, the stakes were more than academic. School closures also threatened their daily nutrition.

Schools’ responses were encouraging and fast. Last spring, Alabama quickly adopted federal options to serve multiple meals at once and offer them outside of the usual group settings. Child nutrition professionals hustled to provide school meals at local “grab-and-go” sites or by home delivery. Community eligibility, which lets schools with high poverty rates opt to provide no-cost meals for everyone, eased distribution by removing cumbersome eligibility verification.

In April, Alabama was one of the first states to adopt a new USDA plan called Pandemic EBT. P-EBT sends the value of school breakfasts and lunches ($5.70 per day) directly to eligible families on an EBT card. Payments were retroactive for March and April and continued through May 29. Families still can spend P-EBT credits through Dec. 31.

This summer, schools provided ongoing nutrition support through the regular Summer Food Service Program and Seamless Summer Option. The USDA has allowed both programs to continue through Dec. 31. But the best solution would be for Congress to extend P-EBT through the 2020-21 academic year. It’s less complicated and more effective than forcing schools to figure out how to get meals to children learning remotely.

New issue proposals

Legal malpractice protections

Submitted by Rev. Ramona Russell, Mission Possible Community Services, Inc.

Far too many lawyers provide clients with substandard advice or representation. Alabamians who live in poverty, work for low wages and have little legal knowledge are more often victims of malpractice. The victim may lack the funds to retain another lawyer to file a civil damages case against a lawyer who committed malpractice. The Alabama State Bar mandates yearly continuing legal education (CLE) for most attorneys. A Client Security Fund also exists to assist malpractice victims, but its benefits are limited and often inadequate to cover the amounts lost.

Alabama requires automobile insurance to help ensure victims of careless drivers receive compensation. And a legal malpractice insurance requirement would prevent asset-shielding schemes from precluding recovery for malpractice. This requirement could have the same exceptions for lawyers who don’t take private clients, such as governmental and in-house attorneys, that now exist for CLE.

Universal broadband access

Submitted by Anna Pritchett, AARP Alabama

Broadband can facilitate access to services and activities that improve quality of life and contribute to successful aging. These include health care services, social contacts, employment, recreation, civic engagement and entertainment. To have these options, high-speed networks must be available and affordable, and they must support bandwidth-intensive applications for a rapidly growing user base.

Broadband is especially difficult to deploy in rural areas. It is easier to lay down new communications lines in urban areas with higher population density. Even in urban areas, broadband is not always available in neighborhoods with high concentrations of people living in poverty. Slow, expensive or unavailable broadband creates frustration for consumers. This has prompted a growing number of communities to seek out other options. Dozens of American cities and towns have launched their own fiber-to-the-home networks.

Potential policy solutions

Major investments are a challenge for any community, and high-speed networks are no different. These projects require millions of dollars and years of planning to complete. The major commercial internet providers present another challenge. Many oppose local government involvement, and they have persuaded at least 20 states to prevent or discourage cities or towns from owning or operating high-speed networks.

  • Alabama policymakers should ensure that all communities maintain the right to own, operate or deploy their own broadband network and services. Those networks should be allowed to expand to new areas.
  • Policymakers and the private sector should ensure universal access to affordable and reliable high-speed broadband throughout the state, including for underserved populations.
  • Policymakers should support targeted and transparent state or local tax credits to promote broadband to underserved populations.

Approximately 10% each of Black and Latino households have no internet subscription, compared to 6% of white households. A disproportionate share of Black and Latino households rely on a smartphone for internet connectivity. The pandemic presents a significant opportunity to address racial equity and protect public health while enabling telemedicine, distance learning and online access to the workplace and marketplace from the home. Depending on the local library for access is not the answer.

Modified issue proposal

Criminal justice reform

Submitted by Dillon Nettles, ACLU of Alabama

Alabama’s criminal justice system operates as an oppressive trap for thousands every year. Courts and various other systems are funded on the backs of people convicted of crimes, even though a criminal conviction severely diminishes a person’s work prospects. Alternative court programs are expensive for participants and are too often unavailable. The court system criminalizes many people who need mental health care instead. And nonviolent crimes can result in life imprisonment under Alabama’s cruel, overly punitive Habitual Felony Offender Act (HFOA).

Arise has been working to reform the state’s criminal justice system by increasing access to alternative courts, diverting people who aren’t a threat to others from incarceration, and removing shortsighted policies that try to squeeze every dime from people who can’t afford to pay a penny. This year, the ACLU of Alabama urges Arise to add a specific sentencing reform to this issue: Repeal the HFOA.

The HFOA is Alabama’s three-strikes law. It lengthens sentences for a felony conviction after a prior felony conviction, even when the prior felony was nonviolent. Like other mandatory minimum sentencing laws, the HFOA results in horrific, manifest injustices. Hundreds of people in Alabama are serving life sentences for non-homicide crimes, and thousands of Alabamians have had sentences increased because of the HFOA. The HFOA is so broken that five convictions for marijuana possession for solely personal use could result in a life sentence. Repealing the HFOA would relieve Alabama’s prison population and end some of the state’s most abusive sentencing practices.

The crushing weight of criminal justice debt

Alabama’s criminal justice system needs reform in areas beyond incarceration as well. Court fees and fines impose heavy burdens on many struggling families. Driver’s license suspensions over unpaid fines can cause Alabamians with low incomes to lose their jobs. Cash bail for minor offenses imperils families’ economic security. And multiple fees can stack up, making it impossible to move past a conviction because consequences never end. In Alabama, people are subject to 63 separate criminal justice system fees – including even a $1 fee for paying fee installments. On top of that, a 30% surcharge goes to district attorneys’ offices when a person can’t pay their fines and fees quickly enough.

Arise also has worked to eliminate civil asset forfeiture under the umbrella of criminal justice debt. This practice allows police to seize cash or other assets if they find probable cause to link the property to a crime. But the process doesn’t require a criminal conviction, or even a charge.

A philosophically diverse coalition is seeking to end abusive forfeitures in Alabama. After a comprehensive reform bill slowed in 2019 amid law enforcement opposition, legislators passed a more incremental change, mandating public reporting of property seizures. The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency has delayed statewide implementation of the requirement, but public opinion still strongly favors eliminating forfeiture. That momentum continues to build.

Current Arise issue priorities

Death penalty reform

Alabama’s capital punishment system is unjust, unreliable and often racist. Our state hands down death sentences at nearly double the average national rate. Alabama is the only state that doesn’t fund legal aid to death row prisoners. And state laws offer insufficient safeguards against executing people who are mentally incapable of understanding their actions.

Alabama is the last state sentencing people to death via non-unanimous jury sentences. In April, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Louisiana’s practice of allowing guilty verdicts from a non-unanimous jury violates the Sixth Amendment. By that logic, Arise believes a death sentence issued without agreement from the entire jury is also unconstitutional.

A bill to prohibit non-unanimous sentencing was introduced last year, but the COVID-19 pandemic cut the session short soon after its introduction. Arise also recently has supported bills to impose an execution moratorium, increase transparency in lethal injection procedures, and make retroactive the 2017 ban on judges overriding a jury’s life sentence recommendation.

Alabama’s death penalty practices reflect deep racial inequities. Before the judicial override ban, judges imposed death against a jury’s determination more often when victims were white. The state argued as recently as 2016 that it should be able to kill a prisoner even when a judge explicitly cited race at the sentencing hearing. Much work remains to modernize Alabama’s justice system and prevent unjust executions.

Payday and title lending reform

Every year, high-interest loans trap thousands of struggling Alabamians in a cycle of deep debt. Payday loans are short-term (usually two-week) loans charging high annual percentage rates (APRs), most commonly 456%. Auto title loans charge up to 300% APR and also carry the risk of repossession of the vehicle.

These high-cost loans strip wealth from borrowers and hurt communities across Alabama. Payday lenders are on track to pull approximately $1 billion in fees out of Alabama communities over the next decade, with most of that money flowing to out-of-state companies. Predatory lending practices disproportionately target people of color and exacerbate the economic challenges in struggling rural and urban communities.

Arise is part of a statewide coalition promoting interest rate caps on payday and title loans. In 2020, we supported legislation to give payday borrowers a 30-day repayment period – the same as other monthly bills – up from as few as 10 days now. But early in the session, the Senate Banking Committee canceled a planned public hearing without notice and then voted 8-6 to kill the bill. Heavy citizen engagement will be needed to overcome the lending lobby’s deep pockets. Legislators voting to protect predatory lenders instead of Alabamians often receive large amounts of money from industry lobbyists, and the opposition to lending reform is well-financed.

Public transportation

Our state’s jumble of local transportation systems fails to meet the needs of many people in rural, suburban and urban areas. Alabama is one of just five states with no state public transportation funding. For seniors, workers with low incomes and people with disabilities, the transit gap is a barrier to daily living. Many folks can’t get to work, school, or the doctor’s office in a reasonable amount of time. And during the pandemic, activity restrictions and business closures have reduced fare revenues nationwide. Alabama should respond by funding public transportation at the state level.

Alabama took a good first step in 2018 by creating a state Public Transportation Trust Fund. But the law did not allocate state money, even though it would be a high-return investment. Each $1 million in public transportation funding creates dozens of high-wage, full-time jobs. Those jobs would fuel economic recovery and improve quality of life in our communities. By not funding public transit, Alabama leaves millions of federal matching dollars on the table.

The General Fund remains the key potential state funding source for public transit. An option that would bring in much less revenue but help raise awareness would be to allow Alabamians to donate all or part of their income tax refund to the trust fund. The state already allows such contributions for mental health care, foster care and other public services.

Voting rights

Alabama’s legacy of white supremacy has resulted in a voting rights structure hostile to democratic participation. The state still creates and preserves barriers that prevent otherwise qualified citizens from voting. One recent example was Alabama’s attempt (abandoned under pressure) to close driver’s license offices in the Black Belt soon after creating a photo ID requirement for voting. Another is the requirement for people convicted of certain crimes to pay all fines and fees before they can regain their right to vote.

Arise seeks to remove these systematic barriers to democracy by creating automatic voter registration (AVR) and ending the modern poll tax of ordering people to pay fees before voting. Both issues saw legislation introduced last year. AVR would save the state millions of dollars compared to registration by hand and likely would increase turnout rates significantly. Georgia’s turnout rate increased more than 10% in the 2018 midterms compared to 2014 after the state implemented AVR.

A bill to remove fine and fee repayment requirements was moving in the Senate Judiciary Committee before the session was cut short. An unfavorable federal circuit court ruling this month over efforts to undermine a 2018 Florida referendum restoring voting rights for people with convictions underscores the need for legislative action.

Compiled by Dev Wakeley, policy analyst

Permanent Arise issue priorities

Adequate state budgets

The cloud of the COVID-19 recession hangs heavy over Alabama’s budgets. The recession cost nearly 200,000 Alabamians their jobs and reduced income and sales tax collections beginning in March. The revenue losses endanger funding for education, public health and other services at a time when we need them most.

Revenues from most state taxes have declined significantly during the recession. But General Fund revenues this year are up 7% over 2019 for two main reasons: higher-than-expected revenues before the pandemic and rising internet sales tax collections.

The Education Trust Fund (ETF) budget relies heavily on income and sales taxes, which are more likely to drop during recessions. Income tax revenues have declined sharply since March, but sales taxes have held up relatively well so far. Overall, the ETF will squeak through 2020 with an anemic 4% increase over 2019.

These inadequate budgets fail to make key investments in Alabama’s future. Universal pre-K is one unmet need that the Fairhope Unitarian Fellowship has urged Arise to address. Another is Medicaid expansion, which would cover more than 340,000 Alabamians and create thousands of jobs, a UAB study found before the pandemic.

Medicaid expansion would be a lifeline for Alabamians who lost their coverage due to layoffs or other factors. It would boost economic recovery, stimulating $2.9 billion a year in new economic activity and $148 million a year in ETF revenues. And those benefits would be a bargain at the price: With a 9-to-1 federal match, the 10% state share would be $168 million in year one and about $25 million a year thereafter.

Tax reform

As the recession continues, revenue likely will fall short in 2021. The Legislature can and should avoid devastating cuts to schools, public health and other vital services. Here are some solutions:

  • Eliminate the regressive state income tax deduction for federal income taxes. About 80% of the deduction’s benefits go to the top 20% of households.
  • Reject corporate tax cuts and adopt combined reporting to prevent corporate tax avoidance.
  • Eliminate the state sales tax on groceries and replace that revenue through progressive income tax changes. Alabama is one of three states with no grocery tax break.
  • Increase property taxes on large landowners and raise taxes on items like tobacco, vaping products or sugary soft drinks.

Compiled by Carol Gundlach, policy analyst, and Jim Carnes, policy director

June 2020 newsletter

Alabama must tear down the legacies of slavery and segregation

By Chris Sanders, communications director

In Birmingham, Mobile and cities across the country, officials are taking down monuments that “honored” a violent rebellion that sought to protect the enslavement of human beings. Removing these symbols of slavery and segregation is an important step toward healing and recovery, but it’s not enough. We also must remove policy barriers that trace their roots to these oppressive and racist practices.

Alabama Arise board vice president Ana Delia Espino speaks at Arise Legislative Day on Feb. 25, 2020, in Montgomery. Espino urged lawmakers to untax groceries and make other policy changes to help struggling Alabamians.

Black Alabamians have battled generation after generation of discriminatory barriers to education, jobs, housing and voting. Compounding those barriers is a criminal justice system that polices Black people more heavily, arrests them more often and condemns them to harsher sentences in dangerously overcrowded prisons and jails.

For centuries, Black people have suffered from police brutality and unequal treatment from law enforcement. This history has fueled protests nationwide and worldwide over the last month.

Arise stands in solidarity with calls to stop the brutality against Black people and start building a world that’s safe for everyone.

All of these systemic failures have added together to produce a series of terrible disparities. Black Alabamians face higher rates of poverty and hunger, lower life expectancies and lower rates of employment and health insurance coverage.

Policy changes to break down harmful barriers

These are institutional failures that require policy solutions. Here are a few ways lawmakers can break down barriers to opportunity and justice:

    • Expand Medicaid to cover adults with low incomes. Expansion would ensure health coverage for more than 340,000 Alabamians who are uninsured or barely paying for insurance they can’t really afford. It also would attack a fundamental injustice: People of color make up about 34% of our state’s population, but nearly half of all uninsured Alabamians with low incomes are people of color. Lack of affordable health coverage deprives Black people of timely care for cancer, diabetes, heart disease and other serious conditions. As the disproportionately high share of coronavirus deaths among Black Alabamians shows, health care access is literally a matter of life or death.
    • Invest more in public education. Alabama’s state funding for K-12 and higher education, adjusted for inflation, is lower today than it was in 2008. This chronic underfunding hits many schools that primarily serve Black students especially hard.
    • Equitably distribute funding for affordable housing and public transportation. Alabama has trust funds for both but hasn’t funded them yet. Lawmakers should fund public transportation to help everyone get to work, school and other places they need to go. Alabama should support the Housing Trust Fund to ensure people living in deep poverty have safe shelter. Our state also should commit to eliminating redlining, fighting housing discrimination and reducing residential segregation.
    • Overhaul the criminal justice system and the death penalty. Areas with large Black populations often see a larger police presence. The weight of harsh sentences and criminal justice debt falls more heavily on these Alabamians as a result. Lawmakers should reform sentencing laws and ease the crushing burden of exorbitant fines and fees. They also need to end abuses of civil asset forfeiture and eliminate racial injustice in the death penalty system.
    • Strengthen and expand voting rights. Voting barriers should find no home in the heart of the Civil Rights Movement. Automatic voter registration, no-excuse absentee voting and same-day registration are a few changes that would make voting more accessible. Alabama also should ease barriers to voting rights restoration for returning citizens.
    • Raise the minimum wage and restore home rule to localities. Alabama is one of only five states with no state minimum wage law. Most employers operate under the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. Birmingham tried to raise its minimum wage in 2016, but state lawmakers blocked that effort. The Legislature has that power due to the 1901 state constitution, whose authors explicitly said they aimed to “establish white supremacy in this state.” Alabama should lift constitutional barriers to home rule and empower local governments to make decisions.

A better, more inclusive future for Alabama

Undoing the legacies of slavery and segregation in Alabama will require more than reassuring words and vague platitudes. It will require substantive policy changes to break down centuries-old barriers and ensure all Alabamians have a chance to reach their full potential.

Many of these changes – and others not mentioned – won’t be easy. Some may not happen quickly. But we must keep advocating and working toward the day when they will. The road to dignity, equity and justice for all Alabamians remains long. But walking together and working together, we can and will reach that destination.

Listening sessions, annual meeting going online

By Debbie Smith, organizer

Listening sessions are your chance to weigh in on Arise’s work, and we want to hear from you! To protect our members’ health and safety, our listening sessions will be held online this year. Click here to see the full schedule and register today.

Our annual meeting and issue proposal process will look different this year, too. The annual meeting will be held online on Saturday, Oct. 3. Members will still vote on our issue priorities.

Member groups that want to recommend a new issue priority or a strategic change to a current one must submit a proposal online by Friday, Aug. 21. Click here for more information and to submit your proposal.

We miss meeting with our members across Alabama, and we can’t wait to see you again in person. Until then, we can’t wait to “meet” you online!

Federal leaders must help ease suffering

By Robyn Hyden, executive director

Here at Arise, we are both challenged and called to action by the incredible movement and possibilities of these times. Protesters are demanding more community investments and defunding of unjust, punitive carceral systems. Lawmakers have been slow to respond adequately to the pandemic. Meanwhile, Alabama’s COVID-19 deaths are increasing, with alarming patterns of racial and economic inequity.

As always, Arise will work to build dignity, equity and justice for all Alabamians. With your support, we’ll advance these federal advocacy priorities this summer:

  • Push the U.S. Senate to pass a strong fifth COVID-19 relief bill that would boost SNAP, extend enhanced Medicaid matching rates and ideally provide more funding for Medicaid expansion.
  • Track Alabama’s $1.9 billion share of CARES Act funding and urge the state to direct that money to struggling residents. (See our full recommendations here.)
  • Seek more federal relief to support state budgets and provide direct assistance to people with low incomes.

I don’t know what the future holds. But by holding true to our vision and building power for the people, I know we can make it brighter.

A word about Arise membership

By Brenda Boman, development director

A strong membership is essential for Alabama Arise’s successful advocacy for policies that will help Alabamians with low incomes.

When we can tell a lawmaker, “Some of your constituents are Arise members,” it makes a difference. When you identify yourself to an elected official as an Arise member, it makes a difference.

Individual membership requires a financial contribution each year that demonstrates your commitment to our work. We suggest a donation of $15 or more, but we accept any amount you with which you feel comfortable. Your contribution makes you eligible to vote during membership meetings, including our annual meeting, where members choose our legislative priorities for the year.

Our membership count begins each year on July 1 and ends before our annual meeting the following year. If you’ve never joined as an individual member, I hope you’ll consider doing so. And if you’re a past member who hasn’t given since July 1, 2019, I hope you’ll renew today.

We need more than 400 renewals and new members to reach our membership goal of 2,020 in 2020. Please donate today to be included in the count!

We’re ramping up pressure for Medicaid expansion

By Jim Carnes, policy director

The double blow of the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic shutdown has put Medicaid expansion in a new, more urgent light.

The virus’s disproportionate toll on Black Alabamians is exposing longstanding racial barriers to detection and treatment of underlying health conditions. And the number of uninsured Alabamians – already shockingly high before COVID-19 – will continue to grow as unemployment mounts.

Extending health coverage to adults with low incomes is the single biggest step Alabama can take to mitigate the pandemic’s impact on our health, health care system and economy.

Medicaid is a tool to solve problems and save lives. And three new Arise initiatives are taking different approaches to convince state leaders to maximize Medicaid’s effectiveness by covering working-age adults.

Front cover of Alabama Arise's Medicaid Matters report
Arise’s new report shows how Medicaid expansion would save lives, reduce racial health disparities and help Alabama fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Cover Alabama Coalition, launched April 15, coordinates the Medicaid expansion advocacy of Arise and nearly 90 other grassroots organizations. Arise’s new story collection project is a multimedia effort to elevate community voices in the health care conversation. And on June 17, we released a comprehensive new report, Medicaid Matters: Charting the Course to a Healthier Alabama, that looks at Alabama Medicaid from four angles: how it works now, how it’s improving coverage, who’s still left out and how we can make it stronger.

You can learn more about all of these projects on our Medicaid expansion page and at coveralabama.org.

Welcome to Arise, Jane!

Jane Adams joined Alabama Arise in June as our campaign director. She also will direct the Cover Alabama Coalition, which has united Arise and nearly 90 other organizations across Alabama to push for Medicaid expansion.

Jane is a ninth-generation Alabamian who lives in Huntsville. She earned a master’s degree in theological studies from Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C., where she studied the ethical implications of public policy.

Before joining Arise, Jane worked as a senior policy analyst for Bread for the World. While at Bread, she co-chaired the Save for All coalition, the largest anti-poverty coalition in the United States. Jane also spearheaded strategy for the Interfaith Health Care Coalition and the Faithful Farm Bill Coalition.

We’re excited to have Jane on our team! And we look forward to making Medicaid expansion a reality in our state. Visit coveralabama.org to learn more about Cover Alabama and how you or your organization can join the campaign.

Thank you, Sherrel

Story collection coordinator Sherrel Wheeler Stewart has accepted a job opportunity as executive director of strategy and communications for Birmingham City Schools and will depart the Arise staff in early July. We’re sorry to see Sherrel go, but we’re grateful for her great work in launching our Medicaid story collection project. Sherrel remains a huge Arise supporter, and we look forward to seeing her at future events!

We will be looking to hire a new story collection coordinator soon. Visit our employment page in the coming weeks for details on that position and any others that may be available.

Risk of education, General Fund cuts remains after shortened legislative session

By Chris Sanders, communications director

Funding for education, health care and other vital services is deeply uncertain as Alabama’s revenues plummet during the COVID-19 recession. In May, lawmakers enacted 2021 Education Trust Fund (ETF) and General Fund (GF) budgets that are larger than this year’s. But as consumer spending falls and massive unemployment persists, the Legislature will reevaluate those plans at hearings in early July.

Alabama’s bleak financial picture likely will force lawmakers to return for a special session later this summer or fall. And that’s far from the only subject they should address.

The pandemic has brought new urgency to the need to reduce overcrowding in state prisons, where social distancing is impossible. It has shown why legislators should undo harmful limits they imposed on unemployment insurance (UI) eligibility last year. And it has put unprecedented strain on our state’s health care infrastructure, particularly hospitals and clinics serving rural Alabamians. Medicaid expansion would provide financial stability for many of these facilities, helping them stay open during the pandemic and beyond.

A lost session

COVID-19 tore out the heart of the regular session, forcing lawmakers to stop meeting for more than a month. When they returned, they had just two weeks to finalize ETF and GF budgets. With most House Democrats staying home due to coronavirus concerns, legislative leaders limited the agenda to budgets and local bills.

Alabama Arise legislative affairs coordinator David Stout talks to a small group of Legislative Day attendees Feb. 25, 2020, during one of the day’s informal breakout sessions.

That decision temporarily slowed momentum for Arise’s push to untax groceries. Before the session paused, about 200 people came to Montgomery for Arise Legislative Day on Feb. 25. Our members urged legislators to end the state sales tax on groceries while protecting education funding. The proposal would replace grocery tax revenue by limiting Alabama’s income tax deduction for federal income tax payments. Our supporters also advocated for Medicaid expansion and public transportation funding.

Whenever the Legislature returns, Arise will be there promoting policies to make life better for struggling Alabamians. Check our website and follow us on Facebook and Twitter for updates.

An overview of Arise materials on COVID-19

By Matt Okarmus, communications associate

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, the news feels like it’s moving faster than ever. Arise policy analysts have worked hard to provide updates on policy solutions to help Alabamians during and after the pandemic. Read summaries of our recent resources below, and visit al-arise.local/blog to read our full posts on each subject and others.

COVID-19 resource guide

As unemployment soars, many Alabamians are deeply worried about basics like food, health care, housing and income. A lot of folks need help getting by but may not know quite where to look. Arise’s guide to public assistance programs and other support services is designed to help people meet their basic needs during this pandemic. Click here to read this continuously updated resource guide.

Community eligibility and SNAP

Community eligibility “is proving to be a firm foundation for emergency response during the COVID-19 pandemic,” hunger advocacy coordinator Celida Soto Garcia writes. Her blog post explains why every eligible Alabama school should embrace this powerful opportunity to reduce child hunger. In another post, policy analyst Carol Gundlach shows how recent federal SNAP improvements are helping struggling Alabamians keep food on the table. She also urges Congress to remove more eligibility barriers and increase SNAP benefits.

Unemployment insurance

The pandemic has caused an unprecedented increase in unemployment insurance (UI) claims. On our blog, policy analyst Dev Wakeley examines how this economic toll reveals the need to reverse harmful UI cuts and barriers that state lawmakers enacted last year. He also highlights how traditional UI and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance are helping workers endure this economic downturn.

Protection from predatory lenders

State and federal lawmakers need to enact strong protections for payday and title borrowers “before these harmful loans make the pandemic’s financial devastation even worse,” policy analyst Dev Wakeley writes. His post makes the case for rate caps and increased transparency as powerful, proven policy solutions to this problem.

Fighting COVID-19 in prisons and jails

State and local governments are responding in a variety of ways to Alabama’s coronavirus pandemic. But the response has fallen far short where incarcerated people are concerned, policy analyst Dev Wakeley writes. His post explains how quick, targeted releases would help save lives and avoid nightmarish outbreaks in prisons and jails.

February 2020 newsletter

Arise 2020: Our vision for a better Alabama

By Chris Sanders, communications director

Alabama Arise members have worked for more than three decades to build a brighter, more inclusive future. And we see real opportunities to advance that vision during the Legislature’s 2020 regular session, which began Feb. 4.

The Alabama State House in Montgomery.

In this newsletter, you’ll read about how we’re building power and equipping advocates in communities across Alabama. And you’ll learn more about the grassroots work we’re doing to urge people to be counted in the 2020 Census.

You’ll also read about our goals this year on vital priorities like expanding Medicaid, untaxing groceries and funding public transportation. You can help make those goals a reality by attending Legislative Day (see below), signing up for action alerts and sharing our posts on Facebook and Twitter.

Together, we can make Alabama a place where everyone’s voice is heard. We can promote dignity, equity and justice for everyone. And we can ensure that all Alabamians have the opportunity to reach their full potential.

Arise Legislative Day is Tuesday, Feb. 25!

Your voice matters! Make plans now to speak up for a better Alabama for all at Arise’s 2020 Legislative Day on Tuesday, Feb. 25, in State House Room 200 in Montgomery.

Registration will begin at 9:30 a.m., and the event will last from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Legislative Day is an annual opportunity for Arise supporters to meet their lawmakers and make the case for policy changes to improve life for everyday Alabamians. We expect this year’s advocacy to focus on important issues like untaxing groceries and funding for vital state services.

Attendance and registration are free. But we suggest a $10 donation to help offset the cost of lunch if you are able. You can make a donation online, or you can donate in person on the day of the event.

Visit our website at al-arise.local for more information. We look forward to seeing everyone there!

2020 is going to be the year of even harder work

By Robyn Hyden, executive director

Too many people I spoke with last month were feeling overwhelmed and exhausted by the news of the world. Did you feel it, too?  Continuous coverage of bad news can leave all of us feeling apathetic, tired and hopeless.

But one of the first things I learned as an organizer is a lesson that history has shown again and again: Things often feel the most impossible right up until the moment big change happens.

This is a year of turning points for our state and nation. And there are plenty of ways to channel frustration toward meaningful civic engagement. Here are three:

The only way we can put these opportunities to work is to show up, speak out and organize others to come along with us. It’s hard work – and good work. A better Alabama is within our reach!

Arise members are building power across Alabama

By Presdelane Harris, organizing director

If numbers are a measure of strength, then Alabama Arise members and our allies are a mighty force! Arise supporters had a strong turnout last month at three big events leading into the legislative session.

More than 60 people gathered to speak with their lawmakers at a legislative meet-and-greet Jan. 21, 2020, in Mobile. Alabama Arise, the League of Women Voters of Mobile and the Mobile NAACP hosted the event.

In south Alabama, more than 60 members of Arise, the League of Women Voters (LWV) of Mobile and the Mobile NAACP came to a legislative meet-and-greet Jan. 21 in Mobile. They spoke to five lawmakers about numerous issues, including Medicaid expansion, criminal justice debt and voting rights. And almost 50 members of Arise and the LWV of Baldwin County talked with two legislators Jan. 27 at a similar event in Fairhope.

Alabama Arise board vice president Ana Delia Valeriano (far left) and Arise organizing director Presdelane Harris (second from left) were among the panelists at the Claim Your Community Power Conference on Jan. 25, 2020, in Birmingham. Other presenters included Tari Williams of Greater Birmingham Ministries, Diana Martinez of the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama and DeJuana Thompson of Woke Vote.

Our members showed up in north Alabama, too. Arise was well represented among the 150 advocates at the Claim Your Community Power Conference on Jan. 25 in Birmingham. Arise is one of seven partners in the Alabama Equal Voice Network, which hosted the event to educate folks about issues and build their organizing capacity in our collective effort to transform Alabama. Learn more about the network at alabamaequalvoicenetwork.org.

We thank Arise’s committed members all over the state. Your voices raised in advocacy are essential to realizing our shared vision of a better Alabama!

Why we’re spreading the word about the Census

By Mike Nicholson, organizer

Filling out your Census form is quick and easy. It only takes about 10 minutes to answer 10 questions. You won’t have to do it again for 10 years. And your answers are completely confidential.

It may not seem like much, but the stakes are high. The accuracy of Alabama’s 2020 Census count will shape our state and local communities every day. Census results determine how many U.S. House members represent each state. They also guide the distribution of more than $700 billion in federal resources every year.

That money funds health coverage through Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), known as ALL Kids in Alabama. It also supports Head Start, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and many other services that help struggling families.

Alabama Arise organizer Mike Nicholson speaks to Madison County community representatives about the Census on Jan. 28, 2020, in Huntsville. Arise has partnered with VOICES for Alabama’s Children to conduct similar meetings across the state.

Alabama Arise is part of a statewide effort to protect these programs by getting as many Alabamians counted as possible. We’ve teamed with VOICES for Alabama’s Children to travel to as many counties as we can to meet with folks and come up with a plan to make sure everyone is counted. We’re providing information and assistance to grassroots partners so they can help their communities understand how the Census affects Alabama.

Please help us spread the word. In the coming weeks, we’ll share more information about the Census’ importance and tips on persuading your community to participate. No one is a better messenger for your community than you, and Alabama’s future depends on it!

How you can support Arise from an IRA or 401(k)

By Brenda Boman, development director

Alabama Arise members are generous, caring and resourceful people. That’s why I want to highlight a powerful giving opportunity for members who are at least 70½ years of age and drawing income from a tax-deferred savings account such as a traditional IRA, 401(k), 403(k), 403(b) or Thrift Savings Plan.

Whether you itemize or take the standard deduction, up to $100,000 of your 2020 required minimum distribution (RMD) can be tax-free when you give to a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization like Arise through a qualified charitable distribution (QCD).

The check should be payable to Alabama Arise. You can ask your account custodian to mail it directly to us. Or if you prefer, you can have the check sent to you and then mail it yourself. Our address is Alabama Arise, P.O. Box 1188, Montgomery, AL 36101.

If you ask the custodian to send the check directly, call 334-832-9060 or email me at to notify us. That way we’ll know who to thank for the gift!

To ensure the tax benefit, apply for the QCD before you take your full RMD for 2020. You’ll need our Employer Identification Number (EIN), which is 63-1186365.

We’re grateful for your support of our advocacy for better public policies. Together, we’re making life better for families across Alabama.

Arise 2020: The issues

Compiled by policy director Jim Carnes, policy analyst Carol Gundlach and policy analyst Dev Wakeley

End Alabama’s state grocery tax and protect school funding

Alabama’s 4% sales tax on groceries is a regressive, punitive tax on survival. It drives struggling families deeper into poverty. It costs Alabamians the equivalent of two weeks’ worth of groceries each year. And it’s time to bring this cruel tax to an end.

The state grocery tax raises about $480 million a year for public schools. Given Alabama’s history of underfunding education, it’s important to replace that revenue responsibly. And we have a plan to untax groceries without cutting a dime of education funding.

Alabama Arise’s proposed solution is to end an unusual tax break for the richest Alabamians: the federal income tax (FIT) deduction. This loophole allows people to deduct their federal income tax payments on their state income taxes. About 80% of the FIT deduction’s benefit goes to the top 20% of taxpayers in Alabama, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP).

The FIT deduction is a skewed tax break for rich households. And it’s a big reason Alabama’s tax system is upside down. For those who earn $30,000 a year, the deduction saves them about $27 on average, ITEP estimates. But for the top 1% of taxpayers, the FIT break is worth an average of more than $11,000 a year.

Alabama is one of only three states with no tax break on groceries. Ending the FIT deduction would remove us from that shameful list and enable Alabama to make additional investments in education.

Expand Medicaid to save lives and make Alabama healthier

After a decade of missed opportunity on health coverage, Alabama needs to invest in our people and our future. We’re one of just 14 states that have rejected federal funding for Medicaid expansion to cover adults with low incomes. This can and should be the year that changes.

People and communities across our state are suffering unnecessarily due to Alabama’s inaction. Uninsured working parents, caregivers, veterans, people awaiting disability determinations, adult students and other Alabamians with low wages are putting off needed health care. Nearly 90% of our rural hospitals are operating in the red.

Medicaid expansion would strengthen our economy and health care system while guaranteeing coverage for more than 340,000 Alabamians.

Success would not require passing a bill. Gov. Kay Ivey could simply request a Medicaid rule change raising the eligibility limit for adults. A legislative panel that reviews rule changes then could allow Medicaid to seek that permission from Washington. If that gets the OK, Medicaid would simply factor expansion costs into its next annual budget.

Alabama has the money to expand Medicaid. The General Fund will have an additional $400 million available next year, state budget analysts estimate. That’s more than enough to cover the state cost for expansion: $168 million in the first year and a net of about $25 million a year thereafter.

Medicaid expansion is the single biggest step Alabama could take to make life better for people with low incomes. And Arise will continue to work hard to make it happen.

Stop the debt trap for Alabama payday borrowers

A small loan shouldn’t be a sentence to months or years of deep debt. Everyone who needs to borrow money should have a reasonable pathway to repaying a loan without excessive costs. But in Alabama, high-interest payday loans cost struggling people tens of millions of dollars every year.

The industry profits off financial desperation. Two-week payday loans with annual percentage rates of up to 456% trap many Alabamians in debt cycles they cannot escape. And Alabama’s lack of consumer protections gives those borrowers no reasonable path out of that debt trap.

The 30 Days to Pay bill – SB 58, sponsored by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur – would guarantee 30 days to repay payday loans. Unfortunately, the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee voted 8-6 against the bill on Feb. 12. It was a huge disappointment, but it didn’t reduce our determination to continue working for reform.

About one in four Alabama payday borrowers take out more than 12 loans per year. Because the loans are so short in duration – as few as 10 days – these repeat borrowers pay nearly half of all payday loan fees assessed across the state. Giving these borrowers more breathing room would help them avoid spiraling into deep debt.

Why Alabama should fund public transportation

Public transit is vital infrastructure for a state looking toward the future. It allows people who lack other transportation options – including seniors, people with disabilities, and people who can’t afford a car – to get to work, go to the doctor and meet other basic needs. Reliable public transportation strengthens communities and makes a state more attractive to employers.

Alabama can expand its public transit options with a General Fund appropriation for the Public Transportation Trust Fund. Even a modest state investment could have a big impact. With a state allocation of just $10 million, for example, Alabama could receive up to $40 million in federal matching grants in return.

Public transportation funding would be an investment in our state’s economy and quality of life. Alabama could create public transit options in rural and suburban areas where they don’t exist now. Existing services could run later and more often. And all of these investments would support hundreds of stable, good-paying jobs.

Break down barriers to voting rights in Alabama

Voting is an essential tool for people to speak out about the future they want. By breaking down barriers to voting, we promote greater civic engagement. And we make it easier for folks to make their voices heard about issues that matter in their communities.

Alabama’s shameful history of racist voting restrictions means our state has an ongoing moral obligation to strengthen voting rights. And officials have numerous policy options to remove harmful barriers to voting.

One important step would be to ensure that people who struggle to make ends meet aren’t denied the right to vote simply because they can’t afford to pay court fines and fees. Another would be to streamline Alabama’s voting system by enacting automatic voter registration (AVR).

AVR would use information the state already has to register or update registrations electronically for hundreds of thousands of Alabamians. Arise also supports proposals to allow early voting and no-excuse absentee voting.

These policy changes would strengthen our state’s democracy by extending voting access to hundreds of thousands more Alabamians. That would promote higher civic participation and stronger community involvement. And it would make our society more just and inclusive.

Fight proposals to cut Medicaid, SNAP and TANF

The safety net is essential for people who struggle to make ends meet. Medicaid is a health care lifeline for one in four Alabamians. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) helps one in six Alabamians keep food on the table. And the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program provides meager but essential cash assistance for thousands of parents living in deep poverty.

All of these services improve lives. But in past years, we’ve seen numerous state proposals to erect barriers that would block struggling Alabamians from the help they need to survive. And we anticipate having to fight such harmful plans again this year.

Some past bills sought to stigmatize SNAP participants by requiring them to take drug tests or meet complex work reporting requirements. Others would have required photo IDs for SNAP participants or complex, costly asset tests for Medicaid, SNAP or TANF applicants. All of these proposed new limits would increase the number of sick and hungry people in Alabama.

Alabamians deserve shared prosperity and inclusion, not increased human suffering and isolation. That is why we’ll oppose cuts to Medicaid, SNAP, TANF and other programs that help people reach their full opportunity. Arise members rose to this challenge during the Farm Bill debate and in response to harmful proposed federal rule changes. And we know you will continue to help protect the safety net that protects all Alabamians when times get tough.

Stop criminal justice debt from putting lives on hold

Criminal justice debt shouldn’t prevent a person from building a stable, secure life. But Alabama imposes millions of dollars in fines every year without considering a person’s ability to pay them. The state also conditions many rights and privileges, often including voting rights restoration, on whether a person has repaid fines.

The Legislature could implement many helpful reforms, ranging from improvements in court procedure to elimination of some fees. Here are a few meaningful changes Alabama could make:

  • Require courts to consider a defendant’s ability to pay fees and fines and standardize a process for that determination.
  • Consider all financial obligations in ability-to-pay determinations.
  • Eliminate cash bail for most misdemeanors.
  • Forgive payment of fees upon acquittal or dropping of charges.
  • Require reasonable and fair payment plans based on a defendant’s ability to pay.
  • Prohibit incarceration for failure to pay a criminal justice debt.
  • Determine the degree of and eliminate racial disparities in criminal justice debt.
  • Reduce or eliminate fees for reinstatement of a suspended or revoked driver’s license.

People deserve a chance to participate in society without painful, unreasonable fines and fees dragging them down. Alabama’s criminal justice system needs system-wide reform to give thousands of people a fair chance at a fresh start.

End injustices in the death penalty system

All Alabamians deserve equal justice under the law. But bias and inequality persist in Alabama’s capital punishment system, despite recent reforms.

Even though the state finally outlawed judicial override in 2017, the ban did not apply retroactively. That means dozens of people who were sentenced to death despite a jury’s sentencing recommendation of life without parole remain on death row.

Alabama can and must do better than this deeply flawed system. Arise supports numerous reforms to the state’s death penalty practices:

  • Apply Alabama’s judicial override ban retroactively.
  • Require unanimous agreement from the jury to sentence people to death.
  • Amend state law to require prosecutors to prove a defendant was 18 or older at the time of the capital crime.
  • Impose a moratorium to study and end racially biased death penalty practices.

Alabama should implement these steps to reduce and eliminate the unequal, unfair practices present in the state’s death penalty scheme. Alabamians deserve a fair, unbiased justice system, and these reforms would be steps toward a more just state.