October 2022 newsletter

Alabama Arise members gather at the in-person portion of our hybrid 2022 Annual Meeting on Sept. 24 at Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Montgomery. We also offered live participation via Zoom for remote attendees across Alabama. More than 400 members participated in online voting for Arise’s 2023 policy priorities in the days after the meeting.

Arise urges ‘Yes’ vote on recompiled constitution

By Mike Nicholson, policy analyst

Alabama Arise is committed to recognizing, teaching about and repairing the damage that state lawmakers perpetrated for generations through codifying racism and racist practices. Racist language and the harmful provisions flowing from it have no place in our state’s most important legal document.

Alabamians will decide on Nov. 8 whether to remove racist language from the state constitution by adopting a recompiled constitution. Examples of deleted language include references to separate schools for Black and white children and prohibition of interracial marriages. Arise recommends voting “Yes” on the recompilation, which will appear on the ballot as the Constitution of Alabama of 2022.

The changes in the recompilation wouldn’t address all of the problems with Alabama’s constitution, including harmful limits related to tax policy and local governance. But they still would move Alabama, and our constitution, in the right direction. Arise urges Alabamians to vote “Yes” to help move our state forward.

For more information on the recompilation, see our fact sheet.

Alabama Arise’s 2023 policy priorities

By Chris Sanders, communications director

More than 400 Alabama Arise members selected our 2023 legislative agenda following our Annual Meeting on Sept. 24. The seven priorities chosen were:

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

“Our 2023 policy priorities reflect the need to work together to break down policy barriers that keep people in poverty,” Arise executive director Robyn Hyden said. “We must build a healthier, more just and more inclusive future for our state.”

See our news release for more on our priorities. And email Arise organizing director Presdelane Harris at pres@alarise.org to set up an issue preview event in your area ahead of the Legislature’s 2023 regular session.

Annual Meeting 2022

Alabama Arise held our first hybrid Annual Meeting on Sept. 24, both in person at Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Montgomery and virtually on Zoom. We thank the hundreds of members who joined us across both spaces.


First photo above: Arise board president Kathy Vincent embraces outgoing board member Roger McCullough. Second above: Former executive director Kimble Forrister (right) and other members listen to issue presentations. Third above: Arise senior policy analyst Carol Gundlach gives an update on budgets and tax reform. Fourth above: A member asks a clarifying question as Arise development director Jacob Smith listens.

Click here to see more pictures from our in-person event!

A sincere thank you

By Robyn Hyden, executive director

As I reflect on our 2022 Annual Meeting and dive into planning for our 2023 agenda, I simply want to say thank you for your generous contributions, advocacy and support.

This July marked the beginning of my fifth year as executive director, and next year will mark 35 years since Alabama Arise was founded. The COVID-19 years have stretched us to adapt in new ways. I couldn’t be more grateful for the ways our dynamic staff, supporters and board leaders have navigated these changes as we continue learning, growing and doing new things together.

As we look ahead to fall and winter, we’re doubling down on hybrid opportunities to engage members and grassroots constituents. We’re looking at how we engage the broadest base possible to achieve our goals. And we’re striving to meet the needs and goals identified by you, our members.

Thank you for charting our agenda and joining us to continue our forward momentum. When we push together, change is on the horizon.

Together, our members make a difference!

By Jacob Smith, development director

There’s something about the approaching winter holidays that brings out the generous nature in all of us. We all want to do our part and work together to build community and a better Alabama.

At Arise, we’re grateful for your giving. Almost 13% of our financial support comes from members like you. When you give, we have the flexibility needed to focus on you and your priorities. We believe people from every community must be engaged in the state and federal policymaking process to effect real and lasting change.

Will you help us grow our membership? If you haven’t already, join or renew your membership with a gift. There are so many ways to give:

  • A one-time or monthly gift online at alarise.org.
  • A check mailed to P.O. Box 1188, Montgomery, AL 36101.
  • A gift of stock.
  • A gift from an IRA, 401(k) or other tax-deferred savings account.

Once you’ve given, invite your friends, family and network to join you in making a difference! Or invite a group you’re in to join as a member group! Share why you’re a part of Arise and how you partner with us.

If you would like more information, please email me at jacob@alarise.org. Thank you for your generosity in this end-of-year season.

Arise helps strengthen fight against cervical cancer

By Whitney Washington, communications associate

Six Black women from Alabama’s Black Belt region assembled In a meeting room at downtown Birmingham’s Westin Hotel on Aug. 26-28 for a weekend of intense and insightful advocacy training. The weekend served as this cohort’s introduction to both each other and the material they’ll be learning. And Alabama Arise had the privilege of being part of the event.

Arise health policy advocate Jennifer Harris will spend the next few months guiding these incredible women through various training sessions through a partnership with the Southern Rural Black Women’s Initiative for Economic and Social Justice (SRBWI) and Human Rights Watch. These women have been tasked with reducing rates of cervical cancer in their communities, and they are up to the challenge.

Alabama Arise staff members Jennifer Harris, Whitney Washington, Presdelane Harris and Whit Sides (left to right) presented at an advocacy training for Black women from Alabama’s Black Belt region Aug. 26-28, 2022, in Birmingham. Arise will continue to assist the women in coming months as they work to reduce cervical cancer rates in their communities.

The scope of the challenge

Why the focus on cervical cancer? Consider these sobering statistics:

  • Black women die of cervical cancer at 1.5 times the rate of white women in the United States.
  • In Alabama, Black women die of cervical cancer at nearly twice the rate of white women.
  • With the HPV vaccine, cervical cancer is nearly entirely preventable.
  • The Black Belt region is especially hard hit due to lack of access to health care.

“Research is clear on the best possible outcomes in ideal situations. But the reality is far from ideal for many women in rural Alabama,” Harris said. “Less access to health care, the need for more preventive education, and barriers such as a lack of transportation increase these health disparities for too many families.

I was lucky to meet these women and work with my colleagues in creating a helpful curriculum for the weekend. Arise executive director Robyn Hyden charged right into advocacy training at the event. Her sessions described the role of advocates, how to talk to legislators and how to get bills passed.

The SRBWI conference and the Black Belt cohort training were an incredible opportunity to see some of the often invisible organizing and community-building work happening across Alabama. People long neglected by institutions and lawmakers are finding creative ways to take care of themselves and their communities. And Arise is committed to working alongside them to amplify their voices and lift policy barriers standing in their way.

Read more about this powerful weekend on our blog.

Child Tax Credit boost cuts child poverty to record low

By Chris Sanders, communications director

People-friendly policies like the Child Tax Credit (CTC) can and do reduce poverty. The 2021 U.S. Census data released last month delivered eye-opening proof of that fact, revealing a dramatic nationwide reduction in child poverty fueled largely by a temporary CTC expansion.

By itself, the CTC expansion kept 5.3 million Americans above the poverty line, data showed. The one-year improvement, enacted as part of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), made the full credit available to children living in families with low or no earnings. It increased the maximum credit to $3,000 per child and $3,600 per child under age 6. And it extended the credit to 17-year-olds.

CTC expansion helped reduce disparities for Black and Hispanic children. It also drove the U.S. child poverty rate to a record low of 5.2% under the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM). Unlike the traditional poverty measure, the SPM reflects the poverty-reducing effects of tax credits and non-cash benefits like food assistance.

The CTC expansion expired in 2022 after Congress failed to renew it. But federal lawmakers will have an opportunity to revisit that decision when they return to Washington later this fall.

“The success of the Child Tax Credit expansion was undeniable,” Alabama Arise executive director Robyn Hyden said. “This policy slashed child poverty and helped families make ends meet across our state and our country. Congress needs to renew the Child Tax Credit expansion and make it permanent. And our state lawmakers should do their part to help Alabama families keep food on the table by ending the state grocery tax and replacing the revenue in a responsible way.”

August 2022 newsletter

Image of the Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery

Inflation Reduction Act will make Alabama healthier

By Robyn Hyden, executive director

The Inflation Reduction Act will help build a healthier future for people across Alabama. This plan will make health coverage more affordable for hundreds of thousands of Alabamians and millions of Americans. It will improve air quality by investing in clean energy and reducing emissions that fuel climate change. And it will pay for these investments by closing tax loopholes that subsidize profitable corporations and wealthy households.

This plan will save money for patients and the federal government by allowing Medicare to negotiate certain prescription drug prices. It will cap the cost of insulin and other out-of-pocket drug expenses for Medicare enrollees. And it will extend enhanced subsidies that make health coverage more affordable for many of the 219,000 Alabamians with marketplace plans through the Affordable Care Act.

We’re happy that Congress passed this important legislation and that President Joe Biden signed it into law on Aug. 16. But we also know much work remains to empower all Alabamians to achieve their full potential.

We will continue advocating for state lawmakers to untax groceries and make other needed investments in families and communities. We’ll keep working for additional funding to make child care, housing and public transportation more affordable and available across Alabama. And we’ll continue pushing for Medicaid expansion to help more than 340,000 Alabamians who are uninsured or struggling to afford health insurance.

These policy choices are essential to improve Alabamians’ quality of life and to boost our state’s economic prosperity. We’re determined to see each and every one of them across the finish line. And with your support and energy – at the annual meeting and throughout the coming years – we’ll make it happen together.

Annual meeting to chart Arise’s course for 2023

By Chris Sanders, communications director

Grassroots democracy will be on display in a new way when Alabama Arise members choose our 2023 issue priorities at our annual meeting Saturday, Sept. 24. For the first time, we will meet both in person and online via Zoom.

As a member, you have the power to select the legislative priorities we will pursue in 2023. One new proposal will compete with five current priorities for five slots on next year’s issue roster.

Below, you’ll find more information on the annual meeting, along with member groups’ summaries of the new issue proposal. 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 September as we gather to renew our shared commitment to building a better Alabama for all!

Flyer for the 2022 Alabama Arise annual meeting. See the newsletter or visit alarise.org/annualmeeting2022 for details.

Things to know for our annual meeting

When:

Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022

10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Where:

This is a hybrid event with options to attend in person as well as remotely via Zoom. To register, visit alarise.org/annualmeeting2022. There is no cost to attend, though donations are welcome.

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, 2021, and Aug. 25, 2022, to be eligible.

Voting for issue priorities will be conducted online. Members will present issue proposals during the meeting. 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 info@alarise.org.

Permanent issue priorities

Tax reform

Alabama legislators made minimal improvements to the state’s broken tax system during the 2022 regular session. As is common in an election year, they passed tax breaks for businesses, local nonprofits and retirees. On a more progressive note, lawmakers excluded the federal Child Tax Credit from state taxation. They also approved an income tax cut for Alabamians with low incomes through small but meaningful improvements to the standard deduction and dependent exemption.

Graphic showing how most Alabamians would get a tax cut under the untax groceries bill. The estimated average net tax change as a share of income if Alabama capped its federal income tax deduction and eliminated is state sales tax on groceries would range from 3.01% for the bottom 20% of households to 0.19% for the households whose incomes are in the 80% to 95% range of all incomes in Alabama. For the top 1% of households, the estimated average increase would be only 0.92% as a share of income.

Still, despite a bipartisan push and strong public support, legislators again failed to take the state sales tax off groceries. To improve life for everyday Alabamians of all backgrounds and strengthen public services that benefit us all, the Legislature should:

  • 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.
  • Eliminate the regressive state income tax deduction for federal income taxes. Nearly 90% 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.
  • Increase property taxes on large landowners and raise taxes on items like tobacco and vaping products.

Compiled by Carol Gundlach, senior policy analyst

Adequate state budgets

Thanks in part to federal relief funds, Alabama went into 2022 with significant revenue increases despite the COVID-19 recession. This allowed the Legislature to pass 2023 budgets with record expenditures, including salary increases for state employees and teachers. Revenues have remained healthy, and the state likely will have enough money to cover basic needs in its 2024 budgets.

This rare surplus could allow legislators to consider how to address Alabama’s long-term investment needs. The Legislature should take advantage of this opportunity to:

  • Close the Medicaid gap and provide life-saving health coverage to more than 300,000 Alabamians.
  • Replace the state sales tax on groceries by increasing income taxes on the top 1%.
  • Increase spending for mental health care, substance use treatment and public health services.
  • Fund alternatives to incarceration such as drug treatment, mental health treatment, job training and community correction services.
  • Expand pre-K education and child day care services.
  • Invest for the first time in the state Housing Trust Fund and Public Transportation Trust Fund.

Pathways for Medicaid expansion

The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) includes a provision that would allow Alabama to access an estimated $619.4 million in additional federal funds. This would make Medicaid expansion more affordable and sustainable than it has been since expansion first became available in 2014. This additional money, on top of the generous and permanent 90/10 federal match of state Medicaid expansion funds, could result in the federal government covering $397 million in annual expenses now paid by the state.

Alabama Medicaid thus far has not used those additional funds to increase services. However, the Legislature this year did provide additional General Fund money to extend Medicaid postpartum coverage from 60 days to 12 months after childbirth starting this October.

Compiled by Carol Gundlach, senior policy analyst

New issue proposal

Universal broadband access

Submitted by Anna Pritchett, AARP Alabama, and Benard Simelton, Sr., Alabama Chapter of the NAACP

High-speed internet access, affordability and training are essential. High-speed internet enables all Alabamians to benefit fully from technologies that improve quality of life. Broadband can facilitate access to education, health care, career services and more. To have these options, high-speed networks must be available, affordable and support bandwidth-intensive applications for a rapidly growing user base.

Last year, the Legislature created the Alabama Digital Expansion Division within the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA) to oversee and advise the statewide connectivity plan. This move came just as federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law are flowing into the state. This is a welcome start, but much work remains to ensure transparency, accountability, equity and affordability.

Roughly 19% of Alabama homes do not have adequate broadband coverage, according to the Alabama Connectivity Plan. For areas with coverage, approximately 20% of Alabama households do not subscribe to high-speed internet services due to the costs.

For the upcoming year, Alabama Arise can advocate for the Legislature and ADECA to:

  • Eliminate the barriers to adoption of high-speed internet using strategies such as creating a task force to ensure the Alabama Digital Expansion Division is adequately working to connect the 19% of Alabama households without broadband services.
  • Support the adoption of state and local digital equity policies and programs.
  • Promote informed decision making by requiring the state and localities to utilize data-driven policymaking like improving broadband data collection, analysis and reporting to target intervention effectively to those most likely to be left out.
  • Develop a multipronged public outreach campaign to connect consumers to federal subsidy programs.

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.

Arise supporters achieved a major victory this year with passage of HB 95, which created a 180-day grace period for formerly incarcerated people to begin payments on their fines and fees. HB 200, which would have limited the circumstances under which driver’s license suspensions could be issued, also made significant progress through the Legislature before eventually falling short. This bill will be a top priority for our criminal justice advocacy in the upcoming session.

The state’s sentencing scheme 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 used in a racially biased manner. Our state executes at nearly double the national average. We’re 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.

People’s lives shouldn’t depend on which administration is in power or whether state judges face election that year. Arbitrariness in death sentences is a longstanding and shameful failure of the criminal justice system.

Alabama is the only state that permits death sentences to be issued via non-unanimous jury sentencing decisions. Arise has supported a bill to remedy that injustice. We’ve also supported bills to create an execution moratorium and increase transparency in lethal injection procedures. And we support legislation to make the 2017 ban on judicial override apply retroactively. That law forbade judges from imposing a death sentence when the jury recommends life imprisonment without parole. But the law didn’t apply to people already on death row.

Alabama’s death penalty practices reflect deep racial inequities. Before judicial override ended, judges imposed death against a jury’s determination more often in cases where victims were white. And 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. In June 2021, the U.S. House voted 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.

Public transportation

Robust state investment into public transportation would improve the quality of life for many Alabamians. 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 services.

For seniors, workers with low incomes and individuals with disabilities, the lack of reliable and affordable transportation is a barrier to daily living. The lack of vehicles, drivers and funding means many Alabamians cannot get to work, school or the doctor’s office in a reasonable time. The COVID-19 pandemic only worsened the harm resulting from lack of state support of transportation. Limited funding has forced some local transit systems to curtail specialized services for riders with disabilities or serious health conditions.

Alabama is one of only three states that provide no state funding for public transportation. The Legislature took steps to remedy this failing by creating the Public Transportation Trust Fund (PTTF) in 2018. However, the law did not provide an initial appropriation or a dedicated funding source. If funded, the PTTF could allow for increased federal investment that requires non-federal matching dollars.

Next year, Alabama has an opportunity to advance public transportation by investing $20 million from its remaining American Rescue Plan Act funds into the PTTF. This move would empower the state to improve quality of life for everyone through expanded, reliable public transportation.

Voting rights

One shameful legacy of Alabama’s white supremacist history is a voting rights structure hostile to democratic participation, especially for people of color. Our state still creates and preserves barriers that prevent otherwise qualified citizens from voting. One example was Alabama’s 2015 attempt to close driver’s license offices in the Black Belt soon after passage of a strict photo ID voting requirement.

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

The 2022 regular session saw some modest progress toward greater voter access. A bill improving the voting rights restoration process passed the Senate but not the House.

But alarmingly, lawmakers also introduced many bills that threatened to limit voting rights and voter participation. Unfortunately, one of them (HB 194) became law over fierce opposition. This act, still unclear in its application, could chill get-out-the-vote efforts by nonprofits and community groups. We expect to see more bills next year, fueled by false narratives about the 2020 election, that would harm many Alabamians’ ability to vote.

Compiled by Rebecca Howard, policy and advocacy director, and Mike Nicholson, policy analyst

Welcome to Arise, Jacob!

Photo of Jacob SmithJacob Smith joined Arise in May as the development director. In his role, he ensures the

organization’s financial stability by overseeing corporate and foundation relationship management and individual giving and membership. Jacob has more than a decade of nonprofit experience in fundraising and program management. Jacob previously served as the senior director, philanthropy and research at Women’s Foundation of Alabama and as assistant director of development at YWCA Central Alabama.

We’re hiring!

Arise policy and advocacy director Rebecca Howard has accepted a staff position in the U.S. Senate. We’re seeking a new policy and advocacy director to continue our work for dignity, equity and justice for Alabamians who are marginalized by poverty.

The ideal candidate will be an experienced manager and public policy advocate who is passionate about justice, opportunity and racial equity. Visit alarise.org/about/employment for more details on the position and information on how to apply. Applications will be accepted until Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2022, at 11:59 p.m. CDT.

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 pres@alarise.org.

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 info@alarise.org.

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 info@alarise.org.

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