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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 alarise.org/donate, or send a check to P.O. Box 1188, Montgomery, AL 36101.
Rebecca 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.