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USDA Declares Drought Emergency in 33 Alabama Counties

Brandon Moseley

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By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

As was reported here on Tuesday the first weeks of the Summer of 2012 have affected Alabama’s farmers severely.  The United States Department of Agriculture announced on Friday that Secretary Vilsacks has formally declared that 33 Alabama Counties are in a drought and announced that farmers in those counties will be eligible for low-interest federal loans.

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley said, “While much of the state has received rain this week, it is not enough to eliminate the severe and extreme drought conditions that many places are experiencing.  Farmers across Alabama are suffering through what has been an extended drought from last year.  We appreciate Secretary Vilsack’s response to this critical situation that affects so many Alabama families.”

Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries Commissioner John McMillan said, “There are many growers of commodity crops such as corn, soybeans, cotton and peanuts, who have suffered damage from the drought.  Farmers should contact their local office of the Farm Service Agency (FSA) to determine their eligibility and begin the process for loan application.”

Commissioner McMillan said that farmers in eligible counties have eight months from the date of a secretarial disaster declaration to apply for emergency loan assistance.  The FSA will consider each emergency loan application based on objective standards with regard to production losses, security available and repayment ability.

Secretary Vilsack declared 33 counties “primary natural disaster areas.”  They include: Autauga, Baldwin, Barbour, Bibb, Bullock, Butler, Chambers, Chilton, Clay, Cleburne, Coffee, Conecuh, Coosa, Covington, Crenshaw, Dale, Dallas, Elmore, Escambia, Geneva, Henry, Houston, Lee, Lowndes, Macon, Montgomery, Perry, Pike, Randolph, Russell, Talladega, Tallapoosa and Wilcox Counties.

The USDA names 12 other counties “contiguous disaster counties.”  They are Calhoun, Cherokee, Clarke, Hale, Jefferson, Marengo, Mobile, Monroe, St. Clair, Shelby, Tuscaloosa and Washington Counties.  Farmers in those counties are also eligible to receive federal loans.

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Secretary Vilsack said, “Agriculture remains a bright spot in our nation’s economy and it is increasingly important that USDA has the tools to act quickly and deliver assistance to farmers and ranchers when they need it most.  By amending the Secretarial disaster designation, we’re creating a more efficient and effective process. And by delivering lower interest rates on emergency loans and providing greater flexibility for haying and grazing on CRP lands, we’re keeping more farmers in business and supporting our rural American communities through difficult times. With these improvements, we’re also telling American producers that USDA stands with you and your communities when severe weather and natural disasters threaten to disrupt your livelihood.”

On Wednesday, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced program improvements that will deliver faster and more flexible assistance to farmers and ranchers devastated by natural disasters. Vilsack announced a final rule that simplifies the process for Secretarial disaster designations resulting in a 40% reduction in processing time for counties affected by disasters, a reduced interest rate for emergency loans effectively lowering the current rate from 3.75% to just 2.25%, and a payment reduction on Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) lands qualified for emergency haying and grazing in 2012, from 25% to just 10%.

More counties could be added to the disaster declaration is drought conditions persist.   For a county to be declared a “primary disaster area” then drought conditions in that county have to have persisted for 8 consecutive weeks or more.

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To monitor drought conditions in Alabama, the Southeast, and nationally go to:

http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with eight and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.

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Health

COVID-19 hospitalizations in Alabama continue surge

On Monday, 1,335 patients with COVID-19 were being cared for in hospitals statewide, the most to date.

Eddie Burkhalter

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Data from the Alabama Department of Public Health shows hospitalizations have increased since July 1. (APR GRAPHIC)

Alabama on Monday saw the highest number yet of COVID-19 patients in hospitals since the start of the pandemic, and the second-highest single-day increase in coronavirus cases on record. 

On Monday, 1,335 patients with COVID-19 were being cared for in hospitals statewide. That was 172 more COVID-19 patients than were hospitalized the previous day — and the largest single-day increase in hospitalization numbers reported by the Alabama Department of Public Health.

The last record number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients in Alabama was on Friday, when 1,201 people were being treated statewide. The increase Monday is also 134 more patients than were being care for on Friday.

Friday was the sixth straight day of record-breaking COVID-19 hospitalizations in Alabama. Friday also saw the second-highest number of deaths in a single day in the state, when ADPH confirmed 35 new deaths as a result of COVID-19, nearly breaking the previous record of 37 set on May 12.

On Monday, the state also added 1,860 to Alabama’s total case count, bringing the cumulative total now to 54,768 confirmed cases. That’s the second-highest single-day increase in cases since the start of the pandemic. With 25,783 people presumed to have recovered from the virus, and at least 1,096 dead, more than half of the state’s cases, or 27,889, are presumed to be active.

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Testing has ticked up slightly in the last few weeks — Alabama’s seven-day average of tests conducted was 9,176 on Monday, 93 more than the previous high set on July 5 — but the percentage of tests that are positive continues to increase as well, a sign that new cases aren’t just due to more testing. 

The seven-day average positivity rate Monday was 16.18 percent, which was almost 30 percent higher than it was a week ago. Taking into account the Alabama Department of Public Health’s incomplete testing data on July 9 and in early April, which threw off the positivity rate, Monday’s seven-day average was the highest on record for Alabama. 

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Public health officials say that the percent of tests that are positive should be at or below 5 percent or there’s not enough testing being done and cases are going undetected. 

Madison County continues to see a surge in new cases. The county added 267 new coronavirus cases on Monday, and over the last week added 1,044 new cases, which was 70 percent more than were added the week before. Madison County’s positivity rate this week has been roughly 16 percent. 

Jefferson County followed closely behind Madison County, adding 266 new cases Monday and 1,602 cases within the last week, which was a 30 percent increase from the week before. 

In Mobile County, there were 157 new cases Monday.

Mobile County’s weekly total of new cases for the last week was 23 percent higher than the previous week. 

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Economy

Extra $600 in COVID-19 unemployment benefits ends July 26

The extra weekly unemployment payment of $600 ends later this month. 

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Despite surging COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations across Alabama and in many other states, an extra $600-per-week in unemployment compensation through the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program is expected to expire July 26. 

That extra money, meant to help those whose jobs were displaced by coronavirus and through no fault of their own, was made possible through the CARES Act, the federal aid program that is to continue through Dec. 31, 2020, but the extra weekly payment of $600 ends later this month. 

“At this time, the federal government has not changed or extended the FPUC program. States do not have the ability to extend FPUC,” the Alabama Department of Labor said in a press release on Monday. 

The end of the extra assistance will impact more than 25 million Americans, during a time when COVID-19 continues to spread actively through communities. 

More than $1 billion has been pumped into Alabama’s economy through the extra $600-a-week payments to Alabamians, according to the New York City-based think tank The Century Foundation.

The Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation payments make up 60 percent of total unemployment benefits paid during the pandemic. 

In Alabama, 35,760 people are receiving the extra $600 a week, which totals approximately $91.7 million weekly into the state, according to The Century Foundation, which estimates that benefits to Alabamians receiving unemployment assistance will decrease by 70 percent once the extra $600 a week dries up. 

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The average current combined unemployment benefits in Alabama is $854.95 and after the end of the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation payments, the remaining unemployment benefit will be roughly $254.95.

There are also racial justice implications in the end to the extra $600 a week in aid, according to the think tank.

“Alabama, Delaware, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina all have average unemployment benefits below $300 per week, as a result of both low wages and unemployment insurance rules that simply offered less protection to predominantly black workforces,” The Century Foundation’s report notes.

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In Alabama, 57 percent of those receiving unemployment benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic from March to April were women and 50 percent were white, while 43 percent were Black, while Black people make up only 27 percent of the state’s population.

The report states that the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation benefit was intended to be a public health measure, helping workers while they stay home until it is safe to go back to work.

“Just as rushed reopenings put families at risk, eliminating FPUC now will force people to rush back to work before it is safe,” the report reads.

Job seekers can visit their local Career Center or search jobs online without cost at alabamaworks.alabama.gov

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Elections

Barry Moore receives two key endorsements

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Barry Moore, Republican candidate for Alabama’s 2nd Congressional District. (VIA BARRY MOORE CAMPAIGN)

Barry Moore, candidate for Alabama’s 2nd Congressional District, received two key endorsements from the Alabama First Responders Association and the Veterans Leadership Fund. Both groups made the decision to endorse Moore because of his pro Veteran, pro Law Enforcement, and Pro First Responders stance. 

“We at the Veterans Leadership Fund, an initiative at GatorPAC, are proud to endorse Veteran, Barry Moore for Alabama’s 2nd Congressional District. At VFL, we have a rich history of supporting candidates who best represent true conservative values and have served our great country. As a self term-limiting representative, a devout conservative, and a true man of the people, Barry Moore is the ideal representative for veterans and conservatives alike,” said Rob Maness, founder of GatorPAC and the Veterans Leadership Fund. 

“The Alabama First Responders are proud to endorse Barry Moore for Alabama’s second Congressional district. Alabama’s heroes put their lives on the line every day. We must protect their jobs, and make sure that their families will be covered if something tragic happens in the line of duty. Barry always voted in support of first responder legislation while he served in the Alabama Legislature. We are confident that Barry Moore will continue his support while serving in Congress,” said interim Director Brett Trimble. 

Moore responded with the following statement:

“I am very honored to receive both of these endorsements. I am a Veteran and having the support of the Veterans Leadership fund is quite an honor. I have always worked to support and defend our Veterans. When I served as the Chairman of Military and Veterans Affairs in the Legislature, I always made sure our servicemen and women were a top priority.

“First Responders are the backbone of our communities. They serve the citizens and put their lives on the line each day. When a disaster happens we can always count on these brave men and women to respond with courage and empathy. President Trump has shown great care in protecting and defending our law enforcement officers. We can’t let the Democrats attempt to defund the Police. When I’m serving in Congress, I will stand strong with the President and DEFEND our Police and first responders.”

Moore is a small businessman, Veteran, former member of the Alabama Legislature, husband, and father of four from Enterprise.

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Elections

Sessions says Alabama doesn’t take orders from Washington after Trump inserts himself in race again

Brandon Moseley

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GOP Senate candidate and former Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama, released a statement pushing back against President Donald Trump’s endorsement of his opponent, former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville, in which he said “Alabama does not take orders from Washington.”

The blunt comments were in response to a Twitter post from Trump once again inserting himself in the Alabama Senate race.

“I’ve taken the road less travelled,” Sessions said. “Not sought fame or fortune. My honor and integrity are far more important than these juvenile insults. Your scandal ridden candidate is too cowardly to debate. As you know, Alabama does not take orders from Washington.”

This was after Trump tweeted, “Big Senate Race in Alabama on Tuesday. Vote for @TTuberville, he is a winner who will never let you down. Jeff Sessions is a disaster who has let us all down. We don’t want him back in Washington!”

Trump has called his decision to appoint Sessions as U.S. attorney general his “biggest mistake” as president.

The rift between the two former friends began in 2017 when Sessions, newly appointed as attorney general, recused himself from the Russian collusion investigation. Sessions has steadfastly defended the decision and continues to maintain that he was forbidden by U.S. Department of Justice policy forbidding anyone who was part of a campaign from investigating that campaign.

Sessions was the first U.S. senator to endorse Trump in the 2016 presidential election and worked tirelessly throughout 2016 as a surrogate for the Trump campaign.

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Sessions maintains that had he not recused himself from the Russian collusion investigation things would have gone worse for Trump. As it was, his duties in the matter fell on fellow Trump appointee Rod Rosenstein, who appointed former FBI director Robert Mueller as special counsel.

The special counsel investigation successfully prosecuted a number of close Trump associates for various failings in their personal and professional lives, but ultimately never was able to indict the president or a member of the Trump family, and it never was able to produce tangible evidence that the 2016 Trump campaign was involved in collusion with Russian intelligence agencies to defeat former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Sessions is running for the Senate seat he gave up to be attorney general.

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Tuberville has been avoiding the media since a New York Times report detailed how Tuberville’s business partner David Stroud cheated investors out of their savings and was sentenced to ten years in prison. The two had formed a hedge fund, managed by Stroud, a former Lehman Brothers broker. Tuberville maintains that he was Stroud’s biggest victim, but the investors sued Tuberville, who settled out of court.

Sessions’ campaign maintains that incumbent Sen. Doug Jones’ campaign will capitalize on the scandal during the general election similarly to how they capitalized on allegations against former Chief Justice Roy Moore to win the 2017 special election to win the Senate seat vacated by Sessions to be attorney general.

Sessions was a late entrant into the Senate campaign. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Alabama, has endorsed Sessions.

“Jeff Sessions is a good friend and a respected former colleague,” Shelby wrote. “I believe he is well-suited to return to his role as United States Senator for the state of Alabama, where I served with him for more than 20 years. He has my full support and endorsement.”

Sessions was Senator from 1997 to 2017. He was U.S. Attorney General from 2017 to Nov. 2018. Prior to his Senate service, he served the state as Alabama Attorney General, Republican Party Chairman, and U.S. Attorney under Presidents Ronald W. Reagan (R) and George H. Bush (R). Sessions was also a former assistant U.S. Attorney and a U.S. Army reserve officer. He is a native of Alabama who grew up outside of Camden in rural Wilcox County.

The Republican primary runoff is on Tuesday. In order to vote in any Alabama election you must: be registered to vote, vote at your assigned polling place, and have a valid photo ID. It is too late to register to vote in this election or obtain an absentee ballot; but if you have an absentee ballot today is the last day to return it either through mail or by hand delivering it to your courthouse absentee ballot manager’s office.

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