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Holt Receives $250,000 for Senior Activity Center

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Staff Report

Alabama Department of Economic Development Awards Grant

From the Office of Representative John Merrill

Tuscaloosa, Alabama – State Representative John Merrill announced today that the Holt community in Tuscaloosa County has received a $250,000 block grant from the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA) to build a Senior Activity Center with a “safe room”. The Senior Activity Center will be located on a portion of the Holt Elementary School site on Crescent Ridge Road.

The funds have been released from available Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Funds, and Tuscaloosa County is matching the block grant with $157,335, bringing the total amount of money for the Senior Activity Center to $407,335.

The Senior Activity Center will contain a “safe room” to be used in emergencies, specifically in storm-related incidences.

State Representative Merrill personally thanked Probate Judge Hardy McCollum, County Commissioner Gary Youngblood, the entire County Commission, and County Planning Director Farrington Snipes for their outstanding leadership and support in making this possible.

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Opinion | Alabama Republicans can’t manage the crisis they helped create

Josh Moon

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On Tuesday, Alabama’s governor called together the state’s media, in the midst of a global pandemic, so they could broadcast pictures of her tying a ribbon around a post to remind people to pray for healthcare workers. 

Surrounding Gov. Kay Ivey at the event were various pastors from churches in and around Montgomery. And they each were given time to speak about the importance of prayer and remembering those who are risking their lives. 

It was a nice gesture. And possibly the clearest indication yet that Ivey and the Republicans that are in charge of Alabama haven’t the faintest idea of how to lead this state through a crisis. 

They have no real plan. They have no ideas for how to address the mounting problems. They have been completely and thoroughly overwhelmed by the COVID-19 outbreak since the start. 

And so, they have turned to what they know best: Pointless pandering. 

Except, you can’t folksy your way out of this mess. You can’t blame the black folks and throw money at a few jobs and hope no one notices that you don’t know what you’re doing. 

And that’s a problem in this state. 

Because the ALGOP leadership of this state has built its brand on division and distraction. It has used petty nonsense, like the protection of racist monuments, and emotional ploys, mostly built around religion and false claims about abortions, to seize and maintain control of Alabama’s government, even as they totally wreck the place. 

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They’ve gotten away with it because up until now no singular event has simultaneously exposed how their incompetence has negatively affected the lives of so many Alabamians in almost every racial and economic demographic. 

And then along came coronavirus. 

It has laid bare all of it. And the devastating reality of this void of leadership continues to grow day after day as the bodies pile up. 

Now, just so we’re clear and so no half-wit starts clamoring on that I’m blaming the ALGOP leadership for the coronavirus, I’m most certainly not doing that. I’m blaming ALGOP’s lack of leadership for the excessive number of deaths that will occur in this state, and for the many thousands of lives that will be forever ruined by the hospital bills that result from this. 

And make no mistake, there is blood on their hands. 

The refusal to expand Medicaid alone has effects that will eventually negatively impact every single person in this state. That purely political decision that makes no practical sense if politics is removed has already cost thousands of lives around Alabama over the last six years. The devastation from the current crisis is going to be staggering. 

Not only are uninsured people who contract coronavirus less likely to go for testing or to seek treatment until the latter stages of the disease (meaning they’ll spread it far and wide), a good portion of people are responding more negatively to the virus because they have underlying conditions that have gone undetected and untreated for years. Because people without insurance don’t go to the doctor.  

Even if the virus doesn’t kill them, many of those uninsured citizens in Alabama will face unmanageable medical bills. A study from the independent nonprofit FAIR Health found that the average cost to treat coronavirus for an uninsured person was around $75,000. If a ventilator is required, the bill jumps to more than $200,000. 

And with a fresh crop of unemployed Alabamians — more than 200,000 claims filed as of Monday — that’s a whole mess of people who are suddenly missing insurance and the ability to pay their hospital bills. 

Which, of course, means that more Alabama hospitals will close. There have already been 14 closures over the past eight years, and there are at least three more small hospitals teetering on the brink of bankruptcy right now. By the time this is said and done, the only cities that will have hospitals will be Huntsville, Birmingham, Montgomery and Mobile. And a few of those aren’t looking so great. 

And not having a hospital within 30 miles is an issue that affects everyone — not just poor people. 

The news is even worse for black Alabamians — a phrase that black Alabamians know too well. More than half the state’s deaths from coronavirus have been black people. A staggering figure when you consider that only 27 percent of Alabama’s population is black. 

The reason for this, Dr. Selwyn Vickers, dean of the UAB School of Medicine, suggested is that the African American population in Alabama — high in poverty and low in insurance coverage — is possibly more susceptible to the virus due to underlying medical conditions that have gone untreated due to a lack of routine and preventative visits to a doctor. 

After all, you don’t go to the doctor very much if you don’t have insurance. 

And you don’t have insurance in Alabama if you don’t receive it from a job. 

And you don’t have a job with great benefits, including health insurance, if you live in a predominantly black county in Alabama. 

And you don’t have a job with those benefits in those counties because the state of Alabama has done a suspiciously poor job of using incentive dollars to steer relocating companies to those counties. 

So, you see, the mismanagement goes well beyond simply not expanding Medicaid. And that is true even when focusing only on this current crisis. 

From the mixed messages of “folks, we’re not California or New York or even Louisiana” to the insistence on protecting businesses over people to the absurd stay-at-home-unless-you-need-to-go-out-for-something order, Ivey’s responses — when she’s popped out every 3-4 days — have been a disaster. 

But to her credit, I guess, at least she’s doing something. The state legislature, where ALGOP enjoys a super-majority, literally did nothing but adjourn as this virus started to spread. 

As the crisis grows, we have also realized that the ALGOP mission to underfund every government agency so they can issue a press release touting the tax “savings” isn’t really paying off so swell. Thanks to those funding cuts, pretty much every department needed in this crisis is understaffed, poorly trained and poorly equipped. 

The Alabama Department of Public Health has been a national laughing stock, despite the best efforts of its employees. They’ve lacked the tools and personnel to adequately do the job for years. And it shows. 

How bad is it? 

Louisiana is lapping us. And we lost sight of Mississippi a long time ago. 

But they’re not the only ones. The Department of Labor can’t keep up with unemployment claims, and its online operation has been down more than it’s been functional over the past several days. And the Revenue Department is again going to delay issuing tax refunds. 

But perhaps the best example of just where we are came on Wednesday, in a story reported by al.com. In 2009, Alabama had a pandemic plan, and it had used federal dollars — in the midst of a national recession, mind you — to stockpile ventilators and personal protective equipment for doctors and nurses. We were ready for COVID-19. 

In 2009. 

But in 2010, ALGOP stormed the state house. And, well, here we are. 

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Education

Slight decline in number of Alabama graduates attending college, report shows

Jessa Reid Bolling

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The number of Alabama high school graduates enrolling in college has slightly decreased over the last five years, according to a report published by a nonpartisan research group based at Samford University.

The Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama (PARCA) has a tradition of reporting college-going rates for Alabama and its local systems and schools.

The percentage of high school graduates in Alabama enrolling in college after graduating in 2018 remained the same as the graduating class of 2017, at 62 percent. The number and percentage attending two-year colleges slightly increased. The number and percentage of recent graduates entering four-year colleges both slightly decreased.

The data, drawn by ACHE from the National Student Clearinghouse, follows Alabama public high school students who graduated in the spring of 2018 and enrolled in higher education in the fall or spring of 2019. The data includes records for in-state and out-of-state institutions, both public and private.

Over the past five years, the college-going rates for Alabama’s high school graduates have declined slightly. In 2014, the first year this set of statistics was produced, 65 percent of high school graduates enrolled in college the year after their graduation. In both 2017 and 2018, 62 percent of graduates enrolled.

At the same, the size of the senior classes has been larger and graduation rates have been higher. That has produced more high school graduates going into college. 

While 2018’s 62 percent college-going rate is tied for the lowest rate over this five year period, the actual number of graduates enrolling in college increased in 2018 compared to 2017. Only in 2016 did more students attend college, 31,414 in 2016, compared to 31,337 students in 2018.

However, the larger classes of seniors and higher graduation rates have resulted in greater numbers of students graduating with a high school diploma but not immediately continuing their education. Among graduates of the Class of 2018, 19,191 did not enroll in higher education after graduating high school.

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The report found that the top five systems sending students to four-year colleges includes:

  • Mountain Brook City: 86 percent
  • Vestavia Hills: 79 percent
  • Homewood City: 71 percent
  • Hoover City: 64 percent
  • Trussville City: 59 percent

The report also found that the top five systems sending students to two-year colleges includes:

  • Lamar County: 67 percent
  • Boaz City: 69 percent
  • Roanoke City: 60 percent
  • Marion County: 57 percent
  • Winfield City and Winston County: 55 percent
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News

Sewell announces $4.2 million in funding for community health centers

Brandon Moseley

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Wednesday, U.S. Congresswoman Terri Sewell (D-Selma) announced $4,227,190 in funding for community health centers (CHC) throughout Alabama’s 7th Congressional District as part of the funding allocated by the CARES Act.

“Our health care workers and health care centers are our first line of defense in combatting this deadly virus,” said Rep. Sewell. “I am grateful for this substantial investment, which will provide much needed assistance to our overextended system, particularly to our community health centers, who fill an urgent need within our rural and urban communities. I will continue to fight to make sure that Alabama’s 7th Congressional District receives the support and resources we need to ensure the safety and health of our community.”

“The CARES Act will really be beneficial to those who have been affected by the Coronavirus,” said CEO of Whatley Health Services, Inc. David Gay. “This helps to put food on the table for those who may not have food on the table. Our thanks to Congresswoman Sewell, who continues to fight for those who live not just paycheck to paycheck, but day to day.”

The CARES Act, Congress’ third COVID-19 response bill, allocated $100 billion to the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund to help fight COVID-19 and $1.32 billion in supplemental funding to community health centers (CHC.) This is the second round of funding received by these CHC, who received initial funding through the first COVID-19 response bill passed by Congress, the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act.

Sewell’s office said that this most recent round of funding represents a substantial investment in Alabama’s health care response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are thankful for the dedicated work of Congresswoman Sewell and our entire delegation in making sure solutions are available to help our patients and community through the unprecedented chaos that surrounds us,” said CEO Christ Health Center Dr. Robert Record.

“We truly appreciate the efforts that Congresswoman Sewell and our other representatives have made in helping community health centers to equip ourselves with the tools we need to fight this pandemic,” said CEO Rural Medical Health Program, Inc. Keshee Dozier. “These funds are greatly needed and will be used to test current and future patients who may not have access to a primary care provider. With this funding, we can now put together a plan to maintain our employees, stay staffed and plan ahead, buying PPE for the future, not just month to month. We can now equip ourselves for what is needed.”

Congress is currently working on a fourth Coronavirus response bill to provide much needed resources and support in the face of this crisis.

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The Rural Health Medical Program, Inc. in Selma received $719,960 for coronavirus aid. Whatley Health Service Inc in Tuscaloosa will receive $1,215,500. Aletheia House, Inc. in Birmingham received $568,625. Christ Health Center, Inc. in Birmingham will get. $912,185. Alabama Regional Medical Services in Birmingham will receive $810,920

Congresswoman Terri Sewell represents Alabama’s Seventh Congressional District.

The U.S. has 435,160 confirmed COVID-19 cases. 14,797 Americans have died in the global pandemic, including 67 Alabamians. 22,891 Americans have recovered from their illness.

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Economy

Marshall: Local governments can provide subsidies to businesses impacted by the coronavirus

Brandon Moseley

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Small business has long been described as “the backbone of America”; but that backbone has been severely tested by the coronavirus and the forced economic shutdown being used to fight the spread of the deadly virus. Some Mobile businesses have asked the Mobile County Commission to provide essential businesses with funds to stay solvent during the crisis. Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall has released an opinion stating that there is no statute under Alabama law directly permitting that; but that such a grant program “would be reasonable under the unprecedented circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic and its effect on small businesses.”

“Based upon our review of the Court’s historic treatment of the Public Purpose Doctrine, we believe such a determination would be reasonable under the unprecedented circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic and its effect on small businesses,” Marshall wrote. “It is reasonable to assert that, without the proposed grant program, hundreds or even thousands of small businesses in the County will not survive the period of time during which social distancing measures are enforced. Such a loss of business activity will undoubtedly have a negative impact on the development of the County’s economy and the ability of the County to attract new economic or industrial activity to the area.”

“We have been asked whether the Mobile County Commission may grant public funds to private individuals and/or entities whose small business operations in the County have been financially harmed as a result of measures imposed by state and local governmental and health authorities to combat the public health emergency caused by the 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) global pandemic,” Marshall wrote. “As would be expected in such unprecedented times, there is no legal authority directly on point to the precise circumstances currently faced by the County and its residents. Accordingly, we believe it would benefit the Commission to review how appropriations to private individuals and corporations have been treated historically under the provisions of the Alabama Constitution.”

Marshall wrote that under the Public Purpose Doctrine, “Section 94 of the Alabama Constitution (1901) generally prohibits counties and municipalities from giving anything of value to private individuals or entities. In Opinion of the Justices, 49 So. 2d 175 (Ala. 1950), the Alabama Supreme Court said: “It has been pointed out that the evil to be remedied is the expenditure of public funds in aid of private individuals or corporations, regardless of the form which such expenditures may take, and that Section 94 prohibits, in the words of the decision in Garland v. Board of Revenue of Montgomery County, 6 So. 402 (Ala. 1889), ‘any aid … by which a pecuniary liability is incurred’.””

“Throughout the twentieth century, Alabama courts held that expenditures that serve a “public purpose” do not violate Section 94,” Marshall explained. “See, e.g., Stone v. State ex rel. Horn, 37 So. 2d 111 (Ala. 1948) (“The State could not appropriate its funds nor those of the counties to individuals by general law… unless it be for a public purpose…”). What constitutes a public purpose? Black’s Law Dictionary states that a public purpose “…is synonymous with governmental purpose… [It] has for its objective the promotion of the public health, safety, morals, general welfare, security, prosperity, and contentment of all the inhabitants or residents with a given political division….”

Marshall wrote that the “Alabama Supreme Court has defined “public purpose” as one that “promotes the health, safety, morals, security, prosperity, contentment, and general welfare of the community.” Slawson v. Alabama Forestry Commission.”

Marshall cautioned however that, “Based on the requirements of Section (c)(2) of the Amendment, we believe notice of the action to be taken by the County must list the companies to be supported: At least seven days prior to the public meeting, a notice is published in the newspaper having the largest circulation in the county or municipality, as the case may be, describing in reasonable detail the action proposed to be taken, a description of the public benefits sought to be achieved by the action, and identifying each individual, firm, corporation, or other business entity to whom or for whose benefit the county or the municipality proposes to lend its credit or grant public funds or thing of value.”

Restauranteur and former County Commissioner Stephen Nodine said that many businesses in Mobile’s hospitality industry will not survive without help to make payroll and pay essential bills such as power bills and payments to suppliers and venders.

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Nodine said that the County health officer orders restaurants and bars to close without any warning. Many businesses will not be able to reopen even with the federal loans provided by the CARES Act.

Nodine said that the $1200 per person checks will do little to help entrepreneur’s who have forcibly shutdown due to the coronavirus.

Nodine suggested that the state legislature meet and pass relief for small businesses statewide. If they can write checks for Airbus and Thyssenkrupp they can help small businesses. Nodine suggested the county industrial development boards be tasked with managing the grant program.

The Mobile County Commission will consider this proposal later today.

A record 1,922 Americans died from COVID-19 on Wednesday taking the total death total to 14,797, including 67 Alabamians. Dining rooms at restaurants, bars, salons, barbershops, book stores, department stores, bowling alleys, furniture stores, tanning salons, gyms, athletic facilities and other nonessential businesses have been ordered shut down by Governor kay Ivey (R) through April 30.

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