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PSC VOTES TO REAUTHORIZE UTILITY RATE REDUCTIONS AS INCENTIVE FOR SMALL BUSINESSES AND JOB CREATION

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Staff Report

From the Office of Alabama Public Service Commission

Montgomery – The Alabama Public Service Commission on Tuesday unanimously voted to reauthorize a series of utility rate reductions originally pushed by Commissioner Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh to provide incentives to small business owners.

“I’ve often said that the Public Service Commission has been underutilized as a job creation and economic development tool, and the success of these utility rate incentives, along with their unanimous reauthorization, shows we have just begun to tap the agency’s potential,” Cavanaugh said.  “By helping business owners cut overhead costs while incentivizing them to help lower our unemployment rate, we can get Alabama’s economy moving again.”

Cavanaugh said she hopes the reauthorization will also help fill empty existing storefronts and redevelop areas of towns and cities plagued by economic inaction, which are goals she set when originally proposing the incentives.

The commissioner noted that 77 small businesses have taken advantage of the incentives, and she believes many more will avail themselves of the opportunity as word of the program continues to spread.

Among the details of the reauthorization approved by the Commission were:

In order to encourage businesses to utilize unused storefronts and office space, the Commission reauthorized a 15% monthly discount on charges for electricity when a new account is established in an existing building that has been unoccupied for at least six months.  The rate does not apply to businesses merely moving locations.  This community redevelopment incentive extends to all qualifying service agreements that begin before January 1, 2013.

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Small businesses that add additional employees and increase power usage will continue to qualify for a rate reduction for 24 months, according to Cavanaugh.  A 10% discount on monthly rates will be in effect for the first year and a 5% reduction for the second.  This incentive extends to all qualifying service agreements that begin before January 1, 2016.

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President Trump’s support rises during his handling of the coronavirus crisis

Brandon Moseley

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President Donald Trump is benefitting in recent job approval polls from the national focus on the coronavirus and his handling of the crisis.

In January, America was experiencing its best economy in over 50 years. The stock market was booming, corporate profits were up, taxes were down, incomes were rising, unemployment was at record lows, the American dream appeared more achievable for more Americans than ever before and the nation faced no pressing problems. That was until a new strain of coronavirus first appeared in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China in late 2019. It arrived in this country by January 20. The growing spread of the virus, led the White House to implement an unprecedented forced economic shutdown and new social distancing policies to fight the spread of the virus.

While the Draconian economic orders have resulted in tremendous economic dislocation the American people are largely rallying behind the President’s policy and he is experiencing his approval ratings since 2018.

According to a recent Hill-HarrisX poll, Trump’s approval rating is now at fifty percent, 50 percent of registered voters approved of Trump’s job performance, while 50 percent still disapprove. The last time Trump’s approval reached 50 percent or higher was August 2018 at 51 percent support.

85 percent of Republican voters approve; while just 19 percent of Democrats approve of Trump’s job performance. The poll was conducted on March 22 to 23.

A Gallup poll showed that Trump’s job approval has risen from 44 percent on March 16 to 49 percent nine days later. This ties the highest rating of his entire presidency in the Gallup poll set in January during his impeachment trial. The President’s has enjoyed strong support among Republicans; but his approval numbers have risen with both Democrats and Independents to 13 percent and 43 percent respectively, rises of six percent and eight percent in the past two weeks as the US deals with the COVID-19 outbreak that has already killed hundreds in the country.

Trump was originally skeptical of the virus’s impact; but his unprecedented decisions three weeks ago to shut down most international air traffic, social distancing, and unprecedented decision to use a forced economic shutdown to slow the spread of the virus to save American lives has drawn high approval among voters.

Former State Representative Perry O. Hooper Jr. is a member of Trump’s national victory committee.

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“President Trump has done a tremendous job as Commander-in-Chief in the war against the Wuhan Coronavirus,” Hooper told the Alabama Political Reporter. “His widely criticized initial ban on non-American citizens traveling to our country from China, invoked in January, may have been the most important decision he made in fighting this deadly disease. This is leadership that has saved countless American lives.”

Trump and his White House coronavirus task force, led by Vice President Mike Pence (R), have regularly addressed the nation urging them to follow the social distancing guidelines and not to panic.

“President Trump has surrounded himself with the brightest medical minds in the world,” Hooper said.
“He is spending hours each day listening to their very candid advise. Daily the President stands alongside with his team leader Vice President Mike Pence. They speak directly to the American people boiling down the complex health and economic issues caused by the Wuhan coronavirus into common sense answers the American public can understand.”

“As a result, Americans are seeing a direct and accountable, solution-driven, business approach being applied to the greatest national emergency since the bombing of Pearl Harbor that forced us into World War II,” Hooper said. “As a result, the approval ratings for President Trump’s handling of the crisis have skyrocketed.”

There has been tremendous economic upheaval from the decision to shut down much of the economy. The White House maintains that this is necessary to save lives.

“Optimal solutions are not always pretty; but in times of crisis, great leaders know they must generate optimal solutions,” Hooper explained. “This crisis requires balancing the healthcare needs of the country with the economic livelihood of everyday Americans. President Trump is focused on achieving optimal solutions by implementing his “Whole Nation Solution”. This solution is about the public and private sector working hand in hand doing everything in their power to defeat this unseen enemy. Governors across the nation such as New York’s Andrew Cuomo have put aside political differences to work with the President and his team to defeat the Wuhan virus. Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate have come together to work with the White House to pass badly needed legislation to keep American workers whole and keep businesses in a position to resume operations.”

Democrats and the mainstream media have been critical of the President’s handling of the situation as sending mixed messages and not going far enough.

“The Trump-hating media is still attacking the President even when he is facing the worst public-health crisis this nation has seen in decades,” Hooper countered. “Their principal effort has been to stir up and maintain a state of public fear that grips the country while they snipe and carp at any shortcoming they discover or invent in the President’s statements.”

There are fears that the forced economic shutdown will cause a deep and long-lasting recession and “that the cure could be worse” than the virus. To address this, the President negotiated a bipartisan $two trillion stimulus package to pump some liquidity into the system in the form of relief payments to: businesses, corporations, states, education systems, hospitals, and families. The CARES Act was passed and signed into law by the President on Friday.

“We must support as a unified nation our President’s delicate balancing act,”.Hooper said. “We must keep the country safe while simultaneously getting our great American economy back up and running sooner rather than later.”

The White House is predicting that even with the economic shutdown and the social distancing that 100,000 to 240,000 Americans will still die. The White House Coronavirus task force argues that as many as two million Americans would have died without these efforts. On Tuesday, the President and his team warned that if Americans fail to take this crisis seriously and don’t practice social distancing over a million of us could perish in the coming months.

As of press time, 188,592 Americans have been confirmed with COVID-19. 4,056 have died. The U.S. now has more confirmed cases than any other country, with outbreaks rapidly growing in New York, New Jersey, Louisiana, Michigan, Florida and other states. 24 Alabamians have died. 7,256 Americans have already recovered from their illnesses and 4,576 are in critical or serious condition.

(Original reporting by the Hill and Fox News contributed to this report.)

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National

Economy retools to fight COVID-19

Brandon Moseley

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The Ford Motor Company has announced that they, in collaboration with GE Healthcare, will begin building ventilators designed by Airon Corp. at their plant in Rawsonville, Michigan.

The United Auto Workers Union has already given their full support to the move. The joint venture between Ford and GE Healthcare to produce the GE/Airon Model A-E ventilator is targeted to start the week of April 20 at Ford’s Rawsonville (Mich.) Components Plant

Ford expects to produce 50,000 of the ventilators within the next 100 days, with the ability to produce 30,000 a month thereafter if needed.

As of press time, 188,592 Americans have been confirmed with COVID-19. 4,056 have died. The U.S. now has more confirmed cases than any other country on Earth. New York alone has 75,983 cases that have already resulted in 1,714 deaths. Alabama has 999 confirmed cases that have resulted in 24 deaths. 4,576, including dozens in Alabama, are in critical or serious condition. Many of the serious or critical care patients require ventilators.

The simplified ventilator design is licensed by GE Healthcare from Florida-based Airon Corp. and is responsive to the needs of most COVID-19 patients, and operates on air pressure without the need for electricity.

Ford and GE Healthcare have previously announced program to increase production capacity of existing GE Healthcare ventilators.

The White House is actively seeking to retool much of the American economy to deal with the growing threat of the coronavirus strain, SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19.

Economic developer Dr. Nicole Jones said, “Involving the private sector in the COVID-19 crisis is essential because in many instances, the private sector has the ability to work at a much faster pace than government can. Ford teaming with GE to build ventilators is an excellent example of how companies can quickly adapt to the needs of the market and assist the nation during a critical time in history.”

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On Monday, Alabama Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield briefed legislators on state efforts to convert existing Alabama companies to the production of personal protection equipment (PPEs) and other medical equipment.

“Secretary Greg Canfield and the Alabama Department of Commerce share a similar mindset and are currently working with 30 Alabama-based companies that have the capacity to manufacture COVID-19 personal protection equipment (PPE),” Dr. Jones said. “Stay tuned for updates in the near future.”

Also on Monday, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey (R) told legislators that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers under the command of U.S. Army Major General Diana Holland is already on the ground evaluating hotels for conversion into COVID-19 hospitals in Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, Auburn, Montgomery, Mobile, and Huntsville.

On Sunday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, told CNN’s Jake Tapper that the White House expects millions of Americans to get COVID-19 and that 100,000 to 200,000 will die.

Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, America had approximately 96,000 intensive care beds total across the country and they were about 65 percent occupied. That left approximately thirty thousand available. Already COVID-19 is taking up thousands of those available beds.

Alabama Public Health Officer Scott Harris told the legislators that hospitals are converting extra space such as waiting rooms into new intensive care wards.

The Alabama National Guard stands ready to help convert the hotels to hospitals, if necessary, and staff them; but there is still tremendous needs for equipment and supplies like ventilators and PPE forcing the U.S. to begin retooling the economy.

Hotels are ideal for fast conversions into hospitals because they already have water, air conditioning, electricity, and bathrooms in each room and the rooms are connected by hallways. Office buildings with the cubicle arrangements would be more difficult to convert as would warehouses that just have a lot of empty space.

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Roby: Together we can get through the coronavirus crisis

Brandon Moseley

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Congresswoman Martha Roby, R-Montgomery, said Monday in an email to constituents that together we can “help lower the spread of COVID-19 in our communities.”

“Alabamians as far as all four corners of the state feel the challenges faced by this unfamiliar pandemic,” Roby said. “The past few weeks have been marked with a feeling of uncertainty, but that has not stopped the great people of Alabama from rising above the unknown and putting all best efforts forward to help lower the spread of COVID-19 in our communities. It is important to remember the advice and guidelines we have all become familiar with during this period of time.”

“Social distancing can greatly decrease the spread of COVID-19 in your community and potentially save lives when properly practiced,” Roby explained. “It is best to stay home as much as possible and to only leave when it is absolutely necessary. This is the biggest way Americans can do their part to lower infection rates across the country.”

“Practice keeping yourself and your home clean. It is crucial to wash your hands as often as possible and to disinfect commonly used surfaces in your household,” Roby continued. “Take steps to protect others. If you feel you may be sick, stay home and away from others in your household. If someone in your family is sick, stay home as well. Cover a cough or sneeze with your elbow instead of your hand. Avoid any close contact with others. These practices are especially important for people who are at a higher risk of getting sick.”

As the virus spreads there is growing demand for coronavirus testing.

“Do not immediately seek testing if you do not show symptoms of COVID-19,” Roby said. “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and ADPH recommend contacting your primary care physician before seeking any medical care. This way, your doctor can evaluate your situation and take steps to prevent infection within their office. If you believe COVID-19 symptoms are present, contact your doctor immediately. Together we will combat COVID-19.”

“The President stated Sunday evening that the Coronavirus Task Force has made the decision to extend social distancing guidelines until April 30,” Roby announced. “This decision was based off current data and models, as well as the expertise of doctors and healthcare officials. I encourage you all to continue doing your part by following the suggested guidelines.”

On Tuesday, the Trump administration addressed the nation on the coronavirus global pandemic urging citizens to heed the calls to practice social distancing and avoid unnecessary travel.

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The United States is two weeks into a forced economic shutdown that has closed schools, businesses, and left millions of people unemployed. On Tuesday, the President’s coronavirus task force urged Americans to avoid social interaction as a means to lower the spread of the virus. The White House predicts that if we follow the social distancing recommendations that only 100,000 to 240,000 Americans will die in the global pandemic. If not, over a million Americans may die in the coming months from COVID-19.

“We’re going to go through a very tough two weeks, and then hopefully … we’re going to start seeing some real light at the end of the tunnel,” President Donald J. Trump (R) said in remarks from the White House briefing room Tuesday. “As a nation, we face a difficult few weeks as we approach that really important day when we’re going to see things get better all of a sudden. Our strength will be tested, and our endurance will be tried, but America will answer with love and courage and ironclad resolve.”

The forced economic shutdown that has closed bars, restaurant dining rooms, Churches, barber shops, nail salons, department stores, book stores, tattoo parlors, hair stylists, schools, concert halls, jewelry stores, furniture stores, and other “non-essential businesses” has resulted in tremendous economic hardship as lives and career plans have been derailed for millions. The White House Coronavirus task force maintains that the economic hardship is necessary to save hundreds of thousands of American lives, perhaps a million or more.

Dr. Anthony Fauci said, “This is tough. People are suffering. People are dying. It’s inconvenient from a societal standpoint, from an economic standpoint to go through this, but this is going to be the answer to our problems.”

The President had previously projected ending the shutdown by Easter Sunday, April 5. Instead the task force is asking Americans to continue the guidelines through April 30.

Dr. Deborah Birx explained that their decision to continue this for another four weeks is based on computer modeling showing that without these measures to mitigate the spread of the virus then between 1.5 and 2.2 million Americans would have died from COVID-19 and still could if people don’t heed the social distancing guidelines of the task force.

Americans have been hoping for a cure or a vaccine; but, even if eventually developed, these won’t be here in time.

“There’s no magic bullet,” Dr. Birx said. “There’s no magic vaccine or therapy. It’s just behaviors.”

Birx said that the White House social distancing strategy, if embraced by the public, could change “the course of the viral pandemic.”

While the White House is predicting 100,000 to 240,000 deaths both Fauci and Birx stressed that fewer Americans would die if Americans would actually embrace the social distancing guidelines: no hand shaking, six feet between the nearest person, hand washing, no social gathering, no unnecessary shopping or travel, avoiding businesses except when absolutely necessary, and shelter in place.

“We really believe and hope every day that we can do a lot better than that,” Birx said.

The White House is relying on a model produced by Dr. Christopher Murray of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.

As of press time, 188,592 Americans have been confirmed with COVID-19. 4,056 have already died, including 24 Alabamians. There are 999 confirmed cases in 59 of Alabama’s 67 counties.

Martha Roby represents Alabama’s Second Congressional District.

(Original reporting by the Hill contributed to this report.)

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Health

Three firefighters, police officer in Mobile test positive for COVID-19

Eddie Burkhalter

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Three firefighters and a police officer in Mobile have tested positive for COVID-19, city officials said Tuesday.

James Barber, executive director of public safety with the city of Mobile, said during a press conference Tuesday that the four city employees tested positive.

The positives come after Mobile-based Synergy Laboratories donated 500 “test kits” and 131 asymptomatic first responders were given the 10-minute rapid blood tests on Monday.  

Barber said the four employees have been quarantined at home until swab tests confirm the virus and physicians provide further guidance.

The rapid blood tests search for antibodies in the blood, which could show a past infection, but not necessarily active infections that are still contagious.

The swab tests will confirm an active infection if one exists. It’s possible the first responders have already recovered from the virus and are no longer contagious.

“That testing continues today,” Barber said of the rapid blood testing of first responders.

Barber said he didn’t have results from Tuesday’s testing yet, but that Monday’s testing resulted in just more than 3 percent of those tested showing positive results for COVID-19. 

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There were 53 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and one death from the virus in Mobile County as of Tuesday evening, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health. 

As of Tuesday evening, there were 999 confirmed COVID-19 cases across Alabama, 13 confirmed deaths from the virus and 23 total reported deaths, some of them not yet confirmed as being caused by the virus.

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