Connect with us

News

Roby is Preparing to Work Through Christmas to Resolve Fiscal Cliff Crisis

Brandon Moseley

Published

on

By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

If the President and the Congress can not come into agreement on fiscal policy the nation will fall off the fiscal cliff on January 1. The fiscal cliff crisis will affect almost every American and has the potential to plunge the country back into Recession. U.S. Representative Martha Roby (R) from Montgomery says that she will work through Christmas to protect her constituents from higher taxes and devastating spending cuts to America’s defenses.

Representative Roby said, “This is a critical period for negotiations in Washington.  The ‘fiscal cliff’ has real-world consequences for this country and for families in Alabama’s 2nd Congressional District. I’m committed to working through the Christmas holiday if that’s what it takes to find a solution, and I encourage the House leadership to continue its ongoing dialogue with the White House and the Senate. I believe there is a way to find common ground without compromising our principles, and I am hopeful that a good agreement can be reached.”

Rep. Roby said, “The federal government’s huge annual deficits are fueled by spending that is too high, not by taxes that are too low. I believe the House leadership understands that new taxes will hurt the economy and do little to bring down the deficit. I have also personally communicated to my colleagues the importance of avoiding deep automatic cuts to the military. There are other areas of the government more deserving of further cuts, and certainly reforming entitlement spending is the key to constraining future spending. I look forward to reviewing the product of these negotiations, but I will withhold judgment until my staff and I have the opportunity to carefully review the specifics of a written legislative proposal.”

Without some sort of a compromise, in 2013, the six income tax brackets of 2012 will be replaced with five tax brackets and more Americans will pay income taxes. The new tax rates will begin at 15 percent and rise to as high as 39.6 percent.  This year the tax rates began at 10 percent and rose to just 35 percent. Most Americans (not just the wealthy) will see higher taxes.

Even lower income Americans pay the employee payroll tax rate. On Jan. 1, 2013, the current 4.2 percent employee payroll tax rate will revert back to 6.2 percent. The higher tax rate contribution to social security will be borne by lower and middle class Americans. Be prepared for smaller net pay when you get your paycheck in January.

Rep. Roby said that the average American household would pay $3,500 more to the federal government in 2013 than they did in 2012.

Long term Capital Gains taxes will also increase and not just for Warren Buffet.  Currently if you are in the 10% or 15% income tax brackets you pay no capital gains taxes. Starting in 2013 that will increase from 0 to 10%. Taxpayers who are in the current 25% and 35% income tax brackets currently pay 15 percent on the sale of an asset held for more than a year. In 2013 that is scheduled to increase to 20 percent. If you are planning the sale of stocks, real estate or another long term asset, there will be a tax benefit to taking that income in December as opposed to putting it off to January.

Advertisement

Currently, qualified dividends are treated by the current tax code as long-term capital gains and pay the appropriate capital gains rate. In 2013 they will be taxed as ordinary income. Lower income taxpayers pay nothing on qualified dividends now. In 2013 that will jump to their current income tax rate. For upper income taxpayers this will result in an increase from 15 percent to a tax rate as high as 39.6 percent.

The fiscal cliff will also affect your itemized deductions. In 2012, the itemized deduction for uninsured medical expenses paid equals the excess of qualified expenses over 7.5% of adjusted gross income (AGI). In2013, the threshold rises to 10% of AGI. Seniors (taxpayers 65 year old and older) get an exemption and they will not be subject to the 10% threshold until Jan. 1, 2017. If you will be impacted by the threshold change you should accelerate medical expenses into 2012. A surgery performed in December will likely mean a bigger tax benefit than one which is postponed until January.

In 2013, high income taxpayers’ itemized reductions will be reduced by 3 percent of the amount that their AGI exceeds an annual threshold amount. In 2012, there was no threshold amount and expenses claimed on Schedule A are not subject to any limitation regardless of income. This will also affect state returns for residents of Maryland, Connecticut, New Jersey and Virginia where a majority of residents utilize itemized deductions instead of a standard deduction.

Families will also be impacted.  In 2013, the Child Tax Credit will decreases from $1,000 to $500 for each qualifying dependent child, although the cost of feeding, clothing, and educating children has not decreased.

Similarly, the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit will be reduced in 2013 to a maximum of $2,400 (down from $3,000) for one child and $4,800 (down from $6,000) for two or more dependents. The credit remains at between 20 percent and 30 percent of those amounts, based on taxpayer income.

The American Opportunity Tax Credit, which provides families a tax credit of up to $2,500 per year for 4 years of college education, will expire on December 31, 2012. In 2013, the tax credit will be decreased to a maximum of just $1,900 per year for two years.

The marriage penalty will return with a vengeance.  In 2012, the standard deduction for a married couple was twice the standard deduction of an unmarried individual filing a single return.  In 2013, the standard deduction for a married couple will be decreased to 167 percent of the single filer’s deduction.

Also the President’s reelection means that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) will become the law of the land and a tax provision in that legislation will impose an additional 3.8% tax on the unearned income of high income taxpayers. This will apply to interest, dividends, capital gains, royalties and rents. This change will result in a maximum long-term capital gains tax rate of 23.8 percent and a 43.4 percent tax rate on dividends.

Also be prepared to be hit with higher estate taxes. The Federal Estate Tax Exemption will drop to just $1 million (down from $5.12 million in 2012) and will be taxed at 55 percent (up from 35 percent now). For example, under current law if you owned a farm or business worth $6 million and died today you would exempt the first $5.12 million and your loved ones would pay taxes on the remaining $880,000, thus would owe the federal government $308,000. The owner of the same farm or business who died in 2013 would owe much more.

After exempting the first $million, the rest of the estate would be taxed at 55%. In this example, the family would owe the IRS $2,750,000 and would likely have to liquidate that family farm or business to pay the tax burden. That tax rate will also applies to gift taxes, so be prepared to schedule time with your estate planner.

Meanwhile the interest rates on student loans are about to increase because the Congressional extension of the 3.4 percent fixed rate on the subsidized Stafford loan will expire. If not extended, it will revert back to 6.8 percent.

Sequestration cuts will also lead to the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs many of them in the military and the defense sector.

Rep. Roby said, “Everybody likes to be home for the holidays, but I’m ready to work through Christmas to avert the “fiscal cliff” if that’s what is necessary. This is a critical time in Washington for negotiations that will have real-world consequences for this country and for families in Alabama.”

Congresswoman Martha Roby represents Alabama’s Second Congressional District.

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with six and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook.

Advertisement

Health

Jefferson County Health Department: Nursing homes can take in COVID-19 positive residents

Jessa Reid Bolling

Published

on

A letter from the Jefferson County Department of Health informed nursing homes that they can take in residents who have been treated for COVID-19 and still test positive for the virus if they meet certain requirements.

The letter, sent to Jefferson County nursing homes, reads that there is a “possibility that our hospitals will not have the capacity to care for a large number of patients infected with COVID-19, and the impact of COVID-19 on Long-Term Care Facilities that house our most vulnerable patients” as the reasoning behind why nursing homes can take in COVID-19 patients who still test positive for the virus. 

The criteria for accepting COVID-19 positive patients requires that the patients must meet two steps of criteria:

  • At least 3 days (72 hours) have passed since recovery, defined as resolution of fever without use of fever-reducing medications and improvement in respiratory symptoms (e.g., cough, shortness of breath); and
  • At least 7 days have passed since symptoms first appeared

The letter also says that patients who have tested positive for COVID-19 may return to a long-term care facility prior to the above criteria being met as long as the facility uses contact precautions as outlined in “Interim Infection Prevention and Control Recommendations for Patients with Suspected or Confirmed Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) in Healthcare Setting.”

The elderly and those with conditions that can weaken the immune system are considered the most at risk of serious illness and death from COVID-19.

John Matson, communications director for the Alabama Nursing Home Association (ANHA) said that this decision “goes against sound medical advice.”

“For the past month, Alabama nursing homes have been doing everything they can to prevent COVID-19 from entering their buildings,” Matson said. “Now, Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Mark Wilson wants nursing homes to accept patients who have tested positive for COVID-19 even though they still exhibit symptoms and have not fully recovered.

“That decision goes against sound medical advice,” Matson said. “Just last week, the American Medical Directors Association issued guidance stating that nursing homes should not admit a COVID-19 patient until the patient has two negative tests. Dr. Wilson’s decision places nursing home residents, those vulnerable to COVID-19, in great danger.”

Advertisement

The ANHA said two weeks ago that visitations at nursing home facilities will be restricted at Alabama nursing homes during the COVID-19 outbreak to prevent the spread of the disease and that nursing homes will follow the CDC guidelines for screening symptoms of COVID-19.

Matson said that nursing homes need resources to prevent the spread of COVID-19, not “orders from government officials to bring this horrible virus into the very place where our most vulnerable citizens live.”

“While the health officer is concerned about the capacity of local hospitals to meet the demands posed by the COVID-19 crisis, he (Wilson) does not cite a single example of a local hospital that is currently experiencing a capacity problem,” Matson said. “Our nursing homes are being stretched to the breaking point and not one penny of the money allocated by the federal government to fight this virus has made its way to a nursing home.”

The JCDH issued a response to concerns surrounding the letter, saying they were endorsing existing guidance from the CDC, not giving orders to nursing facilities. 

“This letter was an endorsement, not a Public Health Order, of existing guidance issued from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),” the statement from JCHD said. “In this guidance, the CDC outlines a non-test-based strategy for when a person can be considered not to be infectious due to COVID-19 when there is limited ability for a local area to perform COVID-19 testing.”

The JCDH said that patients who do test positive can return to their facilities if the facility follows guidance issued from the CDC with regard to personal protective equipment and appropriate isolation to protect all residents at the facility. If a nursing facility does not have the appropriate equipment to provide the requirements laid out in the CDC’s guidelines, then there is no expectation that the facility should admit a COVID-19-positive patient. 

“COVID-19 cases continue to increase, and the peak need for hospital beds is expected around the 3rd week of April, and the JCDH is working with our community partners to allow for as many hospital beds as possible to care for what will be a much greater than usual number of patients seeking medical care. 

We want to do everything possible to allow Jefferson County to be able to provide high-quality care to all who need it; ultimately, we do not want a hospital to have to turn away any patient because of a lack of hospital beds.”

There have been eight confirmed cases of COVID-19 in six Alabama nursing homes across the state. 

Statewide, Alabama nursing homes have reported eight confirmed cases of COVID-19 in six Alabama nursing homes. Two cases were reported at two separate nursing homes in Jefferson county. 

Continue Reading

Health

UAB launches symptom tracker to identify COVID-19 hot spots in Deep South

Jessa Reid Bolling

Published

on

To better track COVID-19 cases, experts from the University of Alabama at Birmingham have created a symptom checker to identify hot spots where the virus is spreading. 

The new website, called HelpBeatCOVID19.org, will provide public health officials insight into underserved areas based on the symptomatic data collected from the region and could help inform and enhance public health observation. 

“We are taking a look at COVID-19 symptoms alongside underlying medical conditions to provide public health officials an in-depth analysis of how rural areas are affected in real time,” said Sue Feldman, Ph.D., associate professor in the UAB School of Health Professions and UAB School of Medicine. “The website asks people about their symptoms to produce an interactive map showing how areas are effected and hot spots that are showing a rise in symptoms. We hope to learn more about how coronavirus is spreading in rural communities who have health disparities so we can help fight the spread of the disease.” 

People can fill out a short questionnaire on the website to report if they are experiencing symptoms related to the coronavirus. There are a series of questions addressing how one feels that day, current symptoms, pre-existing health conditions and basic social factors.

The website also has questions on social factors, such as neighborhood characteristics, economic factors and others that could play a part in understanding and acting upon any disparities in COVID-19 spread, such as access to affordable healthcare and access to transportation to a hospital. 

U.S. Senator Doug Jones praised the new website and encouraged people to participate to better inform public health workers on where the virus had spread. 

“This new daily symptom tracker will help public health officials track the spread of COVID-19 and identify coronavirus hot spots that need more resources, especially in Alabama’s underserved communities,” Jones said. “We all have to do our part to keep ourselves and the people around us healthy by participating in social distancing and having good hygiene, and this tool is another way to help our communities combat the spread of this virus.” 

Continue Reading

National

As cases surpass 1,100 in Alabama, still no “stay-at-home” order

Chip Brownlee

Published

on

The number of positive novel coronavirus cases in Alabama rocketed past a thousand Wednesday, but the state still has no shelter-in-place order — and Gov. Kay Ivey’s office says she is not ready to implement one.

“The governor remains committed to exploring all options and has not ruled anything out, but she hopes that we do not need to take this approach,” Ivey’s spokesperson said Wednesday.

By 6 p.m., there were 1,108 confirmed cases of the virus and at least 28 deaths statewide related to COVID-19. Cases grew by triple digits again after a brief lull in new cases Tuesday. But the infections are also widespread. Cases have been reported in 62 of the state’s 67 counties — and not just in the more urban ones.

Only one city in the state, Birmingham, has issued a shelter-in-place order. The city is in Jefferson County, which, in coordination with the city, has taken a stricter approach to handling the coronavirus outbreak because it has the most cases in the state.

The cities of Montgomery and Tuscaloosa have also implemented curfews, but they have far fewer cases per capita than many other areas of the state. (No. 30 and 31 out of 67 counties in per capita cases.)

But some of the hardest-hit counties in the state are outside of Jefferson County, and the health departments in those counties do not have as much authority to issue their own directives as Jefferson County and Mobile County do. They’re the only two health departments in the state that are independent with the legal authority to act autonomously from the state health department.

Cities and counties in some of the hardest-hit areas like Lee and Chambers counties have also not issued shelter-in-place orders by municipal ordinance as has been the case in Jefferson County.

Lee County and Chambers County in East Alabama have the highest infection rates in the state, and the highest per capita number of cases, yet the cities and counties there are following a statewide order that is less restrictive than the measures in place in Birmingham, Tuscaloosa or Montgomery.

Advertisement

Lee County has 83 cases, and Chambers County has 45. But per capita, Chambers County has 135 cases per 100,000. (For comparison, Jefferson County, where there are 302 cases, has only 46 cases per 100,000 people.) Chambers County also has the highest number of deaths per capita in the state, at 12 per 100,000 people.

The hospital that serves Lee, Chambers and the surrounding counties — East Alabama Medical Center — is currently treating 30 patients with a confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19. It has already discharged 16 other COVID-19 patients, and there are 12 more in the hospital with suspected cases of the virus.

While the hospital says it is currently stable in the number of ventilators and other equipment it has available, it is still asking for donations of some needed supplies like latex-free gloves and bleach wipes.

Aside from UAB in Birmingham, EAMC is currently treating the most COVID-19 patients, according to data APR collected over the past two days. As the state continues to avoid issuing a statewide stay-at-home or shelter-in-place order, East Alabama Medical Center is urging the residents in the area to act as if there has been an order issued.

“While there is not yet a mandate to shelter in place, EAMC encourages it as the best way to stop the spread of COVID-19,” the hospital said. “Community leaders, city officials and the media have shared this important message, but there are still reports of groups gathering, children playing in neighborhood parks, dinner parties, bible studies and other events.”

All of Alabama’s neighboring states have issued shelter-in-place orders. Mississippi, Georgia, Florida and Louisiana have done so. The governors of Mississippi, Florida and Georgia all decided to issue orders today after balking at the idea for weeks.

Ivey has taken steps to curb the spread of the virus. She and the Alabama Department of Health issued an order on March 19 that closed the state’s beaches and limited gatherings of 25 or more people. She’s also closed schools for the remainder of the academic year.

On Friday, March 27, Ivey ordered closed a number of different types of businesses including athletic events, entertainment venues, non-essential retail shops and service establishments with close contact. The state has also tightened its prohibition on social gatherings by limiting non-work related gatherings of 10 people or more.

Ivey’s order Friday is not that far off from a shelter-in-place order, but it lacks the force of telling the state’s residents to stay home if at all possible. A number of businesses and manufacturing facilities are also allowed to keep operating, though they have been encouraged to abide by social-distancing guidelines as much as possible.

But Ivey has said she doesn’t want to issue a shelter-in-place or stay-at-home order because she doesn’t want to put more stress on the economy.

“You have to consider all the factors, such as the importance of keeping businesses and companies open and the economy going as much as possible,” Ivey said on Friday.

Ivey’s spokesperson Wednesday said the governor has taken appropriate action thus far.

“In consultation with the Coronavirus Task Force, the governor and the Alabama Department of Public Health have taken aggressive measures to combat COVID-19,” her spokesperson, Gina Maiola, said. “The governor’s priority is protecting the health, safety and well-being of all Alabamians, and their well-being also relies on being able to have a job and provide for themselves and their families. Many factors surround a statewide shelter-in-place, and Alabama is not at a place where we are ready to make this call.”

Continue Reading

Governor

The behind-the-scenes efforts to combat COVID-19

Bill Britt

Published

on

Some days it seems the only visible action state government is taking is to update the public on the number of COVID-19 cases and those who have died from the disease.

But in these times of dire public uncertainty, Gov. Kay Ivey’s team is working diligently to solve a myriad of problems facing the state.

In fact, the governor’s Capitol office suites are a hive of activity solely aimed at protecting Alabamians.

Ivey has established three groups to assess and address the various situations facing every sector of state healthcare and emergency needs, as well as the economic concerns of individuals and businesses.

The groups are led by former C.E.O.s, health professionals, or military officers who have volunteered in this time of crisis.

Strategic Asset Team or S.A.T. is tasked with finding and vetting supplies ranging from Personal Protective Equipment (P.P.E.) to gloves, ventilators and more items needed by healthcare workers on the frontline of fighting the novel coronavirus.

Sourcing and procuring vital medical equipment is not easy and is made harder by scam artists and price gaugers who seek to profit from the calamity. The governor’s office estimates for every legitimate offer there are some 80 to 90 fraudulent ones.

S.A.T., along with government personnel, evaluates every possibility to obtain goods and equipment. Once a legitimate outlet is identified, the team moves quickly to test and acquire the needed supplies.

Advertisement

The governor’s office has streamlined purchasing methods so that once a supplier is identified and the goods are proven worthy, the purchase can be made swiftly.

Another group led by Secretary of Commerce Greg Canfield is called the Business and Manufacturing Alliance, B.A.M.A., which is sourcing supplies from existing manufacturers in the state.

“From our perspective, we’re trying to do everything we can to identify and utilize the asset that we have in the state that is going to provide us with or produce the medical equipment and medical supplies that are needed,” said Canfield. From Toyota to Alabama Power and smaller companies like Mobile’s Calagaz Printing, the state is working to meet the challenges. “We are in talks with Hyundai about providing a connection to bring supplies out of Korea because they might be able to find alternate solutions for medical supplies,” said Canfield.

Global auto parts supplier Bolta with a facility at the Tuscaloosa County Airport Industrial Park is retooling its operation to produce plastics shields and goggles that doctors and nurses need in the emergency room.

Alabama-based research groups are pushing for breakthroughs in testing and vaccines.

BioGX Inc., a molecular diagnostics company, based at Innovation Depot, has joined B.D., a global medical technology company, to develop a new diagnostics tests that would increase the potential capacity to screen for COVID-19 by thousands of tests per day.

Birmingham-based Southern Research is collaborating with Tonix Pharmaceuticals Holding Group, a New York-based biopharmaceutical company, to test a potential COVID-19 vaccine.

Canfield and the B.A.M.A. group are daily finding other Alabama-based companies to battle the effects of the pathogen.

A third group known as Renewal is comprised of retired C.E.O.s whose goal is to make sure that those in need can cut through bureaucratic red-tape. They are charged with finding the best ways to streamline the government’s processes so that individuals and companies are not waiting for a government bureaucrat somewhere to press a button.

The Governor’s office is working in partnership with the state’s universities, businesses and others in an ongoing battle to curb the COVID-19 outbreak in the state.

In times of crisis governments always stumble getting out of the gate; that’s what happens.

The work presently being coordinated by the Governor’s staff and volunteers is not currently seen by the general public, but the efforts of these groups will affect the state now and in the future.

Continue Reading
Advertisement

Authors

Advertisement

The V Podcast

Facebook

Trending

.