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Jones expresses concerns over Trump Administration policies

Brandon Moseley

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Monday, U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-Alabama) held a town hall event at the historic A.H. Parker High School in Birmingham.

“It was because of the incredible work that you did that I am here representing as the first Democratic Senator to represent Alabama in 25 years,” Sen. Jones said.

“The first thing I did was co-sponsor a bill to re-authorize the CHIP (Child Health Insurance Program) program.” Jones said that CHIP’s renewal, “Was definitely related to what we did on December 12.”

“We are losing healthcare in our rural areas left and right,” Sen. Jones said. “I talk about the need for Alabama to expand Medicaid. The two things I have done is to introduce a bill to call a lot of folks hands on this Medicaid issue.” Jones said that his bill would require them to give a study every year on all the good things Medicaid expansion has done in other states as well as all of the dollars being lost in states that did not expand Medicaid. “I have introduced another bill with Senator Warner to roll back to where we would have been with the original Affordable Healthcare Act.”

Sen. Jones said that President Donald J. Trump’s (R) Administration has done a lot to “sabotage” the Affordable Care Act. “They are doing everything in their power to, as the President said, to just let it blow up. There is only so much we can do with a slim minority. Elections have consequences.”

Jones said that Texas is suing to overturn the provision of the Affordable Care Act outlawing pre-existing conditions and the state of Alabama has joined the lawsuit. “The Department of Justice under Attorney General Sessions is no longer protecting the ACA.”

Jones said that Trump’s tariffs, “Were ill advised.”

“NAFTA really hurt Alabama, when it first passed.” Jones said. “Textiles moved overseas or shut down.” Trump instituted a tariff on automobiles, but also on automatic parts. “Mercedes changed the trajectory of Alabama’s economy. Alabama is the third highest producer of automobiles behind Michigan and South Carolina. The trade war that he is escalating with China is really hurting. I have been very outspoken about this.”

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“Soybean prices have gone down and pork prices have gone down,” Jones said.

Jones said that he has cosponsored legislation with Senator Alexander from Tennessee to make the administration prove that tariffs are needed for national security.

“Those BMWs and Mercedes are not a national security threat,” Jones stated.

“I have co-sponsored about 90 bills, 80 of them are bipartisan,” Jones said. “There is more bipartisanship in Congress than you see on CSPAN. We passed an opioid bill unanimously out of committee that I hope will get to the floor of the Senate.”

“It is very important that EPA takes another look at that North Birmingham site,” Sen. Jones said. “Mayor Woodfin did the right thing,” when he asked the Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider adding the 35th Avenue Superfund site to the National Prioritization List.

Jones said that both he and U.S. Representative Terri Sewell (D-Selma) have both sent letters the EPA asking them to reconsider the decision not to place the 35th Avenue site on the SuperFund prioritization list.

“The EPAs decision not to place the site on the NPL was understandable given the level of opposition,” Jones said. We now know however that that decision was undermined by an illegal misinformation campaign.
“Residents deserve better from their federal state and local government,” Jones said.

State Representative Mary Moore (D-Birmingham) said, “The people of North Birmingham are suffering and nobody has talked to us. Nobody has called a meeting with the citizens in the affected areas. I filed the original complaint in 1989, again in 2005 and again in 2009.”

Jones asked the crowd if they wanted to hear Mary speak on, “Or do you want to have a town hall?”

“I was not a U.S. Senator when all of that was going on,” Sen. Jones said.

Jones did acknowledge when asked that he was the attorney for disgraced state Representative Oliver Robinson (D-Birmingham) early on in that case. Jones said that there was a point in that process where Robinson went from defending to cooperating with the investigation to expose wider corruption; but that he could not go into details.

On Saturday, Doug Jones nominated Alvin “Peck” Fox to be Chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party. The Alabama State Democratic Executive Committee rejected Jones’s nominee and instead re-elected incumbent Nancy Worley to another term.

“We have got to have a party that exercises leadership and we don’t have that now,” Jones told the people at the town hall. The state party needs to be sending field operatives out to the candidates to ask them what they need and needs to be active on social media. “We don’t have that. Our party is sitting on $850,000 and they have not done anything with that. There are only two people down there (at Democratic Party Headquarters in Montgomery).”

“Our party is fielding the best set of candidates it has fielded in 20 years,” Jones said. “This is not going to be a giant blue wave.” It is a gradual process. “We have not played a longball game. It starts with the efforts of the candidates. I have believed for many years, that we as a state can only progress if we have a viable two party system.”

An audience member asked if we were on the verge of a third world war.

“I don’t think we have been on the verge of a Third World War, but what has been happening with Russian interference in our election is putting this Democracy in great peril,” Jones said.

Jones said that the Russians had been working “To sow discord, to make sure that they promoted one part of society against another one. The ability of the Russian government to influence this coming election if frightening.”

“One of the problems is that the President is conflating the terms collusion with interference,” Jones said. “We do have some sanctions going on, but whatever we are doing is not enough.”

“They are also looking at interfering with the power grid,” Jones added.

Jones was critical of Russian President Vladimir Putin and added, “When you see the President cozying up to him at Helsinki you should be concerned.”

Jones also addressed the North Korea situation.

“I was disappointed that the President cut out those military exercises in South Korea before seeing Kim Jung-un did what he said he was going to do and we are now seeing information that he is not doing what he sees he is doing,” Jones said.

Senator Jones also discussed the Robert Mueller investigation.

“The president calls this a hoax and that is dangerous,” Jones said. “The Russian interference is not a hoax and Robert Mueller need to finish his job no matter where the chips may fall.”

A constituent asked if he would vote to impeach Rod Rosenstein,

“That would be a constitutional crisis,” Jones said. “That is not going to happen. I have seen absolutely no evidence whatsoever that Rod Rosenstein has done anything to impeach him over.”

Jones also discussed the Farm Bill and the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court confirmation.

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Congress

Sen. Doug Jones: COVID-19 relief should not be a partisan issue

Chip Brownlee

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Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, said Friday during a live-streamed press conference that the Senate should begin debating the next COVID-19 relief package, and Republicans in Congress should stop playing partisan politics with urgently needed COVID-19 relief.

“That bill is not perfect at all. There are a number of things in there that I don’t think will be in a final bill,” Jones said of the House’s $3 trillion HEROES Act. “It’s not perfect, but it is something to start talking about. It is a shame that Senate Republicans have made this into a partisan issue, trying to say that this was some kind of Democratic ‘wish list.’ It is not.”

The $3 trillion relief package includes nearly $1 trillion in aid to struggling state and local governments and another round of $1,200 payments to individual taxpayers and up to $6,000 per family.

The bill, which passed the House last week along partisan lines, appropriates billions for COVID-19 testing and contact-tracing and provides money for hazard pay for essential workers, among many other provisions its 1,800 pages.

“It is a wish list for cities and counties, which we’ve been talking about,” Jones said. “The first line essential workers that have been there that we don’t need to lose — so much of our workforces in city and county governments. It’s a wish list for the CDC and the NIH to continue funding for research, not just for a vaccine, but for therapeutics for how to treat this virus until we get that vaccine. It’s a wish list for businesses.”

The Paycheck Protection Program, which provides loans and grants to small businesses and nonprofit organizations, would also get additional funding in the new relief bill.

Jones has called for a plan to give small businesses another round of help in paying employees by using payroll processors instead of banks, which have, at times, been slow in delivering aid to businesses and have prioritized clients with whom the banks had a pre-existing relationship.

Jones urged lawmakers to consider using payroll companies rather than banks when the first installment of the Payroll Protection Program was taking shape.

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The House’s HEROES Act also includes provisions that clarify PPP provisions for small businesses and would ensure that PPP funding can reach underserved communities and nonprofits. It adds $10 billion for emergency grants through the Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program.

“It has a form of the program that we have — not as scaled up as much as I would lie, but it’s got a program that will help keep businesses operating and their payroll operating as a supplement, an add on to the Payroll Protection Program,” Jones said. “So it’s a wish list, really, for the American people. It’s just a shame that it has been politicized as partisan, because it should not. None of this should be partisan.”

President Donald Trump has threatened to veto the House-passed legislation were the Senate to pass it, and House and Senate Republicans have decried the legislation as too expansive.

Republican members of Alabama’s congressional delegation have called it Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s “wish list” and U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks called it “socialist.”

The 1,800-page bill also includes $175 billion in housing support, student loan forgiveness and a new employee retention tax credit.

Republicans have particularly opposed provisions in the bill that would require all voters to be able to vote by mail beginning in November and another that would temporarily repeal a provision of the 2017 Republican tax law that limited federal deductions for state and local taxes.

Trump has also opposed a provision in the bill that would provide $25 billion for the U.S. Postal Service, which has struggled amid the COVID-19 crisis and could become insolvent without support.

The HEROES Act was declared by some as “dead on arrival” in the Republican-controlled Senate. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, has so far refused to take up the bill. Senators returned back to their home states this week until early June.

“The goal when we get back is maybe … enough talks will be going on, that we can pass some legislation in a bipartisan way,” Jones said. “Because there is an urgency.”

Jones said he didn’t believe the bill would pass as it is currently written, and that he doesn’t know what the final version would look like, but “we need to be talking about it. It’s a starting point,” he said.

The legislation also provides $75 billion for COVID-19 testing and contact tracing, which public health experts say are essential for reopening the economy safely and avoiding a second wave of the virus in the fall.

On Thursday, Gov. Kay Ivey loosened more of the state’s “safer-at-home” restrictions, allowing entertainment venues to reopen Friday and sports to resume by mid-June.

Jones urged Alabamians to continue adhering to social-distancing guidelines, to listen to public health officials and to wear masks. He said reopening the economy and preserving public health don’t have to be at odds.

“I think the governor has done as great a job as she could to try to be very strategic, to be thoughtful on how to do this,” Jones said. “Unfortunately, I also believe that a lot of people in Alabama are only hearing part of her message. They’re only hearing the message that you can go to church, you can go to the theater, you can go out to eat, and they’re not listening as much to the messages about personal responsibility.”

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Governor

Alabama AG warns against nursing homes taking stimulus checks

Eddie Burkhalter

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Alabama’s top law enforcement officer on Friday warned against nursing homes intercepting federal stimulus payments to long-term care residents who are Medicaid recipients, but the state’s Nursing Home Association says it’s not aware that is happening, and it hasn’t been contacted by the Alabama Attorney General’s Office over the matter. 

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall in a press release Friday said that federal stimulus checks from the CARES Act cannot be seized by nursing homes to pay for care. 

“We are now beginning to receive a few reports of concern that some Alabama nursing homes may be attempting to take stimulus checks from residents who are Medicaid recipients. If this is happening, it needs to stop now,” Marshall said in a statement. “These stimulus checks are rightfully and legally the property of the residents and must be returned. Confiscation of these checks is unlawful and should be reported to my office.”

Mike Lewis, spokesman for the state Attorney General’s Office, in a message to APR on Friday said that all concerns reported to the office will be reviewed and investigated.

“There have been four such reports thus far,” Lewis said in the message.

Alabama Nursing Home Association President Brandon Farmer in a separate press release Friday said that since the federal government’s announcement of the stimulus payment, the association advised members that any stimulus payment deposited to the accounts of nursing home residents was not to be used to reimburse the facility “and is the sole property of the residents.”

“We urge Attorney General Steve Marshall to let us know if he has any reports of diversion of residents’ stimulus payments so that we may clarify any misunderstanding that may exist,” Farmer said. “At this time, we are unaware of any facility where such diversion is occurring.

Farmer said the association has encouraged Marshall to contact them any time he has a concern about nursing homes, or has information he wants to pass along to our members.

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“As we have done throughout this pandemic, we stand ready to work with local, state and federal leaders to support Alabama’s nursing home residents and employees,” Farmer said.

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Economy

Alabama’s unemployment rate jumps to 12.9 percent

Chip Brownlee

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Alabama’s unemployment rate has surged almost 10 percentage points over the past two months to nearly 13 percent, the Alabama Department of Labor said Friday, another sign of the economic toll caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Labor Secretary Fitzgerald Washington said Alabama’s preliminary, seasonally adjusted April unemployment rate is 12.9 percent, which is up from March’s revised level of 3.0 percent. It’s also higher than April 2019’s rate of 3.2 percent.

Last month’s rate represents 283,787 unemployed persons, an increase of 216,783 over the month.

“While we are certainly disappointed to see our unemployment rate rise so sharply this month, it’s not surprising,” said Gov. Kay Ivey. “This global pandemic and national disaster has certainly impacted Alabamians’ ability to work. We know that hundreds of thousands of people have filed for unemployment benefits over the past two months, and we’ve been able to process and pay a great majority of those.  We realize there are some still waiting on relief, and we hear and understand their frustration.  Please rest assured that my administration is working tirelessly to provide relief to those Alabamians and their families, and I have the utmost confidence in the Alabama Department of Labor and the dedicated state employees there who are working tirelessly to serve their fellow citizens.”

Those counted as employed decreased to 1,911,512 in April, down from March’s count of 2,151,586.

“I think everyone will agree that these numbers aren’t numbers we ever wanted to report,” said Washington. “This pandemic has negatively impacted Alabama’s economy and in two months’ time has managed to undo years of positive progress.  But the impact to our employers and workers who carry the economy is even greater.  So many had life-altering changes that impacted their families almost overnight.  I want all Alabamians to know that we are working nonstop to help move this recovery along.  We are developing new technologies, adding staff, and making modifications wherever possible to help our workers through this enormously difficult time.”

Wage and salary employment decreased in April by 201,700.

Monthly losses were seen in the leisure and hospitality sector (-79,500), the professional and business services sector (-29,500), the education and health services sector (-26,400) and the manufacturing sector (-24,200) — among others.

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Over the year, wage and salary employment decreased by 199,200, with losses in the leisure and hospitality sector (-87,900), the professional and business services sector (-30,800), the education and health services sector (-25,300), and the manufacturing sector (-19,100), among others.

Average weekly wages increased to $908.52 in April, up from $883.17 in March.

Counties with the lowest unemployment rates are Geneva County at 8.1 percent, Bullock and Pike Counties at 9.1 percent, and Shelby and Henry Counties at 9.2 percent.

Counties with the highest unemployment rates are Lowndes County at 26.0 percent, Wilcox County at 22.8 percent and Greene County at 22.2 percent.

Major cities with the lowest unemployment rates are Homewood at 7.1 percent, Vestavia Hills at 7.2 percent and Madison at 8.3 percent.

Major cities with the highest unemployment rates are Selma at 23.4 percent, Anniston at 22.1 percent and Gadsden at 22.0 percent.

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Congress

Jones has concerns about how USDA is implementing the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program

Brandon Moseley

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U.S. Senator Doug Jones, D-Alabama, said Thursday that the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Coronavirus Foods Assistance Program “falls way short.”

Jones also expressed concerns about how USDA was implementing the program.

“While it’s true the USDA’s Coronavirus Food Assistance Program will help farmers/ranchers, it falls way short and I have serious concerns about how U.S. Department of Agriculture is implementing it, especially for cattle farmers,” Jones announced in a statement on social media. “I’ll be reaching out to share my concerns + work to fix these issues.”

National Cattlemen’s Beef Association President Marty Smith joined President Donald Trump and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue at a White House ceremony Tuesday to unveil new details about the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program.

NCBA was instrumental in securing authorization and funding for the CFAP program, which will provide much-needed relief to American cattle producers who have been economically impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

“America’s cattle producers have been hit very hard economically by this pandemic, so we’re pleased that this relief is one step closer to reaching the producers who need it,” Smith said. “Still, this is just one step and much more needs to be done to address the needs facing family cow-calf producers and stockers in the CFAP details that were released today. We will continue to push Capitol Hill for additional resources for cow-calf producers, backgrounders, and all other segments of the industry who may not sufficiently benefit from the program in its current form.”

Trump announced that beginning on Tuesday, May 26, local Farm Service Agency offices will begin accepting applications for CFAP funds, which the administration hopes to begin rolling out to producers the following week.

More information about the application process will be available online.

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USDA announced the CFAP program on April 17. The program will use funding provided in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, and other USDA authorities. $19 billion in immediate relief includes direct support to agricultural producers.

R-CALF USA applauded the efforts by the NCBA to continue pushing Capitol Hill for additional financial recourses for cow-calf producers and backgrounders who may not sufficiently benefit from the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) in its current form.

R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard said that his organization agrees with the NCBA on that issue. Bullard said that America’s cattle ranchers and America’s consumers were both being hurt by the market collapse aggravated by the COVID-19 crisis.

Breakouts of COVID-19 among the workers as some of the nation’s largest packing plants have resulted in finished cattle in the feedlots remaining in the feedlots preventing backgrounded calves from taking their place in the feedlots and freshly weaned calves from going to the backgrounding lots. The result has been packers that are unable to adequately supply grocers. Consumers being unable to buy the beef, pork, and chicken that they need and want and a complete collapse of prices for the farmers and ranchers.

“This is a colossal mess for both cattle ranchers and consumers and we know that only R-CALF USA is free from the packers’ resistance to any type of fundamental market reforms,” Bullard said. “Thus, with NCBA’s focus on needed temporary financial relief to help cattle producers through this mess, we hope that every American rancher can be sustained until such time that R-CALF USA succeeds in implementing the needed market structure reforms that NCBA cannot work on.”

NCBA represents both packers and cattlemen while R-CALF USA represents just cattlemen.

Jones has drawn attention to the plight of farmers impacted by low prices, even while Americans are experiencing unprecedented food supply shortages due to the coronavirus crisis.

 

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