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Economy

Farm Bill passes the House of Representatives

Brandon Moseley

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Wednesday, the bipartisan 2018 Agriculture and Nutrition Act, H.R.2, better known as the Farm Bill, passed the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill covers agriculture subsidies, conservation, rural development and nutrition.

The Farm Bill reauthorizes farm programs and directs the nation’s agricultural policy for the next five years. The House and Senate had both passed differing versions of the Farm Bill prior to the general election. Following the Thanksgiving break, a conference committee met to resolve the differences between the two versions of the bill. This is the conference committee version.

“In Alabama’s Second District, agriculture is the largest employer. It is imperative that Congress honor our commitments to the hardworking farmers and producers across the country,” U.S. Representative Martha Roby (R-Montgomery) said. “The 2018 farm bill provides certainty to the American families who work every day to provide the food and fiber we depend on. I was proud to support this legislation on behalf of the farmers I represent, and I am eager to see President Trump sign it into law.”

The 2018 Farm Bill supports and sustains Alabama’s farmers and foresters by reauthorizing farm programs and directing the nation’s agricultural policy for the next five years. Despite recent gains in manufacturing, Alabama remains an agriculture state. Farming, forestry, livestock and crop production represent more than $70 billion in annual economic output in Alabama.

Congressman Bradley Byrne (R-Montrose) said: “Our farmers and foresters are our future. I am pleased to support this bipartisan legislation to better support our farmers in Alabama and throughout the country.”

“The 2018 Farm Bill will allow for improved crop protections and loan options for farmers, incentivize rural development, support animal disease prevention and management, and will continue our nation’s commitment to agriculture and farmers,” Rep. Byrne said. “I am especially pleased to see the substantial resources provided to improve rural broadband access to communities. Providing Internet access to people in rural Alabama is absolutely critical to economic development and the success of these communities in the 21st Century.”

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Roby’s office said that H.R. 2 improves agriculture policy by: Providing a nationwide yield update for Price Loss Coverage (PLC), beginning with the 2020 crop year and allowing PLC to better respond to market conditions; Making several key improvements to Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC), including increased yield plugs and yield trend adjustments; Protecting and improving crop insurance; Investing in research, extension, and education projects; and Protecting farmers from additional costly and burdensome red tape.

H.R. 2 also strengthens the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) capacity to combat the opioid crisis and refocuses efforts to expand quality broadband to rural America.

The conference report to accompany H.R. 2 passed the House by a vote of 369 to 47. The Senate approved the bill yesterday 87 to 13. It now goes to the White House where it awaits President Donald J. Trump’s (R) signature.

The current legislation has been praised by farm groups for preserving safety nets for farmers while enhancing conservation and increasing USDA loan availability. One thing the bill doesn’t have is tighter work requirements for supplemental nutrition assistance program (SNAP – commonly still called food stamps) recipients, which was the major difference between the House bill, which only had Republican votes, and the more bipartisan Senate version.

Alabama Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries John McMillan (R) explained that the farm bill protects more than just farmers. It serves to protect land and natural resources, develops new trade opportunities, levels the playing field for producers, strengthens rural communities and provides nutritious foods for underserved families.

“Alabama is blessed to have a congressional delegation in Washington that understands the importance of agriculture,” said Commissioner McMillan. “Our nation’s food security depends on strong agricultural policies that provide stability for America’s farmers and ranchers.”

With the President’s signature, this will be the first time since 1990 that Congress has enacted the Farm Bill in the same year it was introduced. It would also be the first time since 2002, that the new Farm Bill was enacted in the same year that the old one expired.

Economy

High death rate, low immigration levels leave Alabama with one of nation’s lowest growth rates

Chip Brownlee

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New numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that Alabama has one of the nation’s lowest growth rates.

“As Alabama approaches its 200th birthday, the state is still adding population but at a slower rate than most of its Southeastern neighbors,” analysts wrote in a Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama analysis of the Census Bureau numbers.

The Census Bureau’s data release in December includes state-level estimates for the underlying components of population growth, and in some cases, population decrease.

These numbers come at a time when state leaders are increasingly concerned about the 2020 Census and reapportionment of Congressional seats that will follow.

They fear Alabama may lose one of its seven congressional seats to another state that’s growing faster.

The states that could steal a seat are those growing at a faster rate — including those in the Mountain West like Utah, Nevada and Idaho. Arizona, Texas and Florida are also outpacing the rest of the country.

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The possibility has so concerned state officials that Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall and U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks sued the U.S. Census Bureau in an effort to prevent them from counting undocumented immigrants in the census, despite U.S. Supreme Court rulings that have held the opposite.

It’s unlikely that suit will succeed based on precedent, and a federal judge recently blocked a “citizenship question” on the census altogether, making that possibility even lower.

On the other end of the spectrum, Gov. Kay Ivey is publicly encouraging the state to respond to the census in an effort to ensure every person is counted.


Click here for a visualization of the data


But it’s not solely immigration that is buoying the chance of Alabama losing a congressional seat.

From 2010 to 2018, Alabama’s population only increased by 2.3 percent.

That puts Alabama as No. 35 among the 50 states in that metric.

The rate of natural increase — a number that calculates the crude birth rate by subtracting the death rate from the raw birth rate — is worse.

Alabama ranks 43rd in that metric.

Alabama falls into the lowest tier of growth, with growth under 1 percent.

The numbers within those metrics are even starker.

Alabama has the second-highest death rate in the U.S. The only other state with a higher death rate is West Virginia, a state that has been ravaged by the opioid epidemic.

A low rate of international migration levels also contributes to Alabama’s slow growth rate. It had the fourth-lowest rate of international immigration in the country.

Alabama does have a positive rate of domestic in-migration, but that number is still lower than some of its neighbors in the Southeast.

Coastal Southeastern State like North Carolina, South Carolina and Florida — along with Tennessee — are seeing faster growth overall than Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas.

In the last year, Alabama’s population increased an estimated 0.3 percent.

But it could be worse.

Eight states — Mississippi and Louisiana among them in the Southeast — lost population in 2018, according to the Census estimates.

The Census tracks births and deaths in a state and estimates the number of people moving in and moving out to estimate population change.

Alabama had an estimated 57,216 births in 2018 but an estimated 53,425 deaths. That’s a net natural increase of only 3,791 people. Domestic migration and international migration added up to a net increase of 9,062.

That’s a net population change of only 12,751 people in one year.

“Alabama’s population is older than the average state,” PARCA’s analysis found. “That effects population in two ways. Older residents are more likely to die, and younger people are more likely to have children. In addition, Alabama residents, by many measures are less healthy than residents in other states and have a shorter life expectancy than residents of most other states. Alabama’s high death rate ultimately depresses the state’s rate of natural increase.”

Perhaps the most obvious comparison is with South Carolina, a state that has demographics similar to Alabama’s.

In 2010, when the last national census was held, South Carolina had fewer people than Alabama. But since then, South Carolina had a growth spurt, fueled in large part by domestic migration.

The state has now surpassed Alabama in population, adding 450,000 new residents while Alabama added only 100,000 since 2010.

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Economy

Alabama tax revenues are up but still below pre-Great Recession levels

Brandon Moseley

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Last year was a great year for most state governments, with a few notable exceptions.

In Alabama, tax revenues are soaring, but have not entirely recovered from pre-Great Recession levels.

According to a new study by the Pew Charitable Trust, 36 states collected more tax revenue than they did at their pre-Great Recession peaks, after adjusting for inflation. Alabama’s tax revenues were up markedly in the third quarter of 2018 to the highest levels seen since state government revenues peaked in the third quarter of 2008.

The economy has expanded substantially and that is showing in increased tax collections. Alabama’s state government had peaked to an all-time high in the third quarter of 2008, when Bob Riley was the Governor. Then the stock market tanked, millions of American homeowners found that they were unable to pay their mortgages, banks began to fail, the homebuilding industry crashed, and Presidents George W. Bush and Barack H. Obama intervened in the economy with the TARP bank bailout. Millions of Americans lost their jobs, their homes, their 401ks, and many lives changed forever.

For state governments, people making less money pay less taxes. By the second quarter of 2010, paralleling the national average, Alabama’s total tax collections had dropped 13.2 percent from peak levels and lower than tax collections had been in years. The people of Alabama responded to the economic crisis and corruption scandals in Montgomery by rejecting 136 years of Democratic Party control and giving Mike Hubbard and the Republicans supermajorities in both Houses of the Alabama legislature plus every statewide race on the ballot. Doug Jones’ narrow victory over Judge Roy Moore in the 2017 special election for U.S. Senate is the only time a Democrat has won a statewide race in Alabama since.

Lawmakers in Alabama and state capitals across the country struggled to figure out how to cut budgets, get federal bailout dollars, and/or raise revenues to keep state agencies afloat. Nationally state tax revenues bottomed out in the fourth quarter of 2009 at 12.5 percent below peak levels. Two years later nationally average states had recovered back to just 4.4 percent below the pre-Recession peak of 2008. Alabama, however, was still 11.3 percent below the peak revenues seen in 2008. By the fourth quarter of 2013 nationally state governments were taking in 2.4 percent more than they did during the third quarter of 2008, adjusted for inflation. Alabama, however, was still 7.7 percent below those peak revenues.

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When Governor Robert Bentley (R) resigned amidst scandal during the second quarter of 2017, Alabama tax revenues were still 4.1 percent below the 2008 third 1uarter state peak. The national average was 6.3 percent above the third quarter of 2008. In the third quarter of 2018, Alabama tax collections were only 1.1 percent below the pre-Great Recession peak. The national average, however, is 12.2 percent above the mark set ten years ago.

The ten states with the greatest gains in tax revenues are: 1. North Dakota (47.9 percent above peak) 2. Colorado (32.2 percent above peak), 3. California (27.6 percent above peak), 4. Oregon (26.8 percent above peak), 5. Minnesota (25.5 percent above peak), 6. Hawaii (23.6 percent above peak), 7. Washington (22.8 percent above peak), 8. Nevada (22.5 percent above peak), 9. South Dakota (20.8 percent above peak) and 10. Maryland (18.8 percent above peak).

The ten states most below their third-quarter 2008 collections are: 50. Alaska (-86.3 percent below peak), 49. Wyoming (-38.2 percent below peak), 48. New Mexico (-15.3 percent below peak), 47. Oklahoma (-8.5 percent below peak), 46. Florida (-7.9 percent below peak), 45. Ohio (-7.4 percent below peak), 44. Louisiana (-6.7 percent below peak), 43. West Virginia (-2.8 percent below peak), 42. New Jersey (-2.6 percent below peak), and 41. Arizona (-2.2 percent below peak).

According to the authors, states collectively took in 5.5 percent more tax revenue from July 2017 through June 2018, the budget year used by most states, than they did in the previous year, after adjusting for inflation. It was the greatest increase since tax dollars rose 7.0 percent in fiscal 2011. Just two states bucked the upward trend and took in less in fiscal 2018 than they did a year earlier: Mississippi and Ohio.

To read the report, click here.

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Economy

Ivey awards first broadband accessibility grants

Brandon Moseley

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Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey announced the first ever grants from Alabama’s Broadband Accessibility Fund.

Residents in seven Alabama communities will be afforded access to high-speed internet thanks to the grants, totaling almost $1.1 million. The fund was created by the Alabama Legislature and signed into reality in March 2018 by Gov. Ivey.

“These grants may only represent one step in terms of providing high-speed internet opportunities to rural Alabama, but it is a monumental leap for a program that has the ability to positively impact the lives of so many people,” Gov. Ivey said. “By supplying these services to rural Alabama, we are also providing these areas the ability to step up in education, health care and economic development.”

The Broadband Accessibility Fund provides funds for service providers to supply high-speed internet services in unincorporated areas or communities with 25,000 people or less. Under the law, awards cannot exceed 20 percent of the total cost of a project.

Ivey placed the administrative duties of the Alabama Broadband Accessibility Fund under the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA).

“Providing broadband services to Alabama’s rural communities is in many ways the equivalent of providing those same areas with electricity in early 20th Century,” ADECA Director Kenneth Boswell said. “ADECA and Gov. Ivey share the goal of supplying this essential service to every part of Alabama.”

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Grants awarded and coverage areas are:

Millry Telephone Co. Inc. of Millry will receive $938,306 for expanding coverage to incorporated areas of Gilbertown and Toxey and some unincorporated areas in Choctaw County.

Marcus Cable Associates of Birmingham will receive $11,022 to expand coverage in the East Wood Point area in Moulton.

Marcus Cables Associates of Birmingham will receive $11,063 for expanding coverage in the Emerald Ridge area in Chelsea.

Charter Communications will receive $29,567 to expand coverage to Glen Ridge in southwest Tuscaloosa County.

Charter Communications was awarded $6,017 to provide coverage to the Grace Haven subdivision in Boaz.

Charter Communications received $8,415 to provide coverage in the Vickey Lane area in Boaz.

Farmers Telecommunications Cooperative Inc. will get $74,586 for providing broad band coverage in the Pea Ridge community near Henagar.

Governor Ivey added on social media, “I’m proud to announce that almost $1.1 million in grants are being awarded in an effort to increase broadband access in rural Alabama. This is a major step forward for these 7 communities. A gain for rural Alabama is a gain for our entire state.”

State Senator Clay Scofield (R-Guntersville) sponsored the legislation to create the Broadband Accessibility Fund.

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Economy

Red state governors tout economic success of Medicaid expansion

Bill Britt

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Montana’s Gov. Steve Bullock presented a report in early January that shows Medicaid expansion has added $270 million to the state’s economy annually since its passage in 2015, according to The Great Falls Tribune.

“I think that it’s time we finally fully recognize the value of Medicaid expansion is as much for Montana businesses as it is for the Montanans receiving health care,” Bullock said.

Montana’s success — as well as Idaho’s recent decision to expand the health insurance program for low-income individuals — may serve as a model for Alabama.

Alabama is one of 14 mostly southern, conservative states that have not expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama’s 2010 health care law.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall was one of several Republican attorneys general who sued to overturn the law in a case that is still pending appeal.

Meanwhile, Alabama has witnessed the closing of six hospitals since 2011, according to the Alabama Hospital Association. They have warned that the closures could get worse as more cuts are anticipated later this year.

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Hospitals that rely on so-called disproportionate share hospitals payments — or DSH  — are barely operating in the black, and it wouldn’t take much to put them in the red.

“If the state has not expanded Medicaid in 2020, as the DSH cuts are scheduled to take effect, that will close a significant number of hospitals,” said Danne Howard, the association’s chief policy officer in December. “That will cripple. That will be the straw that the hospitals can’t survive.”

Louisiana’s expansion of Medicaid in 2016 resulted in a $1.85 billion direct economic impact, according to an April 2018 report. It has also led to the creation of 19,000 new jobs.

Three deep-red states — Idaho, Nebraska, and Utah — joined the 32 expansion states through ballot initiatives in November 2018. Solid majorities in each conservative state voted for the measure. Three other states — Kansas, Wisconsin and Maine — elected Democratic governors who are likely to push expansion.

Should Medicaid expansion be on the 2019 legislative agenda? Experts say it has to be

Recent estimates show that between 235,000 to 300,000 people in Alabama would gain access to Medicaid if the state were to accept federal funding to expand Medicaid. In 2018, the federal government paid 94 percent of the cost of Medicaid expansion. That funding will drop to 90 percent by 2020, but will remain at that level going forward.

A UAB School of Public Health study found that expansion would cost the state about $770 million over the first seven years in costs, but could potentially result in $20 billion in economic growth over the same time period.

In her inaugural speech, Gov. Kay Ivey eluded to tackling health care but didn’t address Medicaid expansion directly.

A look at other issues Ivey touched on in inaugural address

Senate President Pro Tempore Del Marsh, R-Anniston, said in an interview that expansion is unlikely to be on the agenda for the 2019 legislative session.

Former chairman of the State Senate Health Committee Gerald Dial in an Op-ed said that if the state doesn’t expand Medicaid, “More hospitals will close.”

He also pointed out that beyond the six rural hospitals that have already closed, 88 percent of the remaining rural facilities are operating in the red.

“Many have had to eliminate services, cut staff and if nothing changes, a number of them will likely have to close their doors,” Dial said. “And when a community loses its hospital, it also loses doctors, pharmacies, and other providers, devastating the community not only in terms of access to health care but in job and economic losses.”

Opinion | Retiring Republican state senator: Alabama should expand Medicaid

Ivey’s administration is riding high both in her personal approval rating and with the state’s booming economy. The governor seems poised to use her political capital to move the state forward despite political considerations.

Economic gains in Montana and Louisiana could convince a majority of the state’s conservative lawmakers that expansion is a winning proposal. Mississippi, another deeply conservative state, also appears ready to move forward with a version of the expansion.

Republican lawmakers are expected to impose work requirements on social welfare benefits in the coming legislative session. Some say this is a precursor to expanding Medicaid.

 

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Farm Bill passes the House of Representatives

by Brandon Moseley Read Time: 3 min
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