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Jones encourages rural Alabama entities to apply for USDA broadband infrastructure grants

Brandon Moseley

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The USDA is offering up to $600 million in loans and grants to build broadband infrastructure in Rural America and on Friday U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-Alabama) urged rural Alabama entities to apply for the money.

Senator Jones released a statement encouraging eligible rural Alabama entities to apply for the up to $600 million in loans and grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The money is being provided by Congress to help expand the rural broadband infrastructure. Telecommunication companies, rural electric cooperatives and utilities, internet service providers, and municipalities may apply for funding through USDA’s new ReConnect Program to connect rural areas that currently have insufficient broadband service. This broadband pilot program is covered through funds secured in the fiscal year 2018 budget as designated by Congress. USDA Rural Development is the primary agency delivering the program, with assistance from other federal partners.

“Today, more than ever, high-speed internet is no longer a luxury, but a necessity,” said Senator Jones. “Students rely on connectivity for their education, hospitals and health care providers use telehealth capabilities to reach rural communities, and small businesses need the internet to thrive. It provides economic opportunity, strengthens our communities and connects our workforce throughout Alabama and the nation. This USDA funding is a great opportunity to close the broadband gaps that exist in Alabama and I encourage any eligible entity in the state to apply.”

The USDA will make available approximately $200 million for grants (applications due to USDA by April 29, 2019), as well as $200 million for loan and grant combinations (applications due May 29, 2019), and $200 million for low-interest loans (applications due by June 28, 2019).

To help customers with the application process, USDA is holding a series of online webinars and regional in-person workshops. The full list of upcoming public webinars and workshops can be found at the ReConnect Program’s resource portal:

https://reconnect.usda.gov/s/

The Farm Bill, which passed last week, included two broadband provisions sponsored by Senator Jones that provided an additional $400 million in federal funding for broadband service in rural communities across America.

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The lack of a broadband infrastructure in most Alabama counties has become a major concern of elected leaders and economic development professionals.
Governor Kay Ivey (R), Senator Clay Scofield (R-Guntersville), and Congressman Robert Aderholt (R-Haleyville) have also worked on increasing rural broadband access in the last year.

Sen. Doug Jones was elected to the U.S. Senate in a special election last year.

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with eight and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.

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Alabama highlighted in Governors Association guide for building a resilient workforce

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As COVID-19 accelerates disruptions impacting the American workforce, the National Governors Association (NGA) issued the findings of a comprehensive two-year project examining ways that governors and other state policymakers can nurture a technologically resilient workforce ready to thrive in an evolving economy.

The State Guide for Preparing the Future Workforce Now presents findings and recommendations from the Future Workforce Now: Reimagining Workforce Policy in the Age of Disruption initiative (Future Workforce Now). The guide is available online and via a first-of-its-kind interactive website where users can explore 150 policy and program examples from more than 40 states; in-depth case studies from Alabama, Arkansas and Washington; and global initiatives that promote lifelong learning and that train and credential an evolving workforce.

Alabama is one of three state case studies spotlighted in the report (see page 40). It notes Governor Kay Ivey’s Strong Start, Strong Finish initiative, which envisioned creating an education-to-workforce talent pipeline that leads to employment in an occupation that pays a family-sustaining wage regardless of demography or geography.

“I’m honored the National Governors Association selected Alabama as one of the state case studies in their comprehensive workforce guide,” Gov. Ivey said. “As our labor market evolves, it is imperative that our workforce strategy keeps up with the growing demands of business and industry, especially amid the ongoing pandemic. Since launching my Strong Start, Strong Finish initiative, we have worked to align our education to workforce pipeline and have created several pathways to reach our goal of adding 500,000 skilled employees to the workforce by 2025. We are proud to showcase our workforce efforts as a model to the rest of the nation.”

Gov. Ivey observed the silos between governmental and nongovernmental entities with a stake in education and workforce development as a significant barrier to accomplishing progress toward this vision.

In response, she established the Governor’s Office of Education and Workforce Transformation (GOEWT) in 2019 and an accompanying advisory council. The GOEWT Advisory Council is made up of representatives from 22 state agencies who provide the GOEWT with policy recommendations that align with the governor’s education and workforce development strategic plans.

Launched in 2018, Future Workforce Now was led by the NGA Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) in partnership with FHI 360 and the Fab Foundation, with support from the Siegel Family Endowment, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Schmidt Futures. Through topical roundtables with private-sector experts, researchers, and state leaders, Future Workforce Now explored the technological disruptions and global forces shaping the future of work, workers and workplaces; what these changes mean for education, training and state policy; and the most promising policy and practice responses to prepare the workforce of the future.

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The guide found that COVID-19 is likely to exacerbate disruptions already affecting the workforce, including the adoption of automation, shortages of skilled workers in high-demand fields and growing wealth inequality driven by inequitable access to education and training. Because key aspects of education and workforce development programs are determined at the state level, governors are best positioned to commit to systems transformations that enable their citizens to succeed in the workforce of the future. Without these commitments to systems change, the disruptions impacting the workforce will exacerbate inequities that disproportionately affect traditionally disadvantaged and marginalized populations including people of color, those with disabilities, and New Americans.

The guide is a timely resource to help states recover from the impacts of COVID-19, which has inflicted widespread damage on the world and U.S. economy, depressing consumer activity and prompting the highest U.S. unemployment rates in decades.

“While the pandemic poses unprecedented challenges to state economies, governors of both parties around the country are developing strategies for long-term recovery that both anticipate and respond to the transformational changes under way in the American economy and workforce,” said Rachael Stephens, program director for workforce development and economic policy in the NGA Center. “The State Guide for Preparing the Future Workforce Now is a timely resource that governors can use to leverage proven innovations and promising ideas and ensure that a rapidly changing economy provides opportunities for all. It will be an especially powerful tool as states navigate an ongoing pandemic, recession, and long-standing issues of racial inequity and economic injustice that are now at the forefront of our national consciousness.”

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The State Guide for Preparing the Future Workforce Now recommends that states:

  • Build statewide ecosystems that promote lifelong learning for all workers by orienting leaders toward a shared vision, investing in data and a transparent credential infrastructure, and aligning funding with state workforce goals.
  • Innovate teaching and learning models to close the digital skills gap by engaging employers to develop demand-driven training programs offering flexible learning pathways for all workers.
  • Increase investments in the comprehensive supports that enable all workers to succeed in the workforce, including access to financial aid, career advice and information, portable credentials, and flexibility to succeed in the gig economy.

Founded in 1908, the National Governors Association (NGA) is the bipartisan organization of the nation’s 55 governors. Through NGA, governors share best practices, address issues of national and state interest and share innovative solutions that improve state government and support the principles of federalism.

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Economy

Alabama’s immigrants pay more than $1 billion in annual taxes, study says

Immigrants in Alabama are responsible for more than $900 million in federal taxes and more than $350 million in state and local taxes, according to a study.

Micah Danney

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Immigrants in Alabama are responsible for more than $900 million in federal taxes and more than $350 million in state and local taxes, according to a study published Monday that assessed the economic impacts of immigrants in each state.

Of Alabama’s 4.9 million residents, 162,567 of them, or 3 percent, were foreign-born as of 2018, according to statistics compiled by the American Immigration Council, which advocates for immigration reform.

Alabama residents in immigrant-led households had $3.7 billion in spendable income, the study states.

Of the state’s immigrant population, 34 percent was undocumented in 2016. That is equal to 1 percent of the state’s total population. Undocumented immigrants represented 2 percent of the state’s workforce that year. They paid an estimated $54.1 million in federal taxes and $37.6 million in state and local taxes in 2018.

Roughly 67,000 of the state’s immigrants, or 41 percent, were naturalized citizens as of 2018. Three-quarters reported speaking English “well” or “very well,” according to the study.

A third had a college degree or higher. By comparison, 25 percent of native-born residents of Alabama have that level of education. Twenty-seven percent of immigrants had less than a high school diploma compared to 13 percent of native-born Alabamians.

Mexico is the most common country of origin at 27 percent of immigrants. China and India each account for 6 percent, followed by Guatemala and Germany with 5 percent each.

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The industries employing the largest shares of the immigrant population are construction, services other than public administration, accommodation and food services, agriculture and manufacturing. 

There were 4,000 active recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, known as DACA, as of 2019. Of those eligible for DACA, 58 percent had applied. These groups combined were responsible for $11.4 million in state and local taxes, or 3.2 percent of the total amount paid by foreign-born residents.

Immigrants represented 6 percent of the state’s business owners and generated $319.8 million in business income in 2018, the study said.

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Economy

Extra $600 in COVID-19 unemployment benefits ends July 26

The extra weekly unemployment payment of $600 ends later this month. 

Eddie Burkhalter

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Despite surging COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations across Alabama and in many other states, an extra $600-per-week in unemployment compensation through the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program is expected to expire July 26. 

That extra money, meant to help those whose jobs were displaced by coronavirus and through no fault of their own, was made possible through the CARES Act, the federal aid program that is to continue through Dec. 31, 2020, but the extra weekly payment of $600 ends later this month. 

“At this time, the federal government has not changed or extended the FPUC program. States do not have the ability to extend FPUC,” the Alabama Department of Labor said in a press release on Monday. 

The end of the extra assistance will impact more than 25 million Americans, during a time when COVID-19 continues to spread actively through communities. 

More than $1 billion has been pumped into Alabama’s economy through the extra $600-a-week payments to Alabamians, according to the New York City-based think tank The Century Foundation.

The Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation payments make up 60 percent of total unemployment benefits paid during the pandemic. 

In Alabama, 35,760 people are receiving the extra $600 a week, which totals approximately $91.7 million weekly into the state, according to The Century Foundation, which estimates that benefits to Alabamians receiving unemployment assistance will decrease by 70 percent once the extra $600 a week dries up. 

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The average current combined unemployment benefits in Alabama is $854.95 and after the end of the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation payments, the remaining unemployment benefit will be roughly $254.95.

There are also racial justice implications in the end to the extra $600 a week in aid, according to the think tank.

“Alabama, Delaware, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina all have average unemployment benefits below $300 per week, as a result of both low wages and unemployment insurance rules that simply offered less protection to predominantly black workforces,” The Century Foundation’s report notes.

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In Alabama, 57 percent of those receiving unemployment benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic from March to April were women and 50 percent were white, while 43 percent were Black, while Black people make up only 27 percent of the state’s population.

The report states that the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation benefit was intended to be a public health measure, helping workers while they stay home until it is safe to go back to work.

“Just as rushed reopenings put families at risk, eliminating FPUC now will force people to rush back to work before it is safe,” the report reads.

Job seekers can visit their local Career Center or search jobs online without cost at alabamaworks.alabama.gov

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Economy

Alabama Innovation Fund, Auburn support development of saliva COVID testing device

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The Alabama Department of Commerce and the City of Auburn’s Industrial Development Board have teamed to award $250,000 in funding to accelerate the development of OraSecure LLC’s breakthrough patent-pending saliva collection device intended to help in the ongoing battle against the novel coronavirus.

Support from the Alabama Innovation Fund and the City of Auburn will help OraSecure finalize the initial manufacturing run needed to begin mass producing its devices and complete validation with the FDA. Production of the devices will take place in Auburn.

“The Alabama Innovation Fund is a key component in our efforts to spark the creation of high-impact ’Made in Alabama’ products by stimulating breakthrough research,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce. “With this support, we are helping OraSecure speed the development of a specimen collection device that can make a difference in the pandemic response while simultaneously raising the state’s profile in the bioscience industry.”

For more information, see the attachment or click this link: https://www.madeinalabama.com/2020/07/orasecure_saliva_collection_device/

 

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