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Economy

More than 240 federal workers apply for unemployment compensation in Alabama as shutdown drags on

Chip Brownlee

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The true effects of the prolonged partial government shutdown are appearing as the impasse preventing funding for about a quarter of the federal government drags on toward its third week.

The Alabama Department of Labor clarified Wednesday that furloughed federal employees meet state eligibility requirements. At least 240 federal workers have applied for unemployment compensation since the shutdown began.

The number may include some federal workers who were laid off for other reasons, but if you’re a federal employee in Alabama who has been furloughed because of the partial government shutdown, you can apply for unemployment compensation benefits.

“There are thousands of federal employees in Alabama who may be impacted by this shutdown,” said Fitzgerald Washington, secretary of the Alabama Department of Labor. “Should these workers need assistance during this time, I would encourage them to apply for unemployment compensation benefits.

On the other end of the spectrum, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is included in the shutdown, said Monday that funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the program formerly known as food stamps, will continue through February but implied it could run out after that.

The program provides monetary assistance to low-income families to buy food.

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As the government shutdown drags on into its 20th day Thursday, more than 5,000 federal employees in Alabama remain furloughed or are working without pay as negotiations in Washington ground to a halt again this week.

In total, about 53,200 workers were counted as federal employees in Alabama, according to November 2018 data, though only a portion work in the affected agencies.

At nearly three weeks, the partial shutdown will rank as the longest shutdown in 45 years by Friday, affecting about a quarter of the federal government including the Departments of the Interior, Justice, State, Homeland Security and five others.

Nationally, about 800,000 government employees are affected. About half have been sent home on unpaid leave and the other half are working without pay, according to the New York Times, including the TSA, Border Patrol and other essential jobs that are still working — but without pay.

Some effects of the shutdown — aside from unpaid workers — include the possibility that the United State’s credit rating could be downgraded, the NTSB’s inability investigating transportation incidents and the National Weather Service having to abandon its non-critical forecasting.

Though the USDA said it could stop SNAP benefits beginning in March, Georgetown University Law Professor David Super said in a legal analysis Wednesday that decision could be unlawful.

“Contrary to the implication of USDA’s release, however, SNAP benefits (although not some other SNAP functions) should continue even if the partial shutdown extends into March. This is the result of the Food and Nutrition Act’s unique funding provisions, which impose a legal obligation on USDA to continue providing SNAP benefits unless Congress enacts reductions,” Super wrote.

For those that are furloughed because of the shutdown, the Department of Labor provided some guidance on applying for unemployment benefits.

  • Unemployment compensation benefits in Alabama range from a weekly minimum of $45 to a maximum of $265. They are available for up to 26 weeks.
  • Employees should be prepared to provide verification of their wages, as ADOL may not be able to confirm wages with affected federal agencies. Valid documents include pay stubs or W-2’s.
  • Should the affected employees receive back pay at a later date, any benefits received would need to be repaid to ADOL, as required by law. Payment plans can be arranged by contacting the agency.

More information and Frequently Asked Questions can be found here.

Employees who are not working due to the shutdown should apply online at www.labor.alabama.gov or by calling 1-866-234-5382.

 

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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More than 240 federal workers apply for unemployment compensation in Alabama as shutdown drags on

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