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Jones: Alabama is one of the states with the most to lose if health care law is reversed

Chip Brownlee | The Trace

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Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, said Tuesday that Alabama would be one of the hardest-hit states if President Barack Obama’s 2010 health care law, the Affordable Care Act, is reversed by federal courts.

“If the courts dismantle this law, Alabama is one of the states with the most to lose,” Jones said. “It’s already a challenge for many Alabamians to access the health care they need, particularly in our rural communities.”

Jones’ comments come after President Donald Trump’s administration announced it would ask the federal courts to invalidate the Affordable Care Act. The Justice Department filed the notice to the court late Monday, which seeks to strike down the whole law including Medicaid expansion and protections for those with pre-existing conditions.

“Instead of making that even more difficult, we need to be focusing on making some much-needed improvements to our current system, like lowering the cost of prescription drugs, combating the opioid epidemic, increasing access to rural health care and finally expanding Medicaid in the state of Alabama,” Jones said. “The Administration is playing politics with health care and we have to stand up to protect folks from losing their coverage and the vital protections that the federal health law guarantees.”

Jones is a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

In the filing with a federal appeals court on Monday, the Justice Department said it agreed with the ruling of a federal judge in Texas that the 2010 health care reform law is unconstitutional.

The filing is another step by Republicans to take out the law and support a path forward that Democrats say would potentially cause millions of Americans to lose their health insurance coverage.

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The lawsuit in Texas federal court was filed by 20 state attorneys general, including Alabama.

So far, the administration had refused to defend the law, but the new position goes further to supporting a complete invalidation of it without any alternatives to replace it.

More than 166,100 people in Alabama have federal Marketplace plans through the Affordable Care Act, meaning those individuals would lose their health coverage if the law is invalidated in the courts.

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Moreover, an additional 942,000 non-elderly Alabamians have declinable pre-existing conditions and could be denied coverage or charged more for a health care plan without the law’s pre-existing conditions protections.

That number represents one-third of people under the age of 65 in Alabama.

Insurers could reinstate annual and lifetime limits on coverage, and women could again be charged more than men for the same care. Young adults would no longer be able to stay on their parents’ health care plans until the age of 26.

About 35,000 young adults in Alabama are in that group.

Alabama missed out on full funding of Medicaid expansion. This bill would fix that.

Jones has introduced legislation to incentivize Alabama to expand Medicaid by offering states full funding for the first three years — the same deal states got years ago if they decided to expand Medicaid when it was first made an option.

Jones and the Alabama Hospital Association say Medicaid expansion is one of the only options to curb the closure of rural hospitals that has been endemic in the state for the past decade.

Since 2011, thirteen hospitals have closed in Alabama, seven of which were in rural areas.

 

Chip Brownlee is a former political reporter, online content manager and webmaster at the Alabama Political Reporter. He is now a reporter at The Trace, a non-profit newsroom covering guns in America.

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Education

Alabama declines to release COVID-19 case data associated with child care centers

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

It was unclear Tuesday the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 there have been among staff, children and relatives associated with child care facilities in Alabama, because the Alabama Department of Public Health declined to release that data. 

“All cases of COVID-19 are required to be reported to the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) under notifiable disease laws. ADPH is aware of cases in entities such as child care but does not report separately from other data,” said Dr. Karen Landers, assistant state health officer, in a message to APR on Tuesday. 

APR has asked for that data, and for whether ADPH was aware of he number of cases associated with child care centers statewide.

Landers noted that ADPH does provide the percentage of cases among age ranges, however. There had been approximately 2,628 confirmed COVID-19 cases among Alabama children 4-years-old and younger as of Monday, according to ADPH’s dashboard, but the department doesn’t specify which of those cases are associated with child care centers, and it was unclear how many cases there have been among relatives or workers connected to child care centers. 

While children 10-years-old and older can efficiently transmit COVID-19 to others, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a recent report note that “limited data are available on SARS-CoV-2 transmission from young children, particularly in child care settings.” 

The Sept, 18 CDC report looked at three COVID-19 outbreaks in child care facilities in Salt Lake County, Utah, during April 1 through July 10, and found that the 12 children who contracted the disease spread it to at least 12 others outside of the centers, and one parent was hospitalized with coronavirus. 

In one facility, researchers confirmed five cases among workers and two among children. One of those children, aged 8 months, transmitted COVID-19 to both parents, the report notes. Many of the children had mild symptoms or none at all, researchers found. 

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“COVID-19 is less severe in children than it is in adults, but children can still play a role in transmission,” the report reads. “The infected children exposed at these three facilities had mild to no symptoms. Two of three asymptomatic children likely transmitted SARS-CoV-2 to their parents and possibly to their teachers.” 

While Alabama’s Department of Public Health isn’t releasing data on cases associated with child care centers, many other states are, including Texas, South Carolina, North Carolina, California, Minnesota and Massachusetts. 

There have been 332 confirmed cases, two deaths and 14 separate outbreaks associated with child care centers in North Carolina, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. 

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Health officials in California’s Sonoma County traced 30 cases of coronavirus to one child at a child-care center in the county, where 16 students, 11 relatives and three workers tested positive, according to The Los Angeles Times. In addition to that outbreak, there have been 62 other cases at 13 child-care facilities in the county, including 27 family members, 10 workers and 25 students, with 381 cases of children younger than 17 still under investigation, the newspaper reported on Sept. 21. 

Reopening child care centers can be done safely, according to an Aug. 28 report by the the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which that found that in Rhode Island, which reopened child care centers in June 1, there were just 52 confirmed and probable cases among staff, children and relatives across 29 centers between June 1 and July 31. 

The report noted that Rhode Island at first limited centers to 12 or fewer students, required staff and students to not move between groups in centers and “universal use of masks for adults, daily symptom screening of adults and children, and enhanced cleaning and disinfection according to CDC guidelines.” 

Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris on March 19 issued an order closing child care centers through April 5, with exceptions for facilities that provided services to first responders and other workers deemed essential. Harris on March 27 issued a supplemental order allowing centers that cared for 11 or fewer children to reopen. 

The Alabama Department of Public Health on Monday published a press release touting the number of open child care centers across Alabama. According to the department, 76 percent of all child care facilities in Alabama are open.

“Alabama is well on our way to reopening the necessary number of child care facilities to enable parents to return to work and resume a more normal schedule,” said Alabama DHR commissioner Nancy Buckner, in a statement. “This is the sixth survey we have conducted and each one has shown tremendous growth in the numbers of open facilities. We have worked hard to encourage child care providers to open by providing support in the form of grants and supplies.”

Asked whether the department is aware of the number of COVID-19 cases among children, staff or relatives associated with child care centers, a DHR spokesman responded in a message to APR on Monday that “We don’t track that.” 

While child care plays a critical role for working parents across the country, the pandemic and subsequent shutdowns have put a strain on the businesses, according to a July 13 study by the National Association for the Education of Young Children, which surveyed more than 5,000 child care facilities in every state. 

Among the child care centers surveyed, two out of five said they would have to close without more public assistance, while half of the minority-owned centers said they have to close without more aid, according to the report. A quarter of child care workers said they’d applied for or received unemployment benefits, and 73 percent of centers said they have or will begin laying off workers and/or make pay cuts. 

An Aug. 26 study by the Washington D.C.-based nonprofit Bipartisan Policy Center found that 32 percent of parents polled said their child care centers were closed, 14 percent of them permanently, and 22 percent of the parents said they could not return to work in person without childcare.  

Even when child care is available to parents, many are worried about sending their children back while COVID-19 continues to spread. Of those asked, 77 percent of parents said they were concerned that sending their kids back would increase the risk of exposing their family to COVID-19.

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Bill Britt

Opinion | Hubbard did the crime; he should do the time

Bill Britt

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Mike Hubbard looks toward his family after receiving sentencing on Friday, July 8, 2016, in Opelika, Ala. (Todd Van Emst/Opelika-Auburn News/Pool)

Attorneys for convicted felon, former Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard, believe he has suffered enough, and his sentence should be reduced because six of the charges against him were overturned on appeal.

The remaining six counts against Hubbard call for a prison term of four years, 16 years probation, and substantial fines independent of the charges the upper courts set aside. Therefore there exist no reasonable grounds under which trial Judge Jacob Walker III should lessen Hubbard’s sentence.

This action on Hubbard’s behalf is simply another attempt to subvert justice.

A Lee County jury found Hubbard guilty of twelve counts of public corruption, most notably using his office for personal gain and using state resources and personnel to enrich himself—and those counts still stand.

The Court of Criminal Appeals rejected Count 5, and the Alabama Supreme Court struck down another five, which primarily dealt with the charges surrounding “principals.”

The upper-court’s finding appears more political than judicial, but most people in the state are used to jurists who bend the law for the rich and politically connected.

Of the remaining charges against Hubbard, five carry a ten-year spit sentence of two years in prison and eight years probation, and one count has a six-year split sentence with 18 months in jail with the remainder served on probation.

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Why would Judge Walker reverse his judgment since the appeals process left in place the charges that carry the very sentence he imposed?

Does Judge Walker think he erred in his sentencing? Does he now, in retrospect, believe he was unfair as Hubbard’s lawyers contend?

Hubbard’s appeal is merely more subterfuge and trickery disguised as a legal argument.

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Astonishingly, in their latest filing, lawyers, David McKnight and Joel Dillard, assert that Hubbard is not “a danger to society, nor a threat to the public” as a reason to let him out of prison.

Hubbard may not be a violent offender but his actions are a danger fo society and a threat to the public.

Prison is not only for brutal inmates it is also for those who break a certain class of laws. Because a felon wears a thousand dollar suit doesn’t mean they deserve less jail time.

Hubbard’s crimes are some of the most heinous perpetrated against civil society.

Public corruption undermines the rule of law and the principles of good government and is an offense more potent than property theft, drug use, or other non violent crimes because it rips apart the very fabric of society and its trust in the foundations of the republic.

A corrupt politician’s actions subvert the very meaning of representative government.

Hubbard is not now a danger to society, or a threat to the public because he is behind bars. But make no mistake he is a menace to public good. Even before his indictment, Hubbard used every scheme at his disposal to thwart justice, entice lying and manipulate public trust. And now he wants one more shot at corrupting the system.

There are only two occasions when every individual should expect equal treatment: when they stand before a court of law and when they stand before their maker. Yes, a wealthy defendant like Hubbard can afford better legal representation, but it doesn’t mean he can purchase special justice.

Hubbard has been given preferential treatment by lawmakers, the media, and even some on the courts. All along the way, Hubbard was handled with kid gloves and given unwarranted privilege.

McKnight and Dillard argue with a straight face that letting Hubbard out of prison early will, “Preserve scarce prison bed-space for habitual offenders and others from whom society needs protection… [and] more likely result in the defendant’s rehabilitation than incarceration.”

The word rehabilitation is used several times in Hubbard’s most recent court filings as if somehow allowing him to avoid prison time will serve to rehabilitate him. To this day, Hubbard doesn’t believe he’s committed a crime, so how is rehabilitation possible?

His attorneys lastly make the most laughable argument possible by indicating Hubbard has suffered enough.

“[The] Court should consider the punishment that Hubbard has already suffered. The convictions in this case alone have resulted in a wide range of punishments which include his removal from office, the loss of his right to vote, the divestment of his business interests, and his current incarceration.”

Suffered enough?

When lawmakers break ethics laws, it upends society because it shatters trust while nullifying the social contract that binds us together in peace and safety.

State ethics laws are an attempt to force the government to rule themselves honestly.

Hubbard ignored the very ethics laws he championed and would do it all again.

He deserves punishment for his unlawful acts, and his prison sentence should stand as a reminder to others that justice doesn’t play favorites.

Hubbard did the crime, and he should serve the time.

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Elections

Jones introduces bill to encourage investments in minority-serving banks

Eddie Burkhalter

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U.S. Sen. Doug Jones

U.S. Senator Doug Jones, D-Alabama, on Tuesday introduced legislation that would encourage investments in banks that serve minority communities. 

“One of the biggest hurdles for minority entrepreneurs is access to capital,” Jones said in a statement. “That’s why this bill is so important. Increasing access to capital at the banks that serve minority communities will help expand financial opportunities for individuals and business owners in those communities.” 

Jones, a member of the Senate Banking Committee, in April urged the Federal Reserve and the U.S. Treasury to support Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) and minority-owned banks disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and he threw his support behind more federal funding for small community banks, minority-owned banks and CDFIs during the recent Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) replenishment. 

According to a press release from Jones’s office, the bill would attract investments to those financial institutions by changing rules to allow “minority-owned banks, community banks with under $10 billion in deposits” and CDFIs to accept brokered deposits, or investments with high interest rates, thereby bolstering those institutions and encourage them to invest and lend in their communities. It would also allow low-income and minority credit unions to access the National Credit Union Administration’s Community Development Revolving Loan Fund.

“Commonwealth National Bank would like to thank Senator Jones for his leadership in introducing the Minority Depository Institution and Community Bank Deposit Access Act. As a small Alabama home grown institution, this proposal will allow us to accept needed deposits without the current limitations that hinder our ability to better serve the historically underserved communities that our institutions were created to serve. We support your efforts and encourage you to keep fighting the good fight for all of America,” said Sidney King, president and CEO of Commonwealth National Bank, in a statement. 

 “The Minority Depository Institution and Community Bank Deposit Access Act is a welcomed first step in helping Minority Depository Institutions like our National Bankers Association member banks develop the kinds of national deposit networks that allow our institutions to compete for deposits with larger banks and to better meet the credit needs of the communities we serve. The National Bankers Association commends Senator Jones’ leadership on this issue, and we look forward to continuing to engage with him on the ultimate passage of this proposal,” said Kenneth Kelly, chairman of the National Bankers Association, in a statement.

A recent report by the Brookings Institute highlighted problems minority-owned businesses had accessing federal COVID-19 relief aid from PPP loans. Researchers found that it took seven days longer for small businesses with paid employees in majority Black zip codes to receive PPP loans, compared to majority-white communities. That gap grew to three weeks for non-employer minority-owned small businesses, the report notes.

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The report also states that while minority-owned small businesses, many of which which are unbanked or underbanked, get approximately 80 percent of their loans from financial technology companies (fintechs) and online lending companies,  fintechs weren’t allowed under federal law to issue PPP loans until April 14.

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Crime

SPLC report: Despite COVID-19 deaths, Alabama isn’t releasing older, at-risk inmates

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

A report by the Southern Poverty Law Center published Tuesday found that almost 200 older state inmates, at greater risk from COVID-19, were eligible for parole, but either had no hearing or were denied parole over the summer. 

Alabama’s three-member Board of Pardons and Paroles denied parole for 44 people who were 65 and older over the summer, SPLC’s report states, and a dozen of the more than 1,100 older inmates identified in a previous SPLC report have since died, either from COVID-19 or other illnesses. 

“Despite confirming the deaths, it remains unclear whether the cause could have been COVID-19 as ADOC would not provide information about those individuals in response to a public records request, citing ongoing internal investigations,” the report reads. 

The SPLC and several other criminal justice reform groups urged the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) and the Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles to take steps to release at-risk inmates as the coronavirus pandemic began, through medical parole, medical furloughs, and judicial sentence reviews, but to date, no such larger push to release inmates has taken place. 

According to ADOC, 22 inmates have died after testing positive for COVID-19. SPLC’s report notes that many of the inmates who died had underlying health conditions, which were well known to prison officials. 

The Parole Board denied parole to more than three dozen inmates 65 or older since restarting parole hearings in May, according to the report. 

“The BPP stopped paroles starting in March, against the demands of activists and legislators who pointed out that hearings could be done virtually. Hundreds of scheduled parole hearings were cancelled. After its hiatus, the BPP scheduled relatively few hearings throughout the summer compared to years past,” authors of the report wrote.

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