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David Nast elected new chairman of the Alabama Bankers Association

Brandon Moseley

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Progress Bank President and CEO David Nast, on Wednesday, was selected as the new chairman of the Alabama Bankers Association, Inc. Board of Directors.

The Alabama Bankers Association serves as the voice of the banking industry in Alabama and as the industry’s official advocate before state and federal government. The Alabama Bankers Association chose Nast during its annual convention.

Nast is founding director as well as the president and CEO of Progress Bank, which is headquartered in Huntsville.

“David is a talented and intentional banker who is interested in strengthening our collective efforts to continually better our industry,” said ABA President and CEO Scott Latham in a statement. “A banker with broad experience and a strong work ethic, David is well-prepared to serve as ABA’s chairman.”

In January, Nast was appointed to a three-year term for the Federal Reserve of Atlanta’s Birmingham Branch.

Nast is very active in his community. He currently serves as the chairman of the Huntsville Museum of Art. He is a past chairman of Huntsville Hospital Foundation and chair-elect of Leadership Alabama.

Nast has both bachelor’s and a master’s degrees from Jacksonville State University. He also has banking certificates from both LSU’s Banking School of the South and Georgia State University’s Leadership Institute.

He and his wife, Lee, have four children and four grandchildren. They live in Huntsville.

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Jimmy Stubbs was elected chairman-elect. He is the president and CEO of River Bank & Trust in Prattville.

Steve Smith was elected vice chairman. Steve is the president and CEO of SouthPoint Bank in Birmingham.

Hope Johns was elected treasurer. Hope is the CEO of Friend Bank in Dothan.

The past chairman is Jerry Powell. Jerry is the executive vice president and legal counsel for Cadence Bank in Birmingham.

The ABA Board of Directors also added four new board members. They are Jared Kirby, who is the president of First Bank in Wadley; Robert Kuhn, who is the regional president of Alabama and Florida for SmartBank in Tuscaloosa; Michael Morgan, who is the president and CEO of First Community Bank of Central Alabama, and Charlie Williams, who is the president and CEO of Citizens Bank & Trust in Guntersville.

The Alabama Bankers Association represents 155 banks with combined deposits of more than $100 billion and 1,466 locations across the state.

“The Alabama Bankers Association is the largest and oldest trade association representing Alabama’s financial services industry. For more than 100 years, ABA has used its influence in the halls of power in Montgomery and Washington D.C. to shape the issues that are important to Alabama banks and the communities and customers they serve. Whether in the capitol or back home, ABA works with policymakers and regulators at the state and federal levels to make sure they understand how their decisions impact Main Street, Alabama.”

This year the ABA CEO, Bank Executives and Director’s Conference will be held at the Grand Hotel in Point Clear, Alabama, from Aug. 1 to 3. This year’s event will feature presentations by the FDIC and the Alabama State Banking Department.

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Opinion | A little effort can make a big difference in the fight against COVID-19

Will Ainsworth

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Will Ainsworth is Alabama’s lieutenant governor.

Every American was a bit disappointed when the White House announced this week that social distancing guidelines will remain in place at least until April 30, and some governors across the nation have mandated that statewide shelter-in-place orders may be enforced until the end of June.

Working from home, avoiding contact with others, and venturing into public only when absolutely necessary can make life seem much like the Bill Murray movie, “Groundhog Day.” Each day, the temptation to break a social distancing guideline becomes a little harder to resist and the desire to ignore protocols and immediately return to your normal routine becomes that much greater.

But facts, statistics, and simple, everyday hard truths demand that we not only hold the course in the fight against COVID-19, but also practice stricter self-discipline in how we act and what we do.

As this column is being written, Alabama is teetering on the edge of its 1,000th documented case of Coronavirus, and 19 of our fellow Alabama citizens have already succumbed to the deadly sickness.

Every indicator points to the situation getting significantly worse in our state before it begins to improve, and President Trump has ordered additional ventilators sent to Alabama from the national stockpile in order to prepare for what awaits us.

If current trends continue, Alabama’s healthcare resources will likely be pushed beyond capacity by the end of the month, and the number of hospital and ICU beds that are needed will exceed the total number we have in the state.

The good news is that Alabamians can prove all of these projections and possible doomsday scenarios wrong if we just use common sense, take self-responsibility, and follow the rules that health professionals suggest.

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Too many among us are still refusing to take the COVID-19 crisis seriously, and by doing that, they threaten their own lives along with the lives of everyone they love and everyone they meet.

Since Gov. Kay Ivey declared the state’s Gulf Coast beaches closed in order to enforce social distancing, the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency has reported a dramatic surge in weekend traffic on Alabama’s lakes and rivers.

My family and I live by Lake Guntersville, and we have noticed the massive groups of people congregating together, jumping from party boat to party boat, and ignoring every rule about social distancing and self-isolation that the Center for Disease Control has asked us to follow.

It may come as a surprise to these weekend revelers, but sun, water, and cold beer are not effective vaccines against COVID-19.

For proof of this fact, just look toward the group of University of Wisconsin-Madison students who spent their Spring Break in Gulf Shores in mid-March. Upon their return north, several of the students have displayed symptoms and tested positive for COVID-19, and all of them are currently under quarantine.

Each time an individual or family decides to strictly follow CDC guidelines and do their part in the fight against Coronavirus, the numbers bend in our direction, and all of us get that much closer to safely resuming normalcy.

Assuming Alabama has a daily infection rate of 20 percent, trends show that we can expect to have more than 245,000 total cases of COVID-19 by May 1, but if through discipline and resolve we can reduce that daily growth to 10 percent, a little more than 9,000 cases will occur. At five percent growth, we have only 1,600.

via Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth

In other words, just a little effort and diligence from all of us can make a tremendous difference. Social distancing is recommended because the virus that causes COVID-19 can travel at least three feet when coughed or sneezed, and it can live on surfaces for days.

The rules for social distancing are easy to understand and follow, and they require you to remain at least six feet away from others, wash your hands frequently with soap, sanitize and wipe down surfaces, stay at home to stop the spread, and self-quarantine and contact your physician if you experience symptoms.

President Trump was wise to extend the social distancing requirements for at least another month, but all of us look forward to the day when future extensions will not be necessary. To accomplish that goal, we must each remember three simple things – stay smart, stay healthy, and, most importantly, stay home.

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Legislature

Alabama Legislature meets under heightened health concerns

Brandon Moseley

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The Alabama House of Representatives on Tuesday gaveled in for what was supposed to be their first day back from a two-week spring break—well rested and ready to tackle the state’s pressing issues.

Instead, like everything else in American society, it was a somber event overshadowed by concerns about the coronavirus, which has killed approximately two dozen Alabamians in just the last few days.

Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, thanked all the members present for attending under the circumstances.

The House called just enough legislators to have a quorum. A bipartisan group of 53 of the 105 Representatives was present in the House Chamber to gavel in for the short session.

Others were in their cars in the parking lot if needed. The leadership had asked that anybody who felt sick at all not to attend. They also directed more vulnerable members to not attend. Despite this, Reps. Steve McMillan, R-Gulf Shores, age 78; Joe Faust, R-Fairhope, age 79; and Laura Hall, D-Huntsville, age 77, were among other older representatives who braved the risks and were in the chamber anyway.

Members of the legislature all had their temperatures checked as they entered the building to make sure that none of them had a fever. While a cough and a fever are strong indications of COVID-19, about a fifth of people infected with the novel coronavirus are asymptomatic.

They can still spread the virus to others despite feeling fine. At least six members were wearing surgical masks and several were wearing gloves. One Republican member wore a face scarf wrapped around her head covering everything but her eyes.

If there had not been a quorum present for a scheduled legislative day that would have, by rule, ended the 2020 legislative session. Their attendance in Montgomery, despite the clear and present danger of the coronavirus, saved the session.

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While there, they passed a Joint Senate Resolution changing the legislative rules so that during a state of emergency, as we have now, if on a scheduled legislative day they are unable to reach a quorum, then the leadership can set a new legislative day without losing one of their thirty legislative days.

The House set its next legislative day for April 28.

They saved the 2020 legislative session, but it may still be a hollow victory.

The Alabama Political Reporter asked McCutcheon if they are able to come back and have legislative meetings, will there still be committee meetings or will that be done by e-meetings online, and if so will there be a way for the press to participate in those online discussions?

“If we come back to conduct legislative business, there will be committee meetings and we would have no reason to keep the press out,” McCutcheon said.

But McCutcheon said that they will not come back if doing so will risk the members or their health and the other people in the building.

McCutcheon himself is in his mid-60s and has suffered from a heart condition. Pre-existing conditions like cardio-vascular disease greatly increases the likelihood of death with COVID-19.

The Alabama Political Reporter asked, given what we think is coming, is there any discussion about passing legislation so that the Alabama Department of Corrections can release its oldest and most vulnerable inmates so they can get healthcare from Medicare or Medicaid rather than from the prisons health system?

“There have been no discussions about that,” McCutcheon said.

State Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, told reporters that the Legislature would pass “two bare-bones budgets.”

McCutcheon agreed with that but cautioned, “We want to see what kind of federal money is coming down.”

McCutcheon said that when the Legislature comes back, they will prioritize supplemental appropriations bills, the budgets, the education budget and members’ local bills. They would also prioritize economic growth bills. Priority will be given to bills that have already passed the House or the Senate.

“We will look at the time we have available,” McCutcheon said.

APR asked: Given what we think is coming we are going to need every nurse that we can get. Is there plans to work with the nursing schools and colleges to ramp up the training of the nursing students we already have in the pipeline to get them trained and out on the front lines?

McCutcheon said that there has been no discussion about changing the curriculum or the course of study for nurses, but “I do know that when we look at workforce development, we have recognized that there is a nursing shortage. They are looking at ways to increase that number.”

Associated Press reporter Kim Chandler asked if the Legislature would look at increasing the length of time that an unemployed person can receive unemployment compensation.

“I am not against looking at that,” McCutcheon said.

McCutcheon said that under the circumstances that, “We may have to look at ways to reassess the timeline,” on building new prisons but warned that the state will have to speak to the Department of Justice.

Passing sentencing reform and efforts to reduce recidivism “will depend on how much time we have left,” he said.

McCutcheon said that there is a possibility that the Governor will have to call a special session over the summer and if they had not met on Tuesday then there would have been a special session.

“The members are concerned about their districts,” McCutcheon said. “The governor is now having weekly conference calls with legislators.”

McCutcheon said that the leadership will be monitoring the situation and, “We may be in a position where we can not” go back into session.

The Alabama Senate had a similar meeting on Tuesday to change the rules and set April 28 as their next meeting day.

The Alabama Legislature must constitutionally pass the two budgets and conclude their legislative business by May 18.

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Economy

Department of Labor closed Birmingham unemployment office as COVID-19 spread

Eddie Burkhalter

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The number of people applying for unemployment in Alabama continues to skyrocket amid the COVID-19 outbreak, but there are fewer people handling those claims this month than last. 

The Alabama Department of Labor closed an office in Birmingham and let some workers go earlier this month. That staffing shortage, coupled with an onslaught of new claims, has slowed the time it’s taking to process them, one worker told APR

Approximately 74,056 people filed unemployment claims during the week that ended  March 28, according to the department’s preliminary data. That was far more than had ever been filed for any week going back to 1987, when the U.S. Department of Labor began keeping data on weekly unemployment claims. 

“Where we would have alerted a claimant that it would take two to three weeks, now the verbiage is, as soon as administratively possible,” the employee at the department told APR by phone Saturday. The person asked not to be identified as they’re still employed with the state. 

It’s currently taking between six and seven weeks to process claims, the worker said, and people who have applied are expressing concern over the long wait. 

“It’s an issue,” the worker said. 

The employee said workers at the now-closed Birmingham office were called into a meeting on Feb. 18 and told the office would close for good on March 13. Anyone who wanted to continue working for the department had to report to the Montgomery office on March 16, the worker said, or they would be “considered to have quit.” 

In a response to APR’s questions, Alabama Department of Labor spokeswoman Tara Hutchison wrote that “Eleven employees found other positions in a career center or tax office, three employees resigned in lieu of transferring, two are retiring, and six conditional employees were separated.”

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There was no discussion in that Feb. 18 meeting of the novel coronavirus or the possibility of mass filings, the workers said. There was discussion of what might happen if another recession hit, the person said, but administrators didn’t have a plan for that. 

China informed the World Health Organization about the novel coronavirus on Dec. 31. President Donald Trump on Jan. 31 banned foreign nationals entry into the country if they had traveled to China within the last two weeks. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention there were 18 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the U.S. as of Feb. 18, the day workers were told the Birmingham office would be closing. 

A day after the Feb. 18 meeting at the Birmingham office Iran’s COVID-19 breakout began. 

By March 8, eight days before workers were ordered to show up to the Montgomery office, Italy ordered a lockdown of 60 million residents. Three days later the World Health Organization classified COVID-19 as a pandemic. 

By March 13, the day the Birmingham office closed, there were 2,611 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the U.S. 

The worker said just 15 of the 37 employees made the move to the Montgomery office, and those who did are faced with an overwhelming workload and are spending hours each day doing jobs that others had done before the move. All but one of the 15 adjudicate claims, the person said, meaning they process them and determine whether the person should receive unemployment benefits. 

Hutchison told APR that the decision to close the Birmingham office was made because of funding and budget issues. 

“The Unemployment Insurance program’s budget has been cut repeatedly for several years.  The building’s rental and overhead costs were eliminated by transferring those employees to the Montgomery Call Center,” Hutchison said in the message. 

The worker questioned, however, why the department waited until a month before the planned closure to inform the staff, and expressed concern that there 

“As you know, we are taking in remarkable numbers of new claims due to COVID-19.  There was no way to know at the time that this situation would occur. We are working constantly to improve service, and one of those ways is by reutilizing those employees who transferred to other positions, and having them accept claims,” Hutchison said. “We are also looking to bring back those conditional employees who have separated, if they haven’t found other work.  Additionally, the federal government is providing increased funding to assist with staffing issues.”

The Birmingham office was already short-staffed enough to have been allowing staff there overtime pay to handle existing claims, the employee said. 

“This just added just a whole new level,” the person said. 

The workers said staff at the department want the public to know that they care and are working hard to get claims processed as quickly as possible. 

“We want to make sure that we’re doing the job right. We want to make sure that we’re following guidelines that we’ve had in place all throughout our employment with how to do these claims,” the person said. “If the public knew that, that would be great.”

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National

President Trump’s support rises during his handling of the coronavirus crisis

Brandon Moseley

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President Donald Trump is benefitting in recent job approval polls from the national focus on the coronavirus and his handling of the crisis.

In January, America was experiencing its best economy in over 50 years. The stock market was booming, corporate profits were up, taxes were down, incomes were rising, unemployment was at record lows, the American dream appeared more achievable for more Americans than ever before and the nation faced no pressing problems. That was until a new strain of coronavirus first appeared in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China in late 2019. It arrived in this country by January 20. The growing spread of the virus, led the White House to implement an unprecedented forced economic shutdown and new social distancing policies to fight the spread of the virus.

While the Draconian economic orders have resulted in tremendous economic dislocation the American people are largely rallying behind the President’s policy and he is experiencing his best approval ratings since 2018.

According to a recent Hill-HarrisX poll, Trump’s approval rating is now at fifty percent, 50 percent of registered voters approved of Trump’s job performance, while 50 percent still disapprove. The last time Trump’s approval reached 50 percent or higher was August 2018 at 51 percent support.

85 percent of Republican voters approve; while just 19 percent of Democrats approve of Trump’s job performance. The poll was conducted on March 22 to 23.

A Gallup poll showed that Trump’s job approval has risen from 44 percent on March 16 to 49 percent nine days later. This ties the highest rating of his entire presidency in the Gallup poll set in January during his impeachment trial. The President’s has enjoyed strong support among Republicans; but his approval numbers have risen with both Democrats and Independents to 13 percent and 43 percent respectively, rises of six percent and eight percent in the past two weeks as the US deals with the COVID-19 outbreak that has already killed hundreds in the country.

Trump was originally skeptical of the virus’s impact; but his unprecedented decisions three weeks ago to shut down most international air traffic, social distancing, and unprecedented decision to use a forced economic shutdown to slow the spread of the virus to save American lives has drawn high approval among voters.

Former State Representative Perry O. Hooper Jr. is a member of Trump’s national victory committee.

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“President Trump has done a tremendous job as Commander-in-Chief in the war against the Wuhan Coronavirus,” Hooper told the Alabama Political Reporter. “His widely criticized initial ban on non-American citizens traveling to our country from China, invoked in January, may have been the most important decision he made in fighting this deadly disease. This is leadership that has saved countless American lives.”

Trump and his White House coronavirus task force, led by Vice President Mike Pence (R), have regularly addressed the nation urging them to follow the social distancing guidelines and not to panic.

“President Trump has surrounded himself with the brightest medical minds in the world,” Hooper said.
“He is spending hours each day listening to their very candid advise. Daily the President stands alongside with his team leader Vice President Mike Pence. They speak directly to the American people boiling down the complex health and economic issues caused by the Wuhan coronavirus into common sense answers the American public can understand.”

“As a result, Americans are seeing a direct and accountable, solution-driven, business approach being applied to the greatest national emergency since the bombing of Pearl Harbor that forced us into World War II,” Hooper said. “As a result, the approval ratings for President Trump’s handling of the crisis have skyrocketed.”

There has been tremendous economic upheaval from the decision to shut down much of the economy. The White House maintains that this is necessary to save lives.

“Optimal solutions are not always pretty; but in times of crisis, great leaders know they must generate optimal solutions,” Hooper explained. “This crisis requires balancing the healthcare needs of the country with the economic livelihood of everyday Americans. President Trump is focused on achieving optimal solutions by implementing his “Whole Nation Solution”. This solution is about the public and private sector working hand in hand doing everything in their power to defeat this unseen enemy. Governors across the nation such as New York’s Andrew Cuomo have put aside political differences to work with the President and his team to defeat the Wuhan virus. Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate have come together to work with the White House to pass badly needed legislation to keep American workers whole and keep businesses in a position to resume operations.”

Democrats and the mainstream media have been critical of the President’s handling of the situation as sending mixed messages and not going far enough.

“The Trump-hating media is still attacking the President even when he is facing the worst public-health crisis this nation has seen in decades,” Hooper countered. “Their principal effort has been to stir up and maintain a state of public fear that grips the country while they snipe and carp at any shortcoming they discover or invent in the President’s statements.”

There are fears that the forced economic shutdown will cause a deep and long-lasting recession and “that the cure could be worse” than the virus. To address this, the President negotiated a bipartisan $two trillion stimulus package to pump some liquidity into the system in the form of relief payments to: businesses, corporations, states, education systems, hospitals, and families. The CARES Act was passed and signed into law by the President on Friday.

“We must support as a unified nation our President’s delicate balancing act,”.Hooper said. “We must keep the country safe while simultaneously getting our great American economy back up and running sooner rather than later.”

The White House is predicting that even with the economic shutdown and the social distancing that 100,000 to 240,000 Americans will still die. The White House Coronavirus task force argues that as many as two million Americans would have died without these efforts. On Tuesday, the President and his team warned that if Americans fail to take this crisis seriously and don’t practice social distancing over a million of us could perish in the coming months.

As of press time, 188,592 Americans have been confirmed with COVID-19. 4,056 have died. The U.S. now has more confirmed cases than any other country, with outbreaks rapidly growing in New York, New Jersey, Louisiana, Michigan, Florida and other states. 24 Alabamians have died. 7,256 Americans have already recovered from their illnesses and 4,576 are in critical or serious condition.

(Original reporting by the Hill and Fox News contributed to this report.)

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