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Trump administration plans to kick 3.1 million off of SNAP benefits

Eddie Burkhalter

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A change proposed Wednesday by the Trump administration could take away food assistance for 3.1 million vulnerable Americans. 

The Supplemental  Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, helps feed 36.3 million Americans, according to the United States Department ofAgriculture. That’s down from the 47.6 million who received that help just after the Great Recession. 

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced the planned rule changes Wednesday, stating that the government planned to close a “loophole” that allowed people to automatically be eligible for SNAP benefits who had already been approved to receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. 

Doing so would save the government $2.5 billion a year, according to the USDA, but advocates for the poor say the changes would cost the state to implement and would take food off the tables of the most vulnerable. 

The proposed changes would keep some from receiving food assistance by eliminating waivers for things like income, savings accounts and for some of the value of automobiles, said Carol Gundlach, a policy analyst at Alabama Arise, a nonprofit that advocates for the poor. 

Alabama, like many other states, opted years ago to allow for those waivers, which Gundalch said helps the elderly and disabled the most.  The elderly often have more health costs, and the state felt that penalyzing them for saving to pay for those bills wasn’t good policy, she said. 

“It was also hit the working poor,” Gundlach said, adding that while we encourage people to save for things like automobile repairs if a low-income family does save they might not be eligible for food assistance. 

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Prior to Alabama allowing those waivers Gundlach said she worked with a family who had bought a new van just before the husband fell off of a roof on a construction site, breaking his back. The family couldn’t get food assistance because of the van’s value, she said, even though they owed too much on the vehicle to sell it.

If the proposed changes take place Gundlach said Alabama will once again have to deny applicants SNAP benefits based on a vehicle’s value. 

While the changes might save the federal government money it will cost the state of Alabama to implement them, Gundlach said. State workers will have to make those vehicle appraisals and tally up savings accounts and other income information. 

Currently, the law allows for people to receive SNAP benefits if they earn no more than 130 percent of the poverty line, which is about $28,000 a year. The USDA hasn’t announced specific information about income limits that might change under the proposal. 

In a statement Wednesday on the proposed changes the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a progressive Washington D.C-based think tank, wrote that the administration’s proposal would cut off food aid for many near-poor working families, seniors, people with disabilities and children. 

“Children from families who would lose their SNAP benefits under the proposed rule would also lose access to free lunches and breakfasts at school,” according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. 

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich, Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, & Forestry, in a statement Wednesday said that the Trump administration’s proposal is an attempt to mandate an unpopular change that Congress voted against when it approved the farm bill recently, which did not include cuts to SNAP. 

“This proposal is yet another attempt by this Administration to circumvent Congress and make harmful changes to nutrition assistance that have been repeatedly rejected on a bipartisan basis,” Stabenow said. “…The Administration should stop undermining the intent of Congress and instead focus on implementing the bipartisan Farm Bill that the President signed into law.”

Gundlach believes that if the rule changes are adopted the administration would likely face court challenges from states and from advocacy groups representing those impacted by the changes. 

A 60-day public comment period began Wednesday. The USDA will have to review those comments before implementing the changes.

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Jones says Alabama is “in very dangerous territory” with the coronavirus

“We are still in very dangerous territory,” Jones said. “We are in the middle of this first wave, not in a second wave.”

Brandon Moseley

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Sen. Doug Jones speaks at a press conference on COVID-19. (Sen. Doug Jones/Facebook)

As cases continue to mount and hospitalizations related to COVID-19 rise, U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, said Tuesday that Alabama remains “in very dangerous territory” when it comes to the coronavirus.

“We are still in very dangerous territory,” Jones said. “We are in the middle of this first wave, not in a second wave.”

As of Tuesday, 45,263 Alabamians have tested positive for the virus. The state has recorded record hospitalizations in the last week.

National Institutes for Allergies and Infectious Diseases director Dr. Anthony Fauci, who joined Jones on a press call Tuesday, said he favored requiring masks, requiring social distancing and closing bars as steps that will work on controlling the virus.

“Any covering is better than no masks,” Fauci said. “The best masks are the N95 masks, but we need to reserve those for healthcare workers.”

Fauci said that we have reopened the economy and sometimes it was opened “a bit soon,” adding that the U.S. has recently been reporting more than 50,000 cases of coronavirus per day — ”almost double what it was during our high baseline,” he said.

Fauci said that we should reopen the economy, but it should be done with precautions.

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“I don’t think it should be all or none — a complete shutdown or throw caution to the wind,” Fauci said.

Fauci said the coronavirus is being spread through the respiratory route.

“Twenty to 40 percent of the people who are infected have no symptoms at all,” he said. “If you are within six feet of someone who is infected, even if they have no symptoms, you can be infected.”

Jones said that the median age for persons being infected has dropped fifteen years in recent weeks, but Fauci noted that the issue of young people getting infected has two issues: It is true that young people typically have less incidence of serious cases, but young people are still getting sick, being hospitalized and dying, just at rates lower than older populations. But Fauci also said that young people getting infected are propagating this epidemic, which could end up affecting more vulnerable populations.

“We should try to get the schools back open,” Fauci said. Closing the schools, he said, “has ripple effects for the family that override the health effects.”

Fauci said that the death rate for COVID-19 has dropped as the median age of persons infected has dropped and also because hospitals are doing a better job of treating COVID-19 patients, adding that there is no conclusive evidence that the virus has mutated into a less dangerous strain.

Fauci said that schools will reopen with different rules based on the level of infection in the community on a county-by-county basis. Masks may be required at all times, while schools should be working to increase the distance between desks modifying their schedules.

“It is not going to be a one size fit all,” he said.

Fauci was asked if a coronavirus vaccine, when it is developed, will be mandatory.

“I don’t think we have ever had a situation where we mandate a vaccine for the general population,” Fauci said. “That has not ever happened at a national level or even a state level.”

Fauci said that individual employers, like hospitals, may mandate the vaccine, but that he doubted there would be a vaccine mandate for the general population because it would be “encroaching on a person’s ability to make their own choices.”

Fauci said that we already have two therapeutics for COVID-19 for patients in advanced stages, including dexamethasone but more treatments are still needed.

“Over a thousand Alabamians have now died from this,” Jones said. “That is not acceptable.”

“30 percent of Alabama’s cases have come in the last two weeks,” Jones explained.

Most have come since Memorial Day and the weeks since Gov. Kay Ivey began loosening state restrictions. Many citizens are ignoring the warnings by not wearing a mask.

Jones said that four of Alabama’s five largest cities already have county-wide ordinances or the largest city has passed ordinances requiring masks in public places, adding that he has talked with Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, where the number of cases have tripled and hospitalizations are up 660 percent.

“We talk about how we are doing in the United States,” Jones said. “Only Brazil has done worse than we have, and we just received news that the president of Brazil has tested positive. The United States has not done a good job.”

Jones said that the number of tests in Alabama that come back positive has gone up in recent weeks. “That shows that we are getting community spread,” he said. The Alabama Political Reporter’s tracking of COVID-19 trends shows that the percentage of tests that are positive has gone up to 14 percent in recent weeks.

Jones said that Perry, Dallas, Bulloch, Marshall, Montgomery and Conecuh counties have been especially hard hit and some of those areas already have access to healthcare problems.

“We have seen some movement from Sen. McConnell” on another coronavirus relief bill, Jones said. “He says that he will have a package.”

While the House has passed a third relief package, that bill is not perfect, Jones said, but he said there are a lot of good things in that bill, the HEROES Act.

“He wants to write this bill himself,” Jones said. “We have no early idea what will be in that package. He is going to write this himself behind closed doors.”

Jones said that another red state has opted to expand Medicaid when voters in Oklahoma passed that last week. Alabama is now among just thirteen states that have not expanded Medicaid.

The Senate will be working on the National Defense Authorization Act as well as the coronavirus relief bill when they return this month, Jones said.

“We have got to take care of our military,” Jones said. “Several amendments will be offered, but I expect that it will pass in a bipartisan way.”

Reporters asked Fauci if Alabama would benefit from a statewide mask requirement.

“I do believe that a statewide mask order is important,” Fauci said. “Masks are important. … We should all be wearing masks when we are out in public.”

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Health

Fauci calls on governors in states with surging cases to issue mask orders

As COVID-19 deaths in Alabama passed 1,000 on Tuesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci called on governors to issue face mask orders to slow the spread of the virus.

Eddie Burkhalter

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Dr. Anthony Fauci speaks during a video press conference with Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama.

As COVID-19 deaths in Alabama passed 1,000 on Tuesday, a member of the White House’s coronavirus task force called on governors to issue face mask orders to slow the spread of the virus.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the White House’s coronavirus task force, when asked by APR whether he’d like to see governors in states with surging cases institute statewide orders to wear masks, said yes.

“I do believe a statewide mask order is important because there is a variability in people taking seriously or even understanding the benefit of masks,” Fauci said during a press conference, hosted by U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama on Tuesday. “Masks make a difference. It is one of the primary fundamental tools we have.”

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey on June 30 extended her “safer-at-home” order until July 31, but declined to institute any further mandates despite surging new cases and hospitalizations.

Fauci also said that social distancing and the closure of bars are important to communities looking to slow the spread.

“Fundamental things like masking, distancing, washing hands, closing bars — if you do that, I think it will be a giant step toward interfering with the spread in your community,” Fauci said.

At least 1,007 people have died statewide from COVID-19, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health.

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New daily COVID-19 cases in Alabama dipped below 900 for the first time in six days, but just barely, with 888 new cases on Tuesday. Thirty-one percent of the state’s total confirmed cases have come within the last two weeks.

Alabama’s hospitals on Monday were caring for more COVID-19 patients than at any time since the pandemic began.

UAB Hospital had 86 coronavirus patients on Monday, the highest the hospital had seen. Huntsville Hospital had 72 COVID-19 patients on Monday, and the surge in cases prompted the hospital to cancel elective surgeries and convert three surgical floors to COVID-19 care, according to AL.com.

At East Alabama Medical Center in Opelika there were 41 COVID-19 patients on Monday, which was the highest the hospital has seen in weeks and not far from the hospital’s peak of 54 patients on April 11.

The average age of those becoming infected with coronavirus has dropped by 15 years since the beginning of the pandemic, Fauci said, which has lowered the overall death rate due to the virus, as younger people usually fair better, but not if that young person has an underlying medical condition.

“We are now getting multiple examples of young people who are getting sick, getting hospitalized and some of them even requiring intensive care,” Fauci said, adding that even those young people who have coronavirus but are asymptomatic can spread the virus to others, who may be more compromised.

Fauci warned against pointing to the overall declining death rate and becoming lax about coronavirus, and said that “it’s a false narrative to take comfort in a lower rate of death.”

“There’s so many other things that are very dangerous and bad about this virus. Don’t get yourself into false complacency,” Fauci said.

Dr. Don Williamson, president of the Alabama Hospital Association, told APR on Monday that it may take several weeks to learn whether the increasing number of those hospitalized in Alabama will worsen and require ICUs and ventilators, and possibly lead to a rise in deaths.

“We just don’t know yet. We don’t know which way we’re going to go,” Williamson said Monday. “We just know we got a whole lot more cases than we had a month ago, and we’ve got a lot more hospitalizations than we had a month ago.”

Asked about his thoughts on the state of the virus in Alabama, Fauci said that what’s alarming is the slope of the curve of new daily cases.

“When you see a slope that goes up like that you’ve got to be careful that you don’t get into what’s called an exponential phase, where every day it can even double, or more,” Fauci said. “You’re not there yet, so you have an opportunity, a window to get your arms around this, and to prevent it from getting worse.”

Speaking on what’s become the politicization of the wearing of face masks, Fauci said that politicization of any public health matter has negative consequences. President Donald Trump does not wear face masks in public, prompting concern from many that by doing so he’s suggesting to the public that masks aren’t needed. The issue is divided rather sharply along partisan lines.

In a recent Quinnipiac University poll, two-thirds of voters, 67 percent, said Trump should wear a face mask when he is out in public, but while 90 percent of Democrats and 66 percent of independents say the president should wear a mask in public, just 38 percent of Republicans said the same.

“I mean, obviously today, it’s no secret to anybody who lives in the United States that we have a great deal of polarization in our country, unfortunately,” Fauci said. “We hope that changes, but there’s no place for that when you’re making public health recommendations, analysis of data, or any policies that are made. That will always be a detriment to do that.”

 

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Elections

GOP candidate Tommy Tuberville leads Trump “boat parade” in Orange Beach

Brandon Moseley

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Tommy Tuberville participates in a Trump "boat parade." (Contributed)

Senate candidate Tommy Tuberville rode in the lead boat in a “boat parade” on Sunday in Orange Beach, celebrating Independence Day and the launch of President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign.

Hundreds of boats participated in the Trump parade in the Perdido Pass area. WKRG TV estimates that more than 8,000 people joined. Orange Beach and Gulf Shores boats joined boats from Pensacola and Dauphin Island.

Trump supporter and Alabama Republican Executive Committee member Perry Hooper Jr. was also present.

“It was Awesome having Coach Tommy Tuberville on The TRUMP Boat at Orange Beach Alabama,” Hooper said. “Tommy was a Great Coach and he will be a Great US Senator. It’s Great To Be A TRUMP/ TUBERVILLE AMERICAN. Everybody was so Happy cheering for The President and Tommy on! Fun Day!”

Hooper is a former state representative from Montgomery.

Tuberville is a former Auburn University head football coach. The Arkansas native lives in Auburn.

President Donald Trump spoke at Mount Rushmore in South Dakota on Friday.

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“Today we pay tribute to the exceptional lives and extraordinary legacies of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt,” Trump said. “I am here as your president to proclaim before the country and before the world, this monument will never be desecrated, these heroes will never be defamed, their legacy will never ever be destroyed, their achievements will never be forgotten, and Mount Rushmore will stand forever as an eternal tribute to our forefathers and to our freedom.”

Trump accused opponents of trying to dismantle America.

“Make no mistake. This left-wing cultural revolution is designed to overthrow the American Revolution,” Trump alleged. “In so doing they would destroy the very civilization that rescued billions from poverty, disease, violence, and hunger, and that lifted humanity to new heights of achievement, discovery, and progress. To make this possible, they are determined to tear down every statue, symbol, and memory of our national heritage.”

“President Trump has given several good Speeches,” Hooper said. “This Speech was by far his best! It was straight up AWESOME! His speech was all about the Greatness of America! President Trump loves our Country and its great History. President Reagan has given some of the best speeches ever. This speech topped Reagan’s best. As for Perry O. Hooper Jr., I would get in a foxhole and fight for him to the end. God Bless President Donald J. Trump and GOD BLESS THE USA!”

Trump faces a stiff challenge from former Vice President Joe Biden, who is leading in the polling.

Tuberville has been endorsed by Trump in the July 14 Republican primary runoff for U.S. Senate. Tuberville faces former Sen. Jeff Sessions.

 

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Courts

Judge refuses to dismiss Roy Moore lawsuit against Sacha Baron Cohen

A federal judge last week refused to dismiss a lawsuit against Sacha Baron Cohen, Showtime and CBS filed by former Senate candidate Roy Moore.

Brandon Moseley

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Roy Moore, left, and Sacha Baron Cohen, right, on Cohen's now-canceled show "Who Is America?" (Showtime/YouTube)

Federal Judge Andrew Carter last week refused to dismiss a lawsuit against Sacha Baron Cohen, Showtime and CBS. The lawsuit was filed by former U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore and his wife Kayla Moore, who claim that Cohen slandered Moore as a pedophile on his now-canceled show “Who is America?”

After the judge denied Cohen’s request to dismiss the $95 million lawsuit, the case will now proceed to discovery, where the Moores announced that they intend to take the depositions of and obtain evidence from Cohen and other relevant individuals at Showtime, CBS and their related entities.

The Moores had put the defendants on notice that if they aired the offensive and defamatory interview by Cohen, who posed in disguise as an Israeli Mossad agent, that they would be sued for large damages. When the defendants did not heed the warning and aired the interview anyway, the Moores brought their lawsuit.

The case is being litigated in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York after it was transferred over a year ago from a federal court in Washington D.C.

“We are gratified that the Court is allowing the Moores’ case to go forward and we look forward to putting Cohen and the other defendants under oath,” said Larry Klayman, founder of Judicial Watch and Freedom Watch, and a former federal prosecutor. “The alleged defamation of Chief Justice Moore was malicious and despicable and it is time that a jury of the parties’ peers allow justice to be done. Great harm has been caused to my clients, which must be addressed and remedied.”

In 2017, Moore, the former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme court, was the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate. The Washington Post released an investigation that alleged Moore sexually abused young women in the 1970s. Moore denied the accusations.

 

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