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Economy

Jones calls economy “fragile”

Brandon Moseley

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Monday U.S. Senator Doug Jones told a townhall audience in Hamilton that he is concerned about the economy.

Jones acknowledged that the economy was doing strong, but warned that it ‘fragile.”

Jones said that it is not a good sign that the Federal Reserve lowered interest rates. “That have detected some weakness in the economy,” Jones said of the decision to lower rates.

Jones said that President Trump was right to stand up to China. “For too long China has been able to get way with a lot.” Jones says that the Chinese are guilty of currency manipulation, dumping, and the theft of intellectual property.

Jones grew up in Fairfield and he blamed Chinese dumping of steel partly for the decline there.

“At one point, U.S. Steel had 23,000, people working at the Fairfield Works. Today there is less than a 1,000 people working there.”

Jones expressed frustration in the President’s strategy because he also attacked our allies. By picking fights with everybody at the same time, that meant that our allies, “aren’t helping us with China. We are going it alone on China.”

Jones said that a tariff is just another tax. The tariffs drive up the cost to produce cars at Mercedes, at Honda, and at Hyundai because there are parts from all over the world on all of these vehicles that are assembled here. The tariffs mean that you would pay ten to 25 percent more for everything produced in China.

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“I am worried about our agriculture because of tariffs,” Jones said. “Soybean farmers and cotton farmers are getting hit hard.”

“You can’t sell the soybeans,” Jones said. The administration is provided aid to farmers, but “Farmers don’t want a hand out they want a market. The Chinese bought half of our soybeans. If something does not change farmers are going to lose that market in China. There are more and more bankruptcies among farmers there are more and more suicides among farmers.”

The suicide rate among American farmers has soared to where it is now double that of even veterans.

Jones said that the farmers have been sticking with the President, as they should.

Former State Senator Roger Bedford (D-Russellville) praised Jones for his work on the bipartisan farm bill.

Jones said that the Senate passed a Farm Bill with broad bipartisan support. Bipartisan farm

“We got some really good things there,” Jones said.

Jones said that he worked on getting protections for cotton farmers and making sure that cotton had a federal program.

Jones did praise the new “NAFTA”, the Mexico, Canada Agreement as being an improvement over the previous agreement, though he said that he would like to see some environmental issues addressed in there.

Doug Jones was elected in a special election in 2017. He is a former U.S. Attorney and previously had worked in the Senate as an aide to the late Howell Heflin (D- Alabama).

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Economy

UAH researchers and the world’s fastest supercomputer join the fight against the COVID-19 virus

Brandon Moseley

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More and more of Alabama’s brainpower is being redirected into fighting the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

Dr. Jerome Baudry is a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Alabama at Huntsville. Dr. Baudry and his lab are involved in a project that is using the Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Summit supercomputer to examine compounds to fight the virus that has already killed 34,807 people as of early Monday morning.

The compounds under review include drugs already available with safe profiles, as well as natural products. Compounds identified as possible future drugs will also be studied.

“We are at this point focusing on repurposing existing drugs,” Dr. Baudry said. “That is, to take existing drugs from the shelf and find which ones are active against either the virus itself or can help in treating or mitigating the effects of infection in the severe cases.”

Dr. Baudry said that about 30 researchers are involved in the project, and are working around the clock. The group is studying how the virus ticks, including how it expresses proteins, for clues on how to defeat it.

“We can use high performance computers and supercomputers to look at the entire genome of the virus, see everything the virus’ genome is making and build computational models of all these proteins, and repeat the repurposing process for each of these proteins,” Dr. Baudry said.

Scientists in the group are starting with some proteins on the surface of the virus in an attempt to prevent it from infecting human cells.

“We are also looking at some of the proteins that allow the virus to replicate itself when it is inside the human cell in order to block this process, a bit like for many anti-AIDS drugs,” Dr. Baudry explained. “But we will expand to pretty much everything in the virus’ genome that can be targeted by a drug.”

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Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s 200 petaflop supercomputer allows researchers unprecedented access to solving this and some of the world’s other most pressing challenges.

Researchers have a databases about virtually all existing drugs, natural products or molecules that may not have been tested yet as drugs. There are thousands of them. Then they build virtual models of these compounds using the laws of physics and chemistry to calculate their composition and arrive at a very detailed computational description.

“Then we look at the virus’ genome,” Dr. Baudry said. “We have to build models for all the virus’ proteins, again describing all the atoms, their properties, how they move together, etc.”

The supercomputers then compute how the atoms of a possible drug will interact with the atoms of the virus’ proteins.

“It’s like doing a test tube experiment to see if a possible drug will bind to the protein, except that we perform this in a virtual test tube using our computers,” Baudry explained.

Economic developer Dr. Nicole Jones explained to the Alabama Political Reporter, “Researchers across Alabama are working around the clock to assess potential treatment for the novel COVID-19. The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) and Dr. Baudry are using technology, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Summit supercomputer, to examine compounds from safe, existing drugs as well as natural products. Repurposing existing drugs is a strategy that can expedite the process if a potential cure or treatment is found. The drugs are already on the shelf, why not test them to see if they can be useful? The high performance computers and supercomputers allow researchers to examine the entire genome of the virus and how it reacts. UAH’s latest announcement is another example of the brainpower we have in Alabama and our state’s commitment to combating this pandemic.”

UAB, Southern Research Institute, Hudson Alpha, and Alabama biotech firms are also working on finding drugs that will treat COVID-19 as well as hoping to develop a vaccine to prevent it.

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Economy

Alabama Credit Unions announce policy on coronavirus

Brandon Moseley

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The Alabama Credit Association says that Alabama’s credit unions have been working diligently to meet the financial needs of the states’ families and businesses during the coronavirus pandemic.

“On behalf of our credit union members, we want to share the following important information with you,” the Alabama Credit Union Association said in a statement.

The association said financial institutions are prepared and able to be a source of strength for the communities they serve, and money is safe in National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) and Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) insured financial institutions.

“Not a penny of deposits insured by NCUA has ever been lost,” the ACUA assured depositors. “The safest place for our money is in an insured depository institution. Up to $250,000 is the basic amount covered by federal insurance for single amounts at any insured institution. Additional coverage may be available depending on the account type and structure.”

Greg McClellan is the administrator of the Alabama Credit Union Administration.

“The Alabama Credit Union Administration is continually communicating with credit unions to offer assistance during this pandemic,” said McClellan. “Credit unions are insured by the NCUA up to $250,000. Credit unions we have been in contact with have been striving to provide excellent service to their members, and we continue to provide assistance to them.”

State Rep. Chris Blackshear, R-Phenix City, is the chairman of the Alabama State Committee on Financial Institutions.

“In these uncertain times, it is great to see the Alabama Credit Union Association and their member credit unions stepping up to ensure Alabamans that their money is safe and secure,” Blackshear said. “I also want to thank all of Alabama’s credit unions for stepping up to help their members and communities as we adjust to the new normal in our great state.”

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Patrick La Pine is the CEO of the League of Southeastern Credit Unions.

“Alabama’s credit unions remain open and ready to serve their members during this difficult time,” said CEO La Pine. “Credit unions are integral parts of their communities – and they understand the challenges their members face. During this trying time, Alabama credit unions will continue to do what they’ve always done: help consumers, families, businesses and communities through their challenges. Credit unions are also doing everything possible to make sure their teams are safe while still offering personalized service.”

“As always, in Alabama, we pull together, we do the right things for the right reasons and we come out stronger at the end,” said State Senator Tom Whatley, R-Auburn. “Our credit unions are no exception. They understand what difficulties may lie ahead for their members, our constituents and they’re helping now, not later before it’s too late.”

“Many people across the state of Alabama rely on credit unions to handle their financial needs, and they should continue to feel confident in investing their money in NCAU-insured and backed credit unions during the COVID-19 pandemic,” explained Rep. Jeremy Gray, D-Opelika. “Credit unions across the state are taking every proactive measure they can, in conjunction with the League of Southeastern Credit Unions and the Alabama Credit Union Association, to ensure they can meet the needs of all of their current and new members.”

More information on NCUA insurance coverage is available here.

The ACUA said that consumers and businesses should know “credit unions are working proactively with borrowers experiencing challenges in the current environment.”

“Each credit union is eager to work with you for a solution customized to your situation,” the association said. “Financial institutions have responded positively to all Gov. Kay Ivey’s and President Donald Trump’s directives. Furthermore, business continuity plans were already in place and are being exercised.”

The ACUA added, “Lobby access may be restricted at certain credit unions, but we’re open for business.” For more information about your institution, check your financial institution’s webpage or LSCU’s list of CU changes. “Drive-through service, when available at a branch, is open for transactions.”

Individual appointments for in-person meetings are being scheduled; while technology platforms give ready access to online services like bill pay, remote depositing of checks and ATMs for cash. You can also take advantage of the United States’ world-class payments system and use mobile payment channels and debit cards or credit cards to make purchases.

Many criminals are using the coronavirus to scam consumers. Be on guard for potential scams.

The Alabama Credit Union Association is an affiliate of the League of Southeastern Credit Unions and represents credit unions in Alabama. The LSCU & Affiliates represents 333 credit unions in Alabama, Florida and Georgia, with a combined total assets of more than $120 billion and more than 10.3 million members. The LSCU provides advocacy and regulatory information; education and training; cooperative initiatives (including financial education outreach).

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Economy

Alabama jobless claims soar past 40,000 this week, breaking records

Chip Brownlee

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More than 40,000 people filed a jobless claim to receive unemployment compensation in the first four days of this week, the Alabama Department of Labor says, more than quadrupling the number of claims filed last week when layoffs began hitting the state.

Alabama Department of Labor spokesperson, Tara Hutchison, said Thursday that 40,628 people filed an initial jobless claim from Sunday to Wednesday, according to the department’s preliminary data.

About 9,500 people filed initial claims last week, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s data published this morning. That was a seven-fold increase compared to the week before when only 1,800 people filed an unemployment claim.

The number of people who filed a jobless claim in the first four days of this week is more than at any point since at least 1987. The U.S. Department of Labor’s weekly unemployment claims data only goes back to 1987 for Alabama.

So many unemployment claims have been filed since businesses began laying off people because of the COVID-19 pandemic that the Department of Labor has been having increasing trouble accepting and processing the filings. WSFA reported this week that some people have not been able to file.

The Alabama Hospitality Association has estimated that some 225,000 hotel and restaurant workers will be laid off during COVID-19 crisis.

The Economic Policy Institute’s conservative projections have estimated that nearly 200,000 people could lose their jobs in Alabama.

The U.S. Department of Labor reported Thursday that more than 3.28 million people across the country filed unemployment claims last week. That shattered the Great Recession’s peak of 665,000 in March of 2009, according to CNBC.

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Alabama’s total from the first three days of this week, which were not included in the U.S. Department of Labor’s numbers released today, are more than the entire month of March of 2009.

This story will be updated.

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Economy

Virtual tip jars helping service industry workers amid COVID-19 closures

Jessa Reid Bolling

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Communities are coming together to provide some relief to service industry workers who are unable to work due to restaurant and bar closures during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Last week, Gov. Kay Ivey issued statewide shutdowns of all dine-in restaurants and bars in an attempt to increase social distancing as the COVID-19 epidemic continues to grow in Alabama.

Some restaurants are still offering to-go or curbside pick-up orders but servers have seen their shifts cut down because of the limited options.

Virtual tip jars have been started in cities across the country, including Birmingham and Tuscaloosa, to put some money in servers’ pockets after having their shift hours cut due to the restrictions set during this social distancing period. 

“Many of our friends and neighbors depend on tips to make ends meet,” one donation page read. “This virtual tip jar is for local service industry staff — employees at bars, restaurants, salons, etc — to post their Venmo or Paypal information so that customers, neighbors, and Tuscaloosa community members can continue to support them.”

Using an online spreadsheet, the simple system allows servers to put their name and place of employment, along with their Venmo and Paypal information, online. Those seeking to donate can then send money to the servers directly.

The Tuscaloosa has over 180 servers listed and the Birmingham page has over 740 servers listed to receive tips.

“Many people are scared — and that’s okay. As long as we remember to care for our neighbors and show them love, we will pull through this challenge and look back on it as an example of the greatness of this city. 

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“Bear Bryant said, ‘You must learn how to hold a team together. You must lift some men up, calm others down, until finally they’ve got one heartbeat. Then you’ve got yourself a team.’ Communities and teams share a lot of similarities; this “one heartbeat” is one of those similarities. Now is the time to be there for each other to build a Tuscaloosa that has the same unity Bear Bryant built in his team.”

 

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