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Hooper praises McConnell for the confirmation of conservative Trump judges

Brandon Moseley

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Mitch McConnell speaks at a conference

The Senate has now confirmed 144 of President Donald J. Trump’s judicial nominees. This despite completely unprecedented opposition by Senators. Trump Victory Chair and potential Congressional candidate former State Representative Perry O. Hooper Jr., R-Montgomery, praised Trump’s picks for the court and said that the President could not have gotten so many of his picks confirmed without the strong leadership shown by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky.

“President Trump has made a remarkable 144 judicial appointments since his inauguration allowing him to reshape the courts and their decisions for decade,” Hooper said in a statement. “These have been some of the most conservative appointments since the Regan Administration. These appointments would have not been possible without the leadership and personal commitment of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. More than any other accomplishment, including the passage of the GOP’s tax cuts, the remaking of the judiciary is fast becoming the cornerstone of the Republican leader’s legacy. It’s something he’s been working on for a long time. I predict for the next 30 years we’ll be talking about the Trump-McConnell courts and their impact on our judicial system.”

Pres. Trump’s judicial nominees have faced far more opposition in the Senate than any other President in history. According to the Heritage Foundation, of all the judges appointed by Presidents from George Washington to Barack H, Obama 94 percent were confirmed by the Senate without a single “No” vote. 71 percent of Trump’s judicial nominees have received no votes.

“Appointing young conservative constitutionalist judges to the federal bench was perhaps the most important campaign promise Donald Trump made to the American people; and one he has excelled at,” Hooper said.

Hooper commended McConnell for his focus on getting Trump’s judicial nominees confirmed. McConnell even had the Senate working on judicial confirmations during the Democratic Presidential debate.

“While the Democrat Presidential candidates were debating about how to turn this country into a socialist disaster, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was working at breakneck speed leading the Senate in confirming more than a dozen federal judges,” Hooper said.

Trump got a head start on a lot of presidents because McConnell and Senate Republicans held up a number of Obama appointees in the last 18 months of his administration.

“Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is widely credited with holding Supreme Court Justice Anthony Scalia’s seat open during Barrack Obama’s last term, so President Trump was able to appoint Neil Gorsuch,” Hooper said. “He was also the driving force behind the confirmation of Justice Brett Cavanaugh despite an unprecedented Democratic smear campaign against the accomplished jurist. But McConnell’s crowning achievement will extend past the Supreme Court.”

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“When he took office, President Trump had more than 120 vacancies to fill in the federal courts, including 17 in the U.S. courts of appeals — all of them lifetime appointments,” Hooper explained.. “The Supreme Court hears around 80 cases a year, while the courts of appeals handle tens of thousands of cases annually. This makes them the last word in most cases that impact the lives of Americans. President Trump has been incredibly effective, guided by Senator McConnell tireless efforts, at putting conservative jurist on the appellate courts.”

McConnell blasted Democrats for delaying routine Trump appointments.

“For too long, thoroughly uncontroversial judicial nominees just like these have been held up and delayed by our Democratic colleagues,” McConnell said in a Senate floor speech. “Uncontroversial district judges used to be confirmed promptly in big groups by voice vote. These days, in a kind of protest theater, our colleagues across the aisle usually insist that we hold a cloture vote and then a rollcall confirmation vote on each one.”

48.6 percent of confirmed Trump nominees for Article III courts were voted against by over a quarter of the Senators who voted. Only 2.1 percent of Obama’s nominees and 2.8 percent of George W. Bush’s nominees had that level of opposition. 88.4 percent of Trump’s picks for circuit court have received that level of opposition, while only 12 percent of Bush and Obama’s received that many no votes. McConnell has had to use cloture votes 97 times to confirm Trump’s judicial nominees. The most any of the previous five presidents had for their nominees to this point in their first term was three,

Hooper has expressed interest in running for the open Second Congressional District, where incumbent Martha Roby, R-Montgomery, is not running for a sixth term.

Hooper told the Alabama Political Reporter that he is still interested; but has not yet made a decision on whether or not to run.

Original reporting by Fox News’s Tyler Olson contributed to this report.

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National

“We’re surging:” Alabama reports largest COVID-19 increases to date

Chip Brownlee

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Alabama saw its largest single-day increase in new COVID-19 cases Monday, according to the state, as daily case counts continue an upward trend and hospitals across the state report increasing hospitalizations.

Alabama blew past 15,000 confirmed cases of the virus on Monday, according to the Department of Public Health’s daily case count. The state had confirmed more than 3,200 new cases in the last seven days, according to APR‘s tracking.

By Tuesday evening, the total reached 15,650. The rising case counts are concerning doctors and public health experts who worry the public is not taking the virus as seriously since the state lifted restrictions.

“I’m afraid that we’re going to have to go through some pretty tough times to drive the message home that this virus is still here, and it’s not going away,” said Dr. Michael Saag, an infectious disease expert at UAB.

More than 400 new cases were confirmed daily, on average, during the week heading into Memorial Day, the highest level since the pandemic began and much higher than during the second and third weeks of April, when Alabama was under a stay-at-home order and expected to reach what was then thought to be a peak.

Gov. Kay Ivey lifted the state’s “stay-at-home” order on April 30, replacing it with a “safer-at-home” order that loosened restrictions. Since then, the state has twice more relaxed restrictions, allowing more businesses, churches and entertainment venues to reopen with social-distancing restrictions and sanitation guidelines.

The state saw its largest single-day increase in new cases Monday at 646 new cases, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health’s daily case totals, a little more than three weeks after the stay-at-home order expired on April 30 and two weeks after the state allowed restaurants and bars to reopen on May 11 with social-distancing restrictions.

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The number of cases confirmed per day has been rising since April 30, showing no sign of slowing. Over the past week, new cases rose faster than in 46 other states with no comparable increase in testing.

APR uses 7- and 14-day rolling averages to smooth out daily variability in reporting. APR‘s daily totals vary from ADPH’s because APR tracks only the daily change to the cumulative case count.

Both our rolling averages and the averages calculated by the Department of Public Health are higher than they ever have been, meaning that more new cases are being confirmed per day than ever before.

At least 580 people have died from COVID-19 in Alabama. At least 76 deaths have been reported in the last seven days.

“We had done a pretty good job of avoiding the surge in cases that concerned us a month ago about overwhelming the hospital,” Saag said. “But now we’re headed right back to where we were on April 1, and I don’t think there’s any appetite among the general population nor of our political leaders to do much more about it.”

Testing has increased since May 1, more than doubling from 94,406 total tests performed on May 1 to nearly 194,000 by Tuesday evening.

But the number of tests reported per day has remained relatively flat since the beginning of the month at between 3,500 and 4,500 tests per day, based on 7- and 14-day averages, which is still far below the level of testing public health experts say is needed.

Public health experts who spoke with APR said the increase in new cases is concerning and is not simply the byproduct of increased testing.

“We know that if we’re testing the right number of people that the percentage of positive tests should be about 5 percent or so,” Saag said. “So if we’re in an area like a lot of our counties in Alabama, where the percent positive test rate is 20 percent or 13 percent, that means that there are a lot more cases out there for whom there are no tests available. So, if anything, we’re underestimating the caseload.”

The percent of tests that are positive, based on 7-day averages of new tests and new cases, was as low as 3 percent on May 1, but has since increased to more than 10 percent.

Those who say the situation is under control and increased testing is the only cause for the rise in cases are just simply wrong, Saag said.

“The fact is that they’re not walking through the hospital like I am, or all the other nurses and doctors are, and seeing the entire ICU just loaded with only COVID patients on ventilators and full units in our hospital that have only COVID patients,” Saag said.

If you test more, you’re going to find more, but only if the virus is still there.

“You can test until the cows come home,” Saag said. “The problem is, there’s a lot of cases here that are undiagnosed.”

In addition to looking at the percentage of tests that come back positive, which has been climbing in the last two weeks, hospitalizations also provide are a more timely indicator of how the pandemic is progressing.

Over the last week, the number of COVID-19 positive inpatients at DCH Health System in Tuscaloosa County has doubled from 35 on May 19 to 74 Tuesday. At least 20 of those patients are in intensive care units and 10 are on ventilators.

“When the hospitalization rates increase. It’s a reflection of the overall cases going up,” Saag said.

Statewide, hospitalization numbers are not yet available for this week, but last week hospitals reported their highest number of COVID-19 hospitalizations since the pandemic began.

In Jefferson County, hospitalizations are creeping back up after a lull throughout much of April, Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Mark Wilson said last week. Cases are also rising again in Jefferson County.

And in Montgomery County, where the mayor and hospitals have reported a shortage of ICU beds, the patient count remains high as the county reports an ongoing, worrisome spike in new cases.

“We have places to put people, and we have got plenty of ventilators, but having said that, the intensive care scenario in the hospitals is definitely stretched,” said Dr. David Thrasher, the director of respiratory therapy at Jackson Hospital whose respiratory therapy group works critical care at all of the Montgomery area hospitals.

“The weekend before, my partner and I rounded around 140 patients. And this morning, we had 145 patients,” Thrasher said. “That is more than twice our normal volume. Normally, May is a slow month for us. The great majority of what we’re seeing in the hospital is COVID patients.”

ICU units at Montgomery area hospitals have been dedicated to treating COVID patients, and those units have been full, and hospitals have been out or nearly out of formal ICU beds, though there are enough ventilators to equip other areas to retrofit as intensive care beds.

“This weekend, there were just a few ICU beds left, but having said that, there were three emergency rooms I know of that had patients down there that we were treating,” Thrasher said.

Montgomery has seen its case count more than triple since the month began.

“We’re surging,” Thrasher said. “We have got a lot more cases than we had a month ago, and a heck of a lot more cases than we did during the first 30 days of this pandemic.”

The increased patient load has put a physical and emotional strain on health care workers and staff, Thrasher said.

“It’s very difficult, very emotionally difficult for the doctors, the nurses, the therapists and of course the patients’ families,” he said.

Typically, most patients come off a ventilator in a matter of days, depending on what the cause is. That’s not the case with COVID-19.

“These patients, when they go ventilators, it’s a very long time, and the mortality is very poor across the nation for patients once they are on the ventilator,” Thrasher said. “So it’s emotionally draining — emotionally draining for the staff, the nurses, the respiratory therapists who are in there all day with them. It’s tough and it’s taken an emotional toll on everybody.”

Statewide, the rising case counts also pose an additional concern as people headed out to beaches, pools, parties and other events to celebrate Memorial Day on Monday, potentially exposing thousands of tourists and party-goers to the virus.

“I’m not an alarmist, but I’m worried,” Saag said. “I look around and over the holiday weekend, I saw large crowds of people, and I could count the number of people wearing a mask on one hand. We could be headed for some really tough times by the first of July.”

The rise in cases over the course of this month did not stop people from going to the beach or throwing Memorial Day parties. And Google’s mobility data, which tracks cell phone locations, has shown a sustained rise in out-of-home travel since the beginning of the month.

Wearing a mask, staying away from crowds and staying at home when you can is the best way to avoid getting and, more importantly, avoid spreading the virus if you don’t know you have it.

“You can feel great today, cough and give it to me, and you may not even know you had it for two or three days, when you start to develop symptoms,” Thrasher said. “So that’s the big problem we have. We don’t know who hasn’t until after the fact.”

Masks offer a limited amount of protection for the person who wears the mask. But masks and face covering are very effective at trapping the respiratory droplets from the person wearing the mask should they cough, sneeze or spit, thereby decreasing the chance of spreading the virus to other people.

“We’re supposed to love our neighbor, and that’s one way to do it,” Thrasher said. “Someone said, ‘Well I don’t want to wear the mask because they are hot and makes me look bad.’ Well, if you don’t like wearing a mask, then you wouldn’t like a ventilator at all.”

The majority of transmission is in the 24-hour period before someone actually gets physically ill, Saag said, meaning that you’re more likely to spread the virus when you have no symptoms than once you get sick.

“How do we feel about the parents who send their child to school, knowing that they’re sick,” Saag said. “We tend to not appreciate that very much. Well, us going out in public when we may be sick and spreading this virus to other people — whether we want to take the risk for ourselves — is the same situation as sending a child to kindergarten while they’re sick. It’s the same concept. There’s a responsibility here to other people, to our friends and neighbors.”

Wearing a mask is a critical way to slow the spread of the virus without another lockdown.

“If everybody did that, maybe we wouldn’t have to stay at home so much,” Saag said. “The stay at home was a hardcore effort to avoid a catastrophe in the hospitals and elsewhere. So, if we don’t want to do that again, then at least we should be responsible enough to wear a mask in public.”

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Economy

Ag commissioner concerned about collapsing beef prices

Brandon Moseley

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Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries Commissioner Rick Pate (R) is concerned about dropping cattle prices and the impact that that is having on Alabama’s farmers and ranchers.

“We have been very dialed into the crisis Alabama Cattle Producers are up against,” Pate told the Alabama Political Reporter. “We will continue to closely monitor this dire situation and the market impact it is having on Alabama’s cattle farmers . . . as well as consumers.”

“After I was contacted by a number of Alabama’s stockyards and Cattle producers expressing concern with regards to market inconsistencies and increased consumer prices…… I wrote a letter to Senators Shelby and Jones requesting that they join in on a push for an investigation of the meat packing industry,” Pate said. “I am encouraged by the support we are getting from both Jones and Shelby. It’s also great to see Alabama Producers joining in together in an effort to formulate a strategy to address the current situation.”

Commissioner Pate shared the April 6 letter.

“Over the last five days, I have been contacted by many stockyards and cattle producers concerning the seemingly inconsistent drastic reduction in futures prices for cattle while at the same time consumers are purchasing more beef at grocery stores than at any time in recent memory and at the same time grocery store shelves are empty of beef,” Pate wrote the Senators. “There is concern from many in the cattle industry that the large meat packing companies are manipulating markets to put cattle produces and local stockyards at a disadvantage during a national crisis. Due to depressed cattle prices and uncertainty over cattle prices multiple stockyards will not conduct business this week.”

“I understands that Senators Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Mike Rounds of South Dakota have recently asked the U.S. Department of Justice and other federal agencies to investigate whether the large packing companies are manipulating beef markets to fix prices at a level that negatively impacts beef producers,” Pate wrote. “I urge you to join your fellow senators in calling for this investigation to make certain that Alabama cattle producers are not suffering from artificially low beef prices.”

COVID-19 has impacted many areas of our lives. That includes at the grocery store where selection of beef, pork, and chicken products can be a hit and miss proposition for shoppers due to hoarders and to less cattle, hogs, and chicken being killed because of slaughterhouses suffering high absenteeism due to COVID-19. The big four major packers: Tyson Foods, Cargill/Excel, J.B.S. Swift, and National Beef process over 80 percent of the cattle. When their daily productions dropped there was an oversized effect on cash and futures markets, because of the lack of competition and because 70 percent of the cattle they process are forward contracted. If a feedlot was not forward contracted they often could not sell their cattle at any price.

The spot market or cash market generally determines live cattle prices. Some in the industry have accused the big four meatpackers of engaging in an “allied strategy” to manipulate the spot market so that the four major companies can profit at the expense of farmers and ranchers.

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Sen. Grassley praised President Donald J. Trump’s recent call for an investigation into possible anticompetitive behavior in the beef industry. Last month, Grassley lodged a similar request with the Departments of Justice and Agriculture.

“While consumers are facing record-level prices at the meat counter, America’s Beef producers are being forced to sell their cattle to meatpackers at a loss, if they can sell them at all,” Sen. Grassley said. “Consolidation in the meatpacking industry has exacerbated the market pain on both sides of the supply chain, and producers and consumers need to know whether unfair business practices by packers are to blame.”

“I’ve called on the Trump administration to look into unfair or anticompetitive practices and I’m grateful that President Trump has made this issue a priority,” Grassley added. “USDA is looking into unfair pricing practices. DOJ must also examine if any collusion within the packing industry has taken place in violation of our antitrust laws.”

Grassley has long raised concerns about consolidation in the meatpacking industry and pressed USDA to protect independent producers.

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association recently called for an investigation into the business practices that lead to unfair marketplace for beef producers. R-CALF filed suit against the Big Four packers last year alleging that the four companies are engaging in an “allied strategy” in defiance of U.S. anti-trust law.

Rick Pate is a cattle rancher in Lowndes County. The Pate family has raised Charolais beef cattle in Alabama for decades.

(Original writing and research by Montgomery area writer Amy McGhee contributed to this report. McGhee’s parents have a Black Angus beef cattle farm in Tennessee.)

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Elections

Sessions, Tuberville build campaign war chests headed toward runoff

Brandon Moseley

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Former U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama) is running in the July 14 Republican Party primary runoff against former Auburn head football Coach Tommy Tuberville. Both turned in Federal Elections Commission reports showing campaign activity through the end of April when Alabamians were still under shelter in place orders to fight the spread of the coronavirus.

Sessions was able to transfer over his previous campaign account and he has slightly more cash on hand than Tuberville, but Tuberville had the most votes in the March 3 Republican primary and has led throughout in most of the polling.

Former Auburn football Coach Tommy Tuberville in his filling with the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) reports that the campaign has collected total contributions of $2,299,292.20. Tuberville has loaned his campaign $1,000,000. The campaign reports operating expenditures of $2,074,302.74 and has refunded $15,525 in contributions to individuals. Tuberville has repaid $750,000 of the loan that he made to himself. His campaign reports other disbursements of $1,000. .

The Tuberville campaign is reporting a cash balance of $458,819.40 with debts and loans owed by the committee of $393,043.23.

Tuberville’s largest contributors include: Terry Young of Birmingham, AL $10,000. He is the CEO of Southern Risk Services. Douglas Gowland of Gates Hills, Ohio $10,000. He is retired. Stiles Killett of Atlanta, Georgia $10,000. He is the Chairman of Killett Investment Corporation. Marcus Calloway of Atlanta, GA $10,000. He is self employed real estate attorney. Connie Neville of King’s Hill, Virginia $8,400. Connie is a self employed designer. William Neville of King’s Hill, VA $8,400. He is a manager with U.S. Viking. Sandra Hicks of Rainsville, AL $8,000. Sandra is a homemaker. Dennis Hicks of Rainsville, AL $8,000. Dennis is the CEO of Colormaster. M.S. Properties LLC of Wellington, AL $7500. Austin Brooks of Vestavia Hills, AL $6,400. Brooks is a senior associate with Highpoint Holdings.

Jefferson Beauregard “Jeff” Sessions III reported total receipts of just $1,740,194.28. Of that $1,619,657.39 came from contributions. Sessions’ total individual contributions were $1,237,923.39. Sessions also raised $381,73 from other campaign committees. Sessions reported other receipts of $114,759.89. Sessions had total disbursements of $3,815,148.56 of which $3,709,022.56 were operating expenses. The Sessions’ campaign reports ending cash on hand of $749,235.59.

Sessions has received a number of contributions through the WinRed platform. WinRed is an American Republican Party (GOP) fundraising platform endorsed by the Republican National Committee and President Donald Trump. It was launched to compete with Democrat’s success in online grassroots fundraising with their platform ActBlue. Contributors to the Sessions campaign include: Scott Forney of San Diego, California $5,600. He is the President of General Atomics. John Gearon Jr. of Atlanta, GA $2,800. John is an executive with the Gearson Foundation. Jean Penney $2,600 of Gurley, AL is retired. Steven Thornton $7,600 of Huntsville is the CEO of Monte Sano Research. Susan Braden of Washington D.C. $2 800 is retired. Betty Ann Stedman $5,600 of Houston, TX is an investor. Hans Luquire $5,000 of Montgomery, AL is self employed in the HVAC business. Dr. Carl Gessler Jr. $2600 of Huntsville, AL is a heart specialist. Samuel Zell $2,800 of Chicago, IL is the Chairman of Equity International. Leon Edwards $2,800 of Mountain Brook, AL is the owner of Edwards Chevrolet.

The Alabama Republican Party primary runoff was originally scheduled for March 31, but was moved to July 14 due to fears of the spread of the coronavirus.

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The winner of the Republican primary runoff will have just a few short months before going up against incumbent Senator Doug Jones (D-Alabama) in the November 3 general election.

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Congress

Roby: Applications for farmers to sign up for food assistance program open today

Brandon Moseley

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Monday, Congresswoman Martha Roby (R-Montgomery) sent an email to constituents with a link on how farmers and ranchers can sign up for the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program which opens today.

“The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) last week released details on the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) for farmers, ranchers, and producers affected by COVID-19,” Rep. Roby wrote. “Applications open on May 26 and will be accepted at USDA Farm Service Agency offices through August 28.”

You can learn more about CFAP here.

According to USDA, the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, or CFAP, provides vital financial assistance to producers of agricultural commodities who have suffered a five-percent-or-greater price decline or who had losses due to market supply chain disruptions due to COVID-19 and face additional significant market costs.

Eligible commodities include: malting barley, canola, corn, upland cotton, millet, oats, soybeans, sorghum, sunflowers, durum wheat, hard red spring wheat, wool, cattle, hogs, and sheep (lambs and yearlings only), dairy, apples, avocados, blueberries, cantaloupe, grapefruit, kiwifruit, lemons, oranges, papaya, peaches, pears, raspberries, strawberries, tangerines, tomatoes, watermelons, artichokes, asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, sweet corn, cucumbers, eggplant, garlic, iceberg lettuce, romaine lettuce, dry onions, green onions, peppers, potatoes, rhubarb, spinach, squash, sweet potatoes, taro, almonds, pecans, walnuts, beans, and mushrooms.

Alabama farmers hard hit by low commodity prices and market disruption caused by COVID-19 may apply beginning today.

Alabama Farmers Federation National Affairs Director Mitt Walker said farmers have eagerly anticipated the details of the CFAP since President Donald Trump and USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue announced the $16 billion program a month ago.

“Farmers in Alabama appreciate President Trump, USDA Secretary Perdue and Congress for recognizing the detrimental impact COVD-19 has had on the industry,” Walker said. “Securing our nation’s food supply is critical, and unfortunately, the virus has dealt our farmers another blow when many were already having a tough time making ends meet.”

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Walker said the Alabama Farmers Federation staff have already begun looking over the final rules and will work closely with the Farm Service Agency (FSA) to assist farmers in applying for these funds.

CFAP will provide up to $16 billion in direct payments to deliver relief to farmers and ranchers impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Pres. Trump and Secretary Perdue unveiled the program during a press briefing at the White House, accompanied by farmers including American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) President Zippy Duvall.

“I want to begin by expressing our profound gratitude to everyone here today and the farmers and producers across the country who have kept our nation fed and nourished as we have battled the invisible enemy,” the President said. “Now, we are standing strong with our farmers and ranchers once again. In normal times, roughly about 40% of fresh vegetables and about 40% of beef grown and raised in the United States is distributed to restaurants and other commercial food establishments. But as you know, the virus has forced many of our nation’s restaurants to temporarily close, and this has taken a major toll on our farmers and growers. For this reason, my administration is launching a sweeping new initiative, the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program.”

You can read more about program specifics at the Alabama Farmers Federation site.

Congresswoman Martha Roby represents Alabama’s Second Congressional District. She is serving in her fifth term and will retire at the end of this year.

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