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Sewell urges Trump Administration to reverse food assistance rule

Brandon Moseley

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via Office of Rep. Terri Sewell

U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Selma, and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, led a group of 19 senators and 120 U.S. representatives urging U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue to rescind his department’s rule to restrict Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program benefits for an estimated 3.1 million Americans.

“This plan would disproportionately punish working families who are already struggling to put food on the table and make ends meet,” the lawmakers wrote. “Families with children are more likely to face food insecurity, and in 2017, the number of families facing food insecurity rose for the first time since the Great Recession. … Additionally, schools rely on SNAP enrollment when determining eligibility for free school meals, so households could be penalized twice: once with the loss of household SNAP benefits and again with the loss of free school meals for children. In fact, USDA estimates 500,000 children will lose their automatic eligibility for free school meals.”

Sewell and Sanders were critical of the Administration’ claim that some states allow families to receive SNAP benefits who would otherwise not qualify and for which they are not entitled. Sewell and Sanders claimed that fraud is virtually non-existent in the program.

“Families must already go through a robust vetting process to verify income eligibility. USDA’s assertion that families can simply receive an informational brochure in order to qualify for SNAP is simply not true,” the Congress members wrote. “Perpetuating this lie breeds distrust in a successful program that lifted 8.4 million people out of poverty in 2015,” the lawmakers argued. “In reality, fraud is virtually nonexistent in this program; just 0.2 percent of benefits mistakenly go to households with net incomes above the poverty line. Further, there are many more people who qualify for SNAP that are not enrolled in the program. USDA’s resources would be better spent focusing on increasing participation among all who are eligible, rather than trying to limit participation among people who are already struggling.”

Over 800,000 Alabama families and 42 million Americans receive SNAP benefits, still popularly known as “food stamps.” More than 73 percent of Alabama SNAP participants are families with children and nearly 35 percent are families with members who are seniors or have disabilities. Moreover, the program successfully lifted 195,000 Alabamians out of poverty, including 86,000 children, per year between 2009 and 2012.

According to the Heritage Foundation’s Justin Bogie, last year, $1.77 billion in food stamps were improperly paid because recipients failed to provide accurate and timely information, which meant the government had little way to verify if those food stamps reached people who actually needed them. Another $1.5 billion was improperly paid because state or local administrators didn’t coordinate with each other about the federal benefits households receive.

Sec. Perdue wrote in USA Today, “Because of a permissive regulation that allows states to grant waivers to wide swaths of their populations, millions of people who could work are continuing to receive SNAP benefits. The president has directed me, as Secretary of Agriculture, to propose regulatory reforms to ensure that those who are able to work do so in exchange for their benefits. This restores the dignity of work to a sizeable segment of our population, while it is also respectful of the taxpayers who fund the program.”

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“Americans are generous people who believe it is their responsibility to help their fellow citizens when they encounter a difficult stretch,” Perdue said. “That is the commitment behind SNAP. But like other Federal welfare programs, it was never intended to be a way of life. A central theme of the Trump administration has been to expand prosperity for all Americans, which includes helping people lift themselves out of pervasive poverty.”

Sanders is a candidate for president of the United States.

Sewell is presently in her fifth term representing the 7th Congressional District.

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Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with eight and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.

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Courts

Police may serve search warrants out of their jurisdiction, Alabama AG says

Brandon Moseley

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Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said Tuesday that recent actions by the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals and the Alabama Supreme Court have clarified that Alabama law allows law enforcement officers in the state to serve search warrants outside their territorial jurisdiction as long as a judge within the jurisdiction of service approves the warrant.

“The influence of the internet in the spread of criminal activity across jurisdictions has highlighted the need for timely collection of evidence critical to stopping crimes and securing convictions,” Marshall said. “These court actions remove any doubt that law enforcement has the authority to gather vital evidence across jurisdictions. I’m pleased the Attorney General’s Office played a role in this effort.”

In May 2018, Jeffrey Dale Hunt was indicted for over 6,500 counts for possession and production of child pornography. In that case, law enforcement officers in Lauderdale County seized evidence in nearby Colbert County. Hunt’s legal defense sought to suppress the evidence gathered by a Florence police detective at Hunt’s workplace in Colbert County. The Florence police detective had secured the warrant from a Colbert County judge prior to serving it.

In June 2019, a Lauderdale County circuit court judge granted Hunt’s motion to suppress the evidence. Lauderdale County District Attorney Chris Connolly appealed that decision to the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals. Marshall supported Connolly’s appeal.

In handling the appeal, the attorney general argued that the circuit court had erred in granting the motion to suppress evidence collected from Hunt’s electronic devices at his workplace. The AG’s office argued that the Alabama Rules of Criminal Procedure allow Alabama law enforcement officers to serve locally-approved warrants outside their territorial jurisdictions.

In its March 13, 2020, opinion, the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals agreed. Hunt then appealed the court’s ruling to the Alabama Supreme Court. On July 10, 2020, the court denied Hunt’s petition for certiorari review.

Marshall wrote that the combined court actions not only allow the suppressed evidence in Hunt’s case to be readmitted, but they also serve to clarify for the first time in Alabama criminal case law that search warrants can be served by law enforcement officers outside their territorial jurisdictions provided a local judge within the jurisdiction of service approves the warrant.

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The victory before the Supreme Court will allow the Lauderdale County District Attorney’s prosecution of the Hunt case now to proceed.

Marshall thanked Assistant Attorney General Kristi Wilkerson, Solicitor General Edmund LaCour and Deputy Solicitor General Barrett Bowdre for their efforts in working this important pre-trial appeal case. The attorney general also expressed appreciation to the Lauderdale County District Attorney’s Office for its close cooperation in the successful appeal.

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Health

White House task force member worried about the South, meets with Gov. Kay Ivey

Birx emphasized “very strongly” that this is a critical time for the South to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, according to the governor’s office.

Eddie Burkhalter

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Gov. Kay Ivey hosted Dr. Deborah Birx, a member of the White House's Coronavirus Task Force, at the Governor’s Mansion. (VIA GOVERNOR'S OFFICE)

A member of the White House’s Coronavirus Task Force is worried about the South and visited with Gov. Kay Ivey and others in Montgomery on Wednesday to discuss the growing problem. 

Ivey hosted Dr. Deborah Birx, a member of the White House’s Coronavirus Task Force, at the Governor’s Mansion, where the two held a round table discussion along with State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris, other state health individuals, business and religious leaders and other lawmakers, according to a press release from Ivey’s office.

Members of the press were not permitted to attend. 

“Dr. Birx emphasized very strongly that this is a critical time for the South to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and that the governor’s decision to issue a statewide mask order was ‘brilliant’ and critical to keeping our businesses open and running safely,” Ivey’s office said in the release. 

Those at the round table discussed testing, the approved COVID-19 treatment drug Remdesivir and how to safely reopen schools and churches, according to the press release. 

“Dr. Birx explained that early on, the virus seemed to be concentrated in large cities in the Northeast, however, this has not proven to be accurate in the South. She expressed how the South, specifically Alabama, has high rates statewide,” the release states. 

“Dr. Birx told the governor that she was personally worried about the South, which is why she visited our state in person. Governor Ivey is appreciative for her time and knowledge and looks forward to keeping an open dialogue with her and the Trump Administration as we work through the pandemic,” the release continues. 

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The meeting at the Governor’s Mansion came on a day when Alabama saw a record single-day increase in the number of COVID-19 deaths. Coronavirus hospitalizations are expected to rise again Wednesday as well, after more than a week of record-breaking daily hospitalizations. 

Ivey earlier on Wednesday announced a statewide mask order to slow the spread of coronavirus.

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Courts

Kellum holds onto Court of Criminal Court of Appeals seat

While there is still a general election on Nov. 3, Tuesday’s victory effectively re-elected Kellum to her third term as no Democrat or independent qualified to run for the race.

Brandon Moseley

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Judge Beth Kellum

Incumbent Alabama’s Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Beth Kellum won the Republican primary for her seat on the court, likely assuring that she will return to the court after the general election.

With 100 percent of precincts reporting unofficial results, Beth Kellum had 56 percent while challenger Will Smith received 44 percent.

“Thank you to everyone who made the effort to vote in today’s “pandemic election,“ Kellum said in a statement. “It has been one of the great honors of my life to represent you on the Court of Criminal Appeals for the past 12 years. It was a hard fought race, and I am thankful for the people of Alabama and for the trust you put in me to serve the great State of Alabama. I look forward to serving you for another six years!”

Smith conceded the race in a statement.

“This Sunday, one of the hymns we sang in church was Have Faith In God. The chorus of the song has played in my mind ever since. So first and foremost, I want to thank God for giving me faith and provision along the way of this campaign journey,” Smith said. “I want to thank the Republican voters who braved the unusual circumstances of this time to vote for me today. These conservative grassroots supporters have supported my campaign, defended my character and championed our sacred beliefs of faith and family and our American ideals of liberty, freedom and constitutional government.”

“I am forever grateful to my wife, Laura,” Smith continued. “She has been my rock and encourager. She has always been so supportive and understanding throughout the demands of this campaign journey. I love her and I am blessed to have her as my wife.”

“I enjoyed traveling to the four corners of our great state and meeting so many of her wonderful people,” Smith added. “This race was one of grassroots conservatives against the big money interests of Montgomery which contributed over $80,000 to the incumbent. The results of the March 3rd Republican Primary showed me trailing the two-term incumbent by a margin of 43% to 37%. It was amazing we were within 6 percentage points of the two-term incumbent despite being outspent over 15 to 1 during the primary. Today, the voters spoke and re-elected the incumbent to her third term. I congratulate Judge Kellum on her victory tonight.”

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Alabama Republican Party Chairman Terry Lathan issued a statement following Kellum’s win for the GOP nomination for the Alabama Criminal Court of Appeals.

“While we had two exceptional candidates for the Criminal Court of Appeals, Alabama Republican voters have selected a highly qualified legal mind to be their nominee for the Alabama Criminal Court of Appeals,” Lathan said. “Beth Kellum has proven herself to a be a strong judge during her previous two terms on the bench. Combined with her extensive legal career, we are confident Judge Kellum will win re-election and return to this seat on November 3rd. We look forward to her continued service with the upmost integrity and seriousness she has shown Alabama as a judge.”

“We extend our gratitude to Will Smith for his willingness to serve — not just in this position but in his previous post as a Lauderdale County Commissioner,” Lathan added. “He is a great example of a true statesman.”

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Kellum is an Alabama native who grew up in Vance in Tuscaloosa County. She graduated from Brookwood High School in 1977. She has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Alabama and a law degree from the University of Alabama School of Law.

Kellum was hired in 1985 by Attorney General Charles Graddick as an assistant attorney general. She worked in the criminal appeals division where she primarily prosecuted appeals before the Court of Criminal Appeals and the Alabama Supreme Court.

She later worked as a staff attorney for the Court of Criminal Appeals from 1987 until 1990. Kellum went into private practice with the Montgomery law firm of Robison & Belser, P.A., working on a wide variety of civil and criminal cases in state and federal courts.

In 1997, she went back to the Court of Criminal Appeals to work as a senior staff attorney for the newly-elected Judge Jean Brown. She worked as a senior staff attorney for the Alabama Supreme Court from 1999 until 2001, before returning to the Court of Criminal Appeals as the senior staff attorney for then newly-elected Judge Kelli Wise.

Kellum was elected to the Court of Criminal Appeals in November 2008 and was re-elected in 2014. While there is still a general election on Nov. 3, Tuesday’s victory effectively re-elected Kellum to her third term as no Democrat or independent qualified to run for the race.

Alabama is one of the few states to elect its judges in partisan elections.

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Elections

Alabama GOP chair Terry Lathan congratulates Tuberville

Brandon Moseley

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GOP Senate candidates Jeff Sessions (left) and Tommy Tuberville (right).

Former Auburn football head coach Tommy Tuberville soundly defeated former Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama, on Tuesday in the Republican primary runoff. Alabama Republican Party Chairman Terry Lathan issued a statement congratulating Tuberville on the victory.

“It’s great to be an Alabama Republican! Our voters have spoken and they have chosen an outstanding U.S. Senate nominee for the November 3rd General Election, Coach Tommy Tuberville,” Lathan said. “Even under difficult circumstances with the COVID-19 situation, Alabamians were deeply engaged and determined to participate in our voting process.”

With 100 percent of the boxes reporting, Tuberville won 60.74 percent compared to Sessions with 39.26 percent. Tuberville won 64 of Alabama’s 67 counties.

“Tommy Tuberville is a true Washington outsider and has gained the trust of Alabama Republican Party voters to represent them and help President Trump ‘Drain the Swamp’” Lathan continued. “He will fight for the will of the majority who have been ignored since 2017. His conservative positions on the issues and support of our president will be welcomed when he defeats Doug Jones in November. Alabama is the highest approval rated state for President Trump. The combination of Coach Tuberville and President Trump’s popularity in our state puts us in a very strong position to flip this seat back to the GOP.”

Tuberville’s win effectively ended the 27-year political career of former Attorney General Sessions. Sessions left this Senate seat in 2017 to become U.S. attorney general. Sessions was fired from that post by the man who appointed him to it, President Donald Trump, over strong disagreement with Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from the Russian collusion scandal investigation in the 2016 election.

A still angry Trump denounced Sessions as “the biggest mistake” of his presidency and endorsed Tuberville. Sessions could never overcome the president’s disapproval with Alabama Republican voters. As recently as Saturday, Trump said of Sessions: “Washington doesn’t want him back.”

Sessions is also a former Alabama attorney general and chairman of the Alabama Republican Party.

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“We are greatly appreciative of Jeff Sessions and his lifetime of commitment to conservative policy and service – not just to Alabamians but to all Americans,” Lathan said. “He is a true patriot in every sense of the word and our nation is stronger because of his willingness to take a stand on the issues and fight for the will of Alabamians. Senator Sessions has earned his place in history as a true conservative warrior.”

“We would also like to thank Secretary of State John Merrill and the election teams around the state who worked so diligently in providing heath care protection to the voters in today’s elections,” Lathan added. “Together, we are unstoppable on November 3rd. Alabamians have that date circled in red and plan to end the tenure of liberal Doug Jones. While we know a battle is ahead, his voting record will be in the spotlight – voting to impeach our president and not to seat Justice Kavanaugh, voting against building our nation’s security walls and tax cuts just to name a few. We look forward to doing to Doug Jones what he and his left wing buddies failed to do to President Trump – end his time in office.”

Tuberville in his speech came out swinging against incumbent Sen. Doug Jones, blasting him for voting to impeach Trump and for voting against Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court.

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“Democrat Doug Jones is running for reelection with the slogan of One Alabama,” Tuberville said. “Well, you can make no mistake about it: what Doug really means is, One Liberal Alabama.”

Tuberville accused Jones of taking “marching orders from Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer and bartender AOC.”

Tuberville thanked Trump for his support and called him: “The greatest President of my life.”

Tuberville said he will vote to defend Alabama’s Second Amendment rights: “By God, they’re not taking our guns.”

Tuberville faces stiff competition from Jones, who has raised close to $10 million to spend by Nov. 3 and was not bloodied in a primary contest.

Tuberville is an Arkansas native and a career football coach; best remembered for his tenure at Auburn University. He was also the head coach at the University of Mississippi, Cincinnati, and Texas Tech. He won a national championship as a defensive coordinator at the University of Miami.

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