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Nearly a third of all children living in rural Alabama suffer food insecurity

Bill Britt

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Hunger and food insecurity continue to plague Alabama’s children. In some countries, 30 percent of the state’s most vulnerable citizens, its children, suffer food insecurity according to Urban.org.

Nearly a third of Alabama’s children in some counties go to bed hungry, wake up hungry and live their lives without adequate food, a cycle that repeats itself daily and even generationally.

While hunger and food insecurity are closely related, “they are distinct concepts,” according to Feeding America. “Hunger refers to a personal, physical sensation of discomfort, while food insecurity refers to a lack of available financial resources for food at the household level.”

The Feeding America network is the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization, working to connect people with food and end hunger.

In Perry, Wilcox and Greene Counties, over a third of all young people lack adequate food resources according to a report by Urban.org and food insecurity effects children in all of Alabama’s 67 counties.

Other studies find the state has the fourth-highest rate of child poverty in the country, and more than 300,000 Alabama children live in poverty. This is especially true among minorities, as African American children are twice as likely to live in poverty as white children, and Hispanic or Latino children are three times more likely to live in poverty as white children.

Almost One Million Alabamians Live In Poverty

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Earlier this month, the Trump administration moved again to cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps which is a fundamental resource for those who suffer from food insecurity.

The Agriculture Department is proposing changes that would slash $4.5 billion from the program over five years, cutting benefits by as much as $75 for one in five families, according to a report by The New York Times.

In Fiscal Year 2017, 804,000 Alabamians, or 17 percent of the state population (1 in 6), received SNAP benefits, according to The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

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CBPP found that more than 73 percent of SNAP participants are in families with children.

Six years ago, then-Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey served as spokesperson for a campaign “Ending Child Hunger in Alabama,” led by Auburn University’s Hunger Solutions Institute.

Ending Child Hunger in Alabama

“Seeing the face of hunger confirmed in my heart and mind that we must take action. If we do not, we stand to starve our state of healthy and productive citizens,” Ivey wrote in May 2013.

Many of Alabama’s children are still starving according to every measure of food insecurity, even in Ivey’s home county.

The Trump Administration’s move to trim SNAP benefits is reportedly to lower the national public debt which is currently more than $22 trillion — the highest in the nation’s history.

Cutting benefits on an estimated 19 percent of households receiving SNAP is one way the administration is planning on wrangling the debt it has incurred.

In August, U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Selma, 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 SNAP assistance to families who depend on the program.

“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 urges Trump Administration to reverse food assistance rule

Alabama’s Republican Senate candidates worry about the ever-increasing debt and hope to push against the rising federal deficit by cutting welfare programs like SNAP and other federal programs that primarily aid children, the working poor and seniors.

APR recently queried several candidates vying for the Republican senate nomination. Each offered different solutions with Rep. Bradley Byrne and former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore pointing to reining in federal welfare sending.

“Medicare, Medicaid and socialist programs like Obamacare will only worsen the problem to the detriment of the American public who continue to see outlandish inflation and a deterioration of our national sovereignty among the world powers,” Moore said.

“The biggest driver of our debt is mandatory spending, specifically welfare programs that are allowed to continue to grow without any constraints,” said Byrne. “We have forgotten that these programs were designed to lift people out of poverty, not keep people down. I’m committed to reining in these programs, taking them off auto-pilot, and making sure we are actually succeeding in helping people get out of poverty. These welfare programs amount to almost $1 trillion, so getting control of them and cutting their cost will have a substantial positive effect on the deficit.”

Senate candidates warn of growing national debt

Even as the country enjoys the second-longest economic growth since the post–World War II boom days, the annual federal deficit continues to climb at a rate not experienced since the 1940s.

While some Republicans support trimming Medicare and Medicaid as a way to address the mounting deficit, Sewell and House Democrats don’t want to see the debt paid for by eliminating food assistance that goes primarily to the working poor, elderly and children.

The following data shows the counties most affected by food insecurity:

  • Marengo County, AL – 27.3 percent
  • Clarke County, AL – 26.8 percent
  • Wilcox County, AL – 34.8 percent
  • Monroe County, AL – 28.8 percent
  • Conecuh County, AL – 30.7 percent
  • Lowndes County, AL – 30.7 percent
  • Macon County, AL – 26.3 percent
  • Bullock County, AL – 27.8 percent
  • Barbour County, AL – 29.4 percent

SNAP, Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) are seen as effective programs to reduce food insecurity by providing either cash or food assistance. Local food banks are also an essential resource for those who experience hunger and food insecurity, but even with all these assistance programs, feeding Alabama’s youth remains a reoccurring problem.

Feeding America’s website offers a search engine to access local food banks across the nation.

“Kids who don’t get enough to eat — especially during their first three years — begin life at a serious disadvantage,” according to Feeding America. “When they’re hungry, children are more likely to be hospitalized and they face higher risks of health conditions like anemia and asthma. And as they grow up, kids struggling to get enough to eat are more likely to have problems in school and other social situations.”

Urban.org found an estimated, “12.5 million children—struggle with food insecurity, meaning they can’t afford an adequate diet. Federal nutrition programs and charitable meals make up the first line of defense, but solving this challenge will require communities to go beyond food to disrupt the root causes of economic distress.”

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Economy

Paper lottery said to be close to having votes for House passage

Bill Britt

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A yet to be submitted paper only lottery bill by Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, the House budget chairman, reportedly has over 60 co-sponsors, according to those familiar with the legislation.

Any lottery measure requires a constitutional amendment that can only pass with a three-fifths vote of the membership in both chambers, which equates to 63 votes in the House and 21 in the Senate.

It now appears that Clouse either has the votes to pass the House or is within close striking distance.

Clouse’s bill would create a paper lottery with scratch-offs and PowerBall options but would exclude video lottery terminals. Clouse said he expects it to generate around $167 million annually.

Concerns expressed by those who understand gaming-finance is that Clouse’s paper lottery is a game of demising returns and will slow or completely end any attempt to enact a comprehensive gaming package which would generate substantially more income for the state at 4.5 times more than Clouse’s projection.

Last week, Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, informed reporters that public opinion is driving the debate on lottery legislation.

“Legislators are hearing from constituents who are asking why all of our neighboring states have lotteries and other gaming and we don’t,” McCutcheon said.

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McCutcheon says public opinion is driving gambling debate

For the past several years, polling has shown that a majority of Alabama voters want a lottery. A recent survey found that voters favor a lottery by over 60 percent.

That constituents are driving the debate may have more to do with the calendar than the actual voters’ wishes.

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It is widely thought that any controversial legislation should be passed in the first two years of the quadrennium to allow any voter resentment to decrease before the next election. It is suggested that this is thinking that is motivating the move to pass a lottery this year.

During her 2020 State of the State address, Gov. Kay Ivey tried to seize the issue of a state lottery and gaming, asking the Legislature for “time to get the facts” on which gaming proposals are best for the state and then bring a plan to the voters.

Ivey seizes gaming issue

Ivey announced the members of a panel she’s ordered to study how much revenue the state could bring in from an expansion of gaming and a state lottery on Feb. 14.

McCutcheon recently told APR that he was standing by the governor’s request that the Legislature give her time to sort out the gaming issue. Still, last week’s statement seemed to open the door a crack toward allowing a lottery bill to go forward.

Before the 2020 session, McCutcheon said that he wanted a grand bargain between the Poarch Band of Creek Indians and pari-mutual track owners. He warned that if a deal between all the parties could not be reached, then there would likely not be any gambling bills brought forward in 2020.

That changed after Ivey’s announcement and his office said: “The Speaker will be working with the Governor in her efforts.”

Speaker McCutcheon standing with governor on gaming workgroup

McCutcheon’s position is seminal on any issue coming before the lower chamber with even the slightest ambiguity or hinds of change in his thinking, causing major upheavals within the State House.

State senators who asked for anonymity to speak their minds believe that a paper lottery is dead on arrival in the upper chamber, raising further questions.

Alabama is one of just five states in the country without a lottery, and it is now the only state in the South without one. Mississippi began its lottery this year.

 

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Economy

Likely Republican primary voters reject Poarch Creeks “winning” plan

Bill Britt

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A survey of likely Republican primary voters obtained by APR shows that a majority do not support giving the Poarch Band of Creek Indians a monopoly over gaming in the state despite the tribe’s promise of a billion dollars.

Over the last several months, PCI has orchestrated a massive media blitz to convince Alabamians that they have a winning plan for the state’s future in exchange for a Tribal-State compact and exclusive rights to Vegas-style casino gaming.

The survey commissioned by the Republican House and Senate caucuses and conducted by CYGNAL, a highly respected Republican polling firm, found that only 34.1 percent of likely Republican primary voters are buying what the tribe is selling. On the contrary, nearly 50 percent of Republicans oppose the plan, with almost 40 percent voicing strong opposition.

Of those surveyed, females are against the plan by nearly 50 percent, with men weighing-in at almost 60 percent unfavorable to PCI’s proposal.

Perhaps most significant is that PCI’s monopoly plan was widely rejected in areas where the tribe already operates casinos. In the Mobile area, nearest Windcreek Atmore, over half of Republicans see a monopoly unfavorably. The same is true in the Montgomery area, where PCI has two gaming facilities.

Not a single big city surveyed in the state held a favorable view of PCI’s plan with Birmingham and Huntsville rejecting the tribal monopoly by almost 50 percent.

Very conservative, somewhat conservative and moderate voters didn’t view the plan as positive.

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Ninety-one percent of respondents said they defiantly would be voting in the upcoming Republican primary on March 3.

PCI has lavished money on media outlets throughout the state, garnering favorable coverage, especially on talk radio and internet outlets. The tribe has also spent freely on Republican lawmakers.

Perhaps some good news for PCI is that Republican primary voters believe that state legislators are more likely to represent special interests above the interests of their constituents.

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PCI lobbyists continue to push the tribe’s agenda at the State House in defiance of Gov. Kay Ivey’s call for no action on gaming until her study group returns its findings.

The survey found that Ivey enjoys a 76.3 percent favorability rating among likely Republican primary voters.

 

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Economy

ADECA names Elaine J. Fincannon as new deputy director

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Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs Director Kenneth Boswell announced on Thursday that Elaine J. Fincannon has been appointed as the agency’s deputy director.

Fincannon most recently served as Senior Vice President for Investor Relations for the Business Council of Alabama. She worked with BCA for over 25 years as part of its senior team, working with a diverse range of business leaders and CEOs of Alabama’s largest employers. During that time, she also served as BCA’s liaison to Alabama’s trade associations and to the more than 100 chambers of commerce throughout the state. She also served on the President’s Committee and Corporate Partners Committee for the Alabama Automotive Manufacturer’s Association and was a part of the Alabama Aerospace Industry Association’s membership committee.

“Elaine Fincannon’s extensive knowledge and experience with the public and private sector in our state made her an ideal choice to be ADECA’s new deputy director, and I am pleased that she has decided to bring those talents to the agency,” ADECA Director Kenneth Boswell said. “Elaine is mission-focused, forward-thinking and detailed-oriented, which are the exact skills needed to serve as deputy director of ADECA. She and I will work closely together to continue supporting Gov. Ivey’s mission of improving the lives of all Alabamians.”

Fincannon is an active member of the community, serving as a member of the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce, the Junior League of Montgomery, the Montgomery Humane Society, Auburn University Montgomery Alumni Association and other volunteer efforts. She also served as a member of the American Society of Association Executives and was an officer of the Association of State Chamber Professionals. She has a bachelor’s degree of science from AUM and was honored with a Distinguished Chamber Professional Award in 2019 by the Chamber of Commerce Association of Alabama.

Fincannon joins ADECA with a focus on working with Boswell to meet the agency’s mission to strengthen and support local communities.

“It is an honor to join ADECA during this time, and I am grateful to Director Boswell and Gov. Ivey for this appointment,” Fincannon said. “I plan to work diligently to serve the people of Alabama to the absolute best of my ability.”

 

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Alabama Workforce Council delivers annual report touting improved career pathways

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The Alabama Workforce Council (AWC) recently delivered its Annual Report to Gov. Kay Ivey and members of the legislature. The report highlights the many and varied workforce successes from 2019. It also outlines policy recommendations to further solidify Alabama as a leader in workforce development and push the state closer to Ivey’s goal of adding 500,000 credentialed workers to the state’s workforce by 2025.

Gov. Ivey acknowledged the recent progress stating, “the continued efforts of the AWC and the various state agency partners in transforming our workforce are substantial. Significant work has been accomplished to ensure all Alabamians have a strong start and strong finish. We will continue to bolster our state’s economy through dynamic workforce development solutions to help us reach our ambitious goal.”

The AWC, formed in 2015, was created as an employer-led, statewide effort to understand the structure, function, organization and perception of the Alabama workforce system. The goal of the AWC is to facilitate collaboration between government and industry to help Alabama develop a sustainable workforce that is competitive on a global scale. 

“This report details the tremendous efforts of the dedicated AWC members and their partners who have greatly contributed to the progress of building a highly-skilled workforce.” noted Tim McCartney, Chairman of the AWC. “To meet ever-growing job needs of an expanding economy, we have put forth recommendations to bring working-age Alabamians sitting on the sidelines back into the workforce to address our low workforce participation rate.”

Included among the many highlights from the report are:

  • Created the Alabama Office of Apprenticeship to support apprenticeships and work-based learning statewide.
  • Established the Alabama Committee on Credentialing & Career Pathways (ACCCP) to identify credentials of value that align with in-demand career pathways across Alabama.
  • Furthered foundational work toward cross-agency outcome sharing through the Alabama Terminal on Linking and Analyzing Statistics (ATLAS).
  • Commissioned statewide surveys to better understand the characteristics, and potential barriers, of the priority population groups (during record-low unemployment) identified as likely to enter or re-enter the state’s workforce. 
  • Provided technical assistance, support staff and grant writing services to a cohort of over 30 nonprofits from across the state enabling them to expand services and directly connect more Alabamians to training and economic opportunity. Services helped cohort members secure over $6.4 million in grant money through various out-of-state grant programs.
  • Identified and evaluated 17 population segments of potential workers and determined the likelihood of adding members of those respective population segments into the workforce. Within this process, issues affecting the state’s labor participation rate were also detailed. 

Vice-Chair of the AWC Sandra Koblas of Austal USA commented, “the energy around workforce development in Alabama right now is incredibly exciting. We are working together with businesses, nonprofits and agency partners to reduce barriers, increase opportunities and grow the state’s overall economy.”

The full report can be viewed here.

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To learn more about the Alabama Workforce Council please visit: www.alabamaworks.com/alabama-workforce-council

 

 

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