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Economy

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.”

Bill Britt is editor-in-chief at the Alabama Political Reporter and host of The Voice of Alabama Politics. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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Economy

Alabama’s immigrants pay more than $1 billion in annual taxes, study says

Immigrants in Alabama are responsible for more than $900 million in federal taxes and more than $350 million in state and local taxes, according to a study.

Micah Danney

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Immigrants in Alabama are responsible for more than $900 million in federal taxes and more than $350 million in state and local taxes, according to a study published Monday that assessed the economic impacts of immigrants in each state.

Of Alabama’s 4.9 million residents, 162,567 of them, or 3 percent, were foreign-born as of 2018, according to statistics compiled by the American Immigration Council, which advocates for immigration reform.

Alabama residents in immigrant-led households had $3.7 billion in spendable income, the study states.

Of the state’s immigrant population, 34 percent was undocumented in 2016. That is equal to 1 percent of the state’s total population. Undocumented immigrants represented 2 percent of the state’s workforce that year. They paid an estimated $54.1 million in federal taxes and $37.6 million in state and local taxes in 2018.

Roughly 67,000 of the state’s immigrants, or 41 percent, were naturalized citizens as of 2018. Three-quarters reported speaking English “well” or “very well,” according to the study.

A third had a college degree or higher. By comparison, 25 percent of native-born residents of Alabama have that level of education. Twenty-seven percent of immigrants had less than a high school diploma compared to 13 percent of native-born Alabamians.

Mexico is the most common country of origin at 27 percent of immigrants. China and India each account for 6 percent, followed by Guatemala and Germany with 5 percent each.

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The industries employing the largest shares of the immigrant population are construction, services other than public administration, accommodation and food services, agriculture and manufacturing. 

There were 4,000 active recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, known as DACA, as of 2019. Of those eligible for DACA, 58 percent had applied. These groups combined were responsible for $11.4 million in state and local taxes, or 3.2 percent of the total amount paid by foreign-born residents.

Immigrants represented 6 percent of the state’s business owners and generated $319.8 million in business income in 2018, the study said.

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Economy

Extra $600 in COVID-19 unemployment benefits ends July 26

The extra weekly unemployment payment of $600 ends later this month. 

Eddie Burkhalter

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Despite surging COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations across Alabama and in many other states, an extra $600-per-week in unemployment compensation through the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program is expected to expire July 26. 

That extra money, meant to help those whose jobs were displaced by coronavirus and through no fault of their own, was made possible through the CARES Act, the federal aid program that is to continue through Dec. 31, 2020, but the extra weekly payment of $600 ends later this month. 

“At this time, the federal government has not changed or extended the FPUC program. States do not have the ability to extend FPUC,” the Alabama Department of Labor said in a press release on Monday. 

The end of the extra assistance will impact more than 25 million Americans, during a time when COVID-19 continues to spread actively through communities. 

More than $1 billion has been pumped into Alabama’s economy through the extra $600-a-week payments to Alabamians, according to the New York City-based think tank The Century Foundation.

The Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation payments make up 60 percent of total unemployment benefits paid during the pandemic. 

In Alabama, 35,760 people are receiving the extra $600 a week, which totals approximately $91.7 million weekly into the state, according to The Century Foundation, which estimates that benefits to Alabamians receiving unemployment assistance will decrease by 70 percent once the extra $600 a week dries up. 

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The average current combined unemployment benefits in Alabama is $854.95 and after the end of the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation payments, the remaining unemployment benefit will be roughly $254.95.

There are also racial justice implications in the end to the extra $600 a week in aid, according to the think tank.

“Alabama, Delaware, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina all have average unemployment benefits below $300 per week, as a result of both low wages and unemployment insurance rules that simply offered less protection to predominantly black workforces,” The Century Foundation’s report notes.

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In Alabama, 57 percent of those receiving unemployment benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic from March to April were women and 50 percent were white, while 43 percent were Black, while Black people make up only 27 percent of the state’s population.

The report states that the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation benefit was intended to be a public health measure, helping workers while they stay home until it is safe to go back to work.

“Just as rushed reopenings put families at risk, eliminating FPUC now will force people to rush back to work before it is safe,” the report reads.

Job seekers can visit their local Career Center or search jobs online without cost at alabamaworks.alabama.gov

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Economy

Alabama Innovation Fund, Auburn support development of saliva COVID testing device

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The Alabama Department of Commerce and the City of Auburn’s Industrial Development Board have teamed to award $250,000 in funding to accelerate the development of OraSecure LLC’s breakthrough patent-pending saliva collection device intended to help in the ongoing battle against the novel coronavirus.

Support from the Alabama Innovation Fund and the City of Auburn will help OraSecure finalize the initial manufacturing run needed to begin mass producing its devices and complete validation with the FDA. Production of the devices will take place in Auburn.

“The Alabama Innovation Fund is a key component in our efforts to spark the creation of high-impact ’Made in Alabama’ products by stimulating breakthrough research,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce. “With this support, we are helping OraSecure speed the development of a specimen collection device that can make a difference in the pandemic response while simultaneously raising the state’s profile in the bioscience industry.”

For more information, see the attachment or click this link: https://www.madeinalabama.com/2020/07/orasecure_saliva_collection_device/

 

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Economy

New unemployment claims held steady in June, state says

Micah Danney

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The number of Alabamians filing for unemployment insurance held more or less steady over the course of June, with 18,340 new claims added during the last week of the month, according to the Alabama Department of Labor.

There were 19,950 new claims in the first week of June and 18,367 in the second week, then a slight jump to 18,671 in the third week. 

The month’s total of 75,328 new claims comes after Gov. Kay Ivey relaxed some restrictions meant to slow the spread of COVID-19 and allowed more businesses to open. The numbers vary by industry and county, but generally represent some stabilization, according to department spokesperson Tara Hutchison.

“They remain significantly down from a high in excess of 100,000 in April, which is good news. I don’t know if we can really expect anything one way or another in this unprecedented situation, but the decline from early in the pandemic is of course welcome news,” Hutchison said.

About 60 percent of last week’s new claims were attributed to COVID-19. 

The state’s unemployment rate dropped from 13.8 percent in April to 9.9 percent in May. That compares to a rate of 3 percent in May 2019.

Jefferson County had the highest share of new claims last week at 2,626, followed by Mobile and Montgomery counties at 1,900 and 1,400, respectively.

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The worst-hit industries that are categorized were administrative and support services, food service and bars, transportation equipment manufacturing, general merchandise stores, nursing and residential care facilities and educational services. 

As of May, counties with the lowest unemployment rates are Clay County at 5.6 percent, Geneva County at 6.3 percent and Shelby County at 6.5 percent. 

Counties with the highest unemployment rates are Wilcox County at 19.3 percent, Lowndes County at 18.3 percent and Greene County at 16.4 percent.

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Major cities with the lowest unemployment rates are Vestavia Hills at 5.2 percent, Homewood at 5.4 percent and Madison at 6.2 percent.  

Major cities with the highest unemployment rates are Prichard at 18.6 percent, Selma at 17.1 percent and Gadsden at 15.7 percent.

Wage and salary employment increased in May by 42,500, according to the department.

Average weekly earnings increased to a record high in May, rising to $905.25 per week, representing an increase of $66.43 over the year.

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