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Report: Alabama children’s wellness making slight gains, but racial disparities remain

Eddie Burkhalter

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Children in Alabama are faring slightly better than they were last year across several wellness indicators, but almost 300,000 Alabama children, 26 percent, still live in poverty, and racial disparities remain across every key wellness indicator. 

According to the 2019 Alabama Kids Count released publicly on Tuesday the state’s infant mortality rate is at an all-time low, and the percent of births to teens has dropped, but other key indicators – low birth weight and the number of women receiving adequate prenatal care – remain largely unchanged. The report is released annually by Voices for Alabama’s Children, a nonprofit children’s advocacy group. 

Angela Thomas, communications manager for Voices for Alabama’s Children told APR on Tuesday that the state’s child population is decreasing as it’s simultaneously becoming more racially diverse. 

Children under the age of 20 make up 24.9 percent of Alabama’s overall population, down from 28.2 percent in 2000. White children under the age of 20 made up approximately 63 percent of the state’s population in 2000, and 57.8 percent in 2018. 

Alabama’s population of hispanic children has seen the largest growth, increasing from 2.2 percent in 2000 to 7.7 percent in 2018, but the state’s ability to care for children of color continues to fall short. 

“We are still seeing significant disparities exist between white children and children of color,” Thomas said. “children of color have that disparity in every single domain that we study in the data book.” 

The report notes that the state’s infant mortality rate was at an all-time low in  2017, when Alabama’s infant mortality rate was 7.4 per 1,000 live births, down from 9.1 percent in 2016, but the black infant mortality rate remains the highest, despite declining from 15.1 per 1,000 in 2016 to 11.3 in 2017. 

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“African American babies are double in this indicator than their white peers. They’re actually double every single race group, including hispanic, in infant mortality, Thomas said. 

For the first time last year the report also tracked school suspensions by race, and discovered that black children are suspended almost three times as often as their white counterparts. 

“Suspension represents a major interruption in the educational routine of students, and often has a lasting impact on students’ academic and behavioral performance and achievement,” the report states. 

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Thomas said Voices continues to encourage lawmakers and advocates to push for policies and practices that will address the racial disparities found in the latest figures, but that the fixes won’t be simple. 

“Not one specific thing is going to fix all of these things, and it’s definitely not going to fix them overnight, but a combination of all of us working together and a combination of policies working together can definitely make an impact,” Thomas said. 

This year’s report is the last before the 2020 U.S. Census, so advocates are urging full participation to ensure the state’s most vulnerable children receive the help they’ll need. 

That census data is invaluable to Voices, which uses it to track the wellbeing of the state’s children, and the data is used by numerous state agencies to set budgets. If children are undercounted the support programs that help them go underfunded. 

Children living in poverty in the state are the most likely to be undercounted in the census, Thomas said, partially because of the dynamic family structures.  

Alabama ranks fourth highest in the nation for children who live with grandparents, tying with New Mexico at 13.9 percent, according to Partnership for America’s Children. Thomas said many grandparents may not list those children in the census application. 

In the 2010 census more than 17,000 Alabama children under the age of five went uncounted, according to Voices. 

“It is absolutely critical for our state’s youngest citizens that Alabama achieve maximum participation in the 2020 Census,” said Gov. Kay Ivey’s spokeswoman, Gina Maiola, in a message to APR on Tuesday. “From the beginning, Governor Ivey has stressed the impact this would have on healthcare, infrastructure, education, and many other additional resources we depend upon from the federal government.” 

Maiola wrote that Ivey is “highly aware that children, especially those between the ages 0-5, are among the largest underrepresented groups in the census” and that she’s working to engage everyone in the state to achieve maximum participation in the 2020 census. 

Other notable findings in the 2019 report are: 

  • Children with indications of abuse or neglect increased from the rate of 10.2 per 1,000 in 2017 to 11.4 per 1,000 children in 2018, when more than 12,000 children were involved in reports of abuse or neglect that year. 
  • In 2017, there were 164 preventable deaths for teens aged 15-19 years old, which is an approximate 20 percent decrease from the previous year.
  • Births to teens aged 15-17 years old decreased by more than 60 percent since 2017.

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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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Shelby announces $733,150 ARC POWER Grant for Opportunity Alabama

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U.S. Senator Richard Shelby, R-Ala., Wednesday announced that Opportunity Alabama, Inc., a nonprofit initiative in Birmingham, Alabama, is the recipient of a $733,150 Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) POWER grant.  This grant will fund the Creating Opportunity for Alabama (COAL) Initiative.

“ARC’s decision to award this funding to Opportunity Alabama will help significantly boost private investment and business development throughout our state’s coal-impacted communities,” said Senator Shelby.  “I am proud this nonprofit initiative is working to help our local communities understand and capitalize on Opportunity Zones.  These federal funds will facilitate an improved quality of life in Appalachian Alabama, creating hundreds of jobs and dozens of new businesses.”

“Opportunity Zones, and the private investment they incentivize, are helping uplift communities throughout the Appalachian Region,” said ARC Federal Co-Chairman Tim Thomas.  “Opportunity Alabama is working to ensure communities understand and are able to capitalize on this program to improve Appalachian Alabama, and this POWER investment will have a big impact on that mission.”

 The project will create an investment funding and business development ecosystem targeted to the federally designated Opportunity Zones in 36 coal-impacted counties in Alabama.  As a result of the ARC grant, Opportunity Alabama will work with a team of local, state, and national partners in a three-phased approach.  The first phase will work on building a local capacity to effectively prepare for and attract Opportunity Zone investments, focusing particularly on rural communities.  The second phase will create a pipeline of investment opportunities to attract substantial private investment by facilitating demand studies, environmental assessments, and construction cost estimates.  The third and final phase will focus on developing and implementing an impact-investment data collection and analysis process to make it easier for investors to deploy their capital.

This project will yield 250 new jobs, create 25 new businesses, and leverage $100 million in private investment.  In addition to the federal grant provided for the project, Alabama Power and the Alabama Power Foundation are expected to provide private financial support.

Opportunity Alabama is a nonprofit initiative dedicated to connecting investors with investable assets in Alabama’s Opportunity Zones.

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State Sen. Andrew Jones files bill to eliminate grocery tax

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State Sen. Andrew Jones, R-Centre, has introduced a proposed constitutional amendment to eliminate the state sales tax on groceries.

Jones’ bill, Senate Bill 144, is different from other recent efforts to eliminate the grocery tax in that his proposal would be revenue neutral and also neutral to the State Education Trust Fund.  In other words, the State of Alabama and the Education Trust Fund would neither gain money nor lose money if SB144 passes. 

“The grocery tax is a regressive tax which penalizes hardworking families in Alabama,” Jones said. “At least 38 states and the District of Columbia have full or partial sales tax exemptions for groceries.  It is important to me that we eliminate this out-dated tax which disproportionately affects lower income Alabamians.”

Jones’ bill pays for the loss of sales tax revenue by capping the federal income tax deduction on Alabama state income taxes. Alabama is one of only 6 states that allow such a deduction.

“It was important to me to have a revenue-neutral proposal that did not result in a loss to our education budget,” Jones continued. “Grocery sales taxes fund our education budget, as does state income tax.  By implementing an FIT deduction cap, funding for our education budget remains unchanged.”  

Under Jones’ proposal, individuals would still be able to take a FIT deduction of up to $6000 and Married Couples filing jointly would still be able to deduct up to $12,000.  

“In layman’s terms,” Jones continued, “a family of 4 making under $134,800 would still be able to take their full FIT deduction. An individual filing as head of family making less that $70,700 would still be able to take their full FIT deduction. Finally, a person filing as single or married filing separately making less than $58,300 would still be able to take their full FIT deduction.” 

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While everyone would benefit from no grocery tax, Jones noted that working families would benefit two-fold.

“Our blue-collar Alabamians will not only get to avoid paying taxes on groceries,” said Jones, “they will also not pay a dime more in income taxes.  SB144 will result in more money staying in their pocketbooks. I encourage everyone who supports this effort to contact your local legislator and ask them to support SB144.”   

Constitutional amendments require a 3/5ths vote of both the House and Senate and must then be approved by a majority of Alabama voters.

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