U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, hosted a press conference at the Birmingham International Airport to celebrate the U.S. House of Representatives’ vote to eliminate the Military Widow’s Tax.
Jones’s legislation to end the tax was included in the National Defense Authorization Act that was passed by the U.S. House last week.
The elimination of the penalty impacted an estimated 2,000 surviving military spouses in the state alone.
The bill has passed in the House of Representatives and a final vote in the Senate will take place early this week, where it is expected to pass with broad bipartisan support.
“For nearly four decades, the military widow’s tax has hurt our Gold Star families,” Jones said. “Today, we are one BIG step closer to finally repealing this unjust law and fulfilling our commitment to the military families who have sacrificed so much.”
The move had broad bipartisan support.
Congressman Mo Brooks, R-Huntsville, said, “The FY20 NDAA House-Senate compromise bill improves the quality of life of America’s service members by: giving troops a 3.1% pay raise; phasing out the Widow’s Tax; addressing the military housing crisis and requiring the services to establish a Tenant Bill of Rights; and, doubling the reimbursement amount for state licensure expenses for military spouses, who face unique career challenges when they move across state lines and often must pay substantial sums to requalify for nearly identical licenses.”
Congressman Bradley Byrne, R-Montrose, said, “Importantly, this bill gives our troops a 3.1 percent pay raise, the largest increase in a decade, and repeals the widow’s tax, a goal I’ve worked towards for many years.”
Congresswoman Terri A Sewell, D-Selma, said, “We delivered a smart, bipartisan defense bill that improves campaign election security, makes good on our promises to military widows and authorizes funding to equip, supply and train U.S. troops and support military families at home and abroad.”
Also participating in the press conference in the press conference with Jones were retired General Charles Krulak, the 31st Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps; Anne Hartline with the Military Officers Association of America Surviving Spouse Advisory Committee; and surviving military spouses Carrie Cunningham, Stella Malone, and Donna Martin.
Jones’ legislation, the Military Widow’s Tax Elimination Act, will repeal the law that prevents as many as 67,000 surviving military spouses nationwide from receiving their full Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs survivor benefits. Currently, military widows and widowers who qualify for the VA’s Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) are forced to take a dollar-for-dollar offset from the Survivors Benefits Plan (SBP) benefit, even though their retired spouses elected to pay into the program.
Legislation to repeal the widow’s tax has been repeatedly introduced in the Senate for nearly two decades. Under Senator Jones’ leadership, the bill appears poised to pass and then be signed by President Donald J. Trump (R).
Jones introduced the bill with Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine in March.
Rep. Sewell leads 83 members of Congress to push for $86 billion for broadband expansion
U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Alabama, and David Trone, D-Maryland, led 82 of their colleagues in sending a letter Tuesday to leaders of the House and Senate urging them to include in any future COVID-19 relief package at least $86 billion for the deployment of high-speed broadband internet.
Sewell and Trone sent the letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
“The coronavirus has only further highlighted the importance of high-speed, affordable internet, as lack of access has made it more difficult for Alabamians to learn from home, access telehealth service and telework during the pandemic,” Sewell said. “It is beyond time that high-speed internet is treated as a basic utility and rolled out to every community across the country. The letter provides the framework for a future relief package that acknowledges just how critical broadband access is and calls on leadership to make a significant investment in its implementation.”
“The coronavirus pandemic has shown that swaths of this country are being left behind by insufficient broadband infrastructure,” Trone said. “It’s time to invest in digital highways to bring the entire country into the 21st century and global economy. I want to thank Congresswoman Sewell and Whip Clyburn for joining in the effort to ensure this critical infrastructure is included in the next Congressional stimulus package.”
According to Microsoft, about 25 million Americans lack access to reliable, high-speed internet and about 3.3 million Alabama residents do not have the minimum broadband speeds needed for video conferencing or streaming at home. The divide disproportionately impacts rural residents — with 19 million of the 25 million Americans without broadband living in rural areas.
“Future stimulus packages should support the deployment of secure and resilient broadband, provide hotspots for students to close the homework gap and allow for distance learning, and expand access and affordability for unserved and underserved communities with sufficient speed and data that reflects American families’ increased reliance on internet access,” they wrote in their letter. “We cannot wait to invest in high-speed broadband deployment necessary to reach every unserved and underserved American family, hospital, school and small business. … If we fail to invest now, millions of American will be disconnected from the economic recovery on the other side of this crisis.”
Racial disparities also exist between which Americans have access to broadband and which do not. According to a 2017 Joint Economic Committee report, 82 percent of white households have access to high speed internet while just 70 percent of Black households do. Seventy-four percent of Hispanic households do and just 65 percent of Native American households do.
“We believe that in the response to the COVID-19 crisis an overall investment of $86 billion is needed,” the letter continued. “This would expedite high-speed broadband deployment and expand funding to ensure that Americans who need broadband service can remain connected during this public health crisis and recovery. This includes expanded service for low-income consumers that meet the demands of telework, telehealth and telelearning. For instance, two tools ready to address these issues are the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) existing Lifeline and E-Rate educational connectivity programs.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic has made it increasingly clear that having access to high speed broadband is a necessity,” the letter said. “We must invest in expanding affordable and reliable high-speed Internet access in the next emergency relief package. We thank you for your attention to this critical issue and looking forward to working in tandem to bring broadband to communities that are in desperate need of this essential tool for life in the 21st Century.”
There is wide bipartisan support for increasing broadband access.
“COVID19 highlights the need for more broadband access in America,” Congressman Mo Brooks, R-Alabama, said. “According to the Federal Communications Commission, 31 percent of rural Americans do not have broadband access at home. During the pandemic, school children without broadband access have been unable to attend classes digitally or complete online homework assignments. Adults have been similarly hamstrung in an increasingly digital economy.”
Sewell is in her fifth term representing Alabama’s 7th Congressional District.
After public apology, councilman’s priority is keeping the most vulnerable safe from COVID-19
Montgomery City Councilman Glen Pruitt’s change of heart after a failed mask order vote on June 18 was a rarity in politics — a public apology that took responsibility for his own reasoning rather than shifting blame to his critics’ reaction to it.
His wife, Ashley, prompted his realization when she mentioned his daughter, who died of cancer at 19 a year ago. Courtney Pruitt fought the disease for a year before her death, which compromised her immune system. Her father remembers the precautions he had to take to protect her.
“When you go through the door, you wash your hands. You make sure you’re clean,” Pruitt said. “When you leave, you wash your hands. If you’re with her, make sure you don’t have a temperature. I mean, it’s everything we’re going through right now with the coronavirus.”
He had gotten hung up on how an ordinance would be enforced, he said, and “couldn’t see the forest for the trees.” At the thought of his daughter, Pruitt said he realized he would have pushed to strengthen any ordinance that could have protected her and people like her.
About 26,000 Alabamians are diagnosed with cancer each year, according to the American Cancer Society.
The term immunocompromised includes a myriad of other health conditions. Many of them are common, like asthma. Nearly 400,000 Alabama residents, or 10.5 percent of the population, live with asthma, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Weakened immune systems have a harder time fighting COVID-19, said Savannah Koplon, a spokesperson for the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Fluid can build up in an infected patient’s lungs to the point that they can’t absorb enough oxygen to survive, even if they are intubated.
After health officials observed a spike in new cases that correlated with Memorial Day, officials have been urging the public to take the virus seriously, wear masks and stay six feet apart while celebrating the Fourth of July.
The virus is prone to “super-spreader” events, experts say, where one person at a gathering infects four or more people. Some carriers appear to be more contagious than others, scientists have found, although it is not known why. These super-spreaders can infect many more people than a person who is sick with more familiar illnesses like the flu, which tends to have an infection rate of about one to three people.
Pruitt said he’s still very much struggling with the loss of his daughter a year after her death. He has good days and bad days. At 19, she had “touched more people in this city than I’ll ever get an opportunity to touch,” he said.
As the state continues to track an upward trend of virus cases — more than 900 daily statewide at present — and a decreasing number of intensive care unit beds, he’s thinking about his community’s most vulnerable, like the elderly and his friend’s son who has lupus.
“The last thing we want to do is to bring this home to somebody that can not fight it off and be the cause of it, and that’s that,” he said.
Governor appoints Jim Naftel as Jefferson County probate judge
Gov. Kay Ivey on Wednesday appointed Birmingham attorney James “Jim” Naftel II as Jefferson County probate judge place 1.
Ivey spoke to Naftel Wednesday afternoon to inform him of her decision, according to a press release from Ivey’s office.
“As one of my appointees, you will be making important decisions that directly affect the citizens of Alabama. I have made honesty and integrity a priority in my Administration, and I know that you will embody these two virtues while serving the people of Alabama,” Ivey wrote in a letter to Naftel on Wednesday.
Naftel will replace Jefferson County Probate Judge Alan King, who was first elected to the judgeship in November 2000, and who retired in May after 19 years of service. King’s wife was killed just more than a year before his retirement in a hit-and-run in Denver.
Naftel has been an attorney with the law firm Maynard, Cooper & Gale, P.C. since 1998, and is a 1998 graduate of the University of Alabama School of Law.
Brooks to vote no on Democratic infrastructure bill
Congressman Mo Brooks, R-Alabama, said he will vote no this week on a Democratic infrastructure bill in the House, which he said was “socialism” cloaked in an infrastructure bill.
“Nancy Pelosi & her Socialist comrades are hellbent on destroying America,” Brooks claimed. “They won’t stop spending until America is bankrupt. They covet economic disaster so they can rebuild a Socialist America under the guise of providing economic relief. In this instance, Socialism comes cloaked as an infrastructure bill.”
Brooks cited as examples of excessive spending $29.3 billion in grants and subsidies to Amtrak’s intercity passenger rail service, $500 million a year to pay ports to replace their cargo handling equipment, hundreds of billions for public housing and “shifting funding from roads, streets, bridges and highways badly needed by red states like Alabama to subsidies of blue state inner-city mass transit programs.”
HR2, the Invest in America Act, is sponsored by Congressman Peter DeFazio of Oregon.
“The Socialists’ latest attempt to bankrupt America is a 2,300+ page bill, drafted behind closed doors by a select few, introduced just last week, that increases America’s debt and deficits by $1.5 trillion!” Brooks claimed. “That’s $1.5 trillion America doesn’t have, has to borrow to get, and cannot afford to pay back. America’s national debt blew through $23 trillion in November, $24 trillion in April, $25 trillion in May, and $26 trillion in June.”
“In April, the Congressional Budget Office (“CBO”) estimated a fiscal year 2020 $3.7 trillion deficit — without including this $1.5 trillion monstrosity,” Brooks said. “Both the CBO and America’s Comptroller General Gene Dodaro regularly describe America’s financial state as ‘unsustainable,’ accounting language for insolvency and bankruptcy.”
“Incredible as it may seem, even without this $1.5 trillion monstrosity, the federal government is on a course to spend roughly $50,000 per American household this year!” Brooks said. “Of course, that spending must first be taken from taxpayers in the form of higher taxes or greater debt. History proves you can’t spend and borrow your way to prosperity. America is no exception.”
“Socialist Democrats call HR2 an infrastructure bill,” Brooks said. “The fact is, the bill contains more that would impede infrastructure projects than spur them. The bill is chock-full of new top-down, one size fits all Washington mandates and bureaucratic hurdles.”
Both President Donald Trump and congressional Democrats have been urging Congress to pass an infrastructure bill, but the two sides have been unable to agree on just what should be in the infrastructure bill. Republicans like Brooks have expressed concerns over growing the national debt on an infrastructure building spree paid for with growing budget deficits.
Brooks is serving in his fifth term representing Alabama’s 5th Congressional District.
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