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Ending an 18-year battle, Senate passes Widow’s Tax repeal

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Senators Doug Jones, D-Ala., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, announced that their legislation to repeal the Military Widow’s Tax has passed the United States Senate as a part of the FY2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The bill now goes to the President to be signed into law.

Legislation has been repeatedly introduced in the Senate for nearly two decades to roll back the Military Widow’s Tax, which was enacted in 1972. Since introducing the Widow’s Tax Elimination Act of 2019  in March, Senators Jones and Collins have worked tirelessly to gain support among their colleagues in both the Senate and House and to make the case on behalf of the 67,000 surviving spouses – including more than 2,000 in Alabama – who are impacted by the Military Widow’s Tax. Under their leadership, the bill earned a record-high 78 total cosponsors in the Senate and 384 in the House of Representatives.

“When we introduced this legislation, we knew we were fighting an uphill battle on behalf of these surviving spouses. But together, we were undeterred by the task and committed to them that this was the year it would finally get done. There is no more noble cause than to do the right thing for military families who have lost their loved one in service to our country. We took up this fight for those surviving spouses and their families, and I’m honored to be standing with them as we finally put this injustice behind us,” said Senator Jones, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“This provision we secured in the NDAA is a major victory for surviving military and retiree spouses to whom we are deeply indebted. The Military Widow’s Tax was an unfair offset that prevented as many as 67,000 surviving spouses—including more than 260 from Maine—from receiving the full benefits they deserve,” said Senator Susan Collins. “This problem goes back decades, but this year we finally solved it once and for all. I appreciate the overwhelming support we received from our colleagues as well as veterans advocates who helped make this possible.”

“This is an exciting day for more than 67,000 military widows and widowers who have been waiting years for the survivor benefits they are owed,” said Senator Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “When brave men and women pay the ultimate sacrifice serving our nation, it’s our duty to provide economic security for their loved ones. OurWidow’s Tax Elimination Act  follows through on this important obligation, and ensures that military families who have sacrificed the unimaginable are provided more financial certainty.”

“Surviving family members of fallen servicemembers have already lost an important part of their lives.  Denying them access to the full benefits earned by their loved one’s sacrifice creates an undue burden on their finances.  No surviving spouse should have to face this unexpected and unfair cut to their benefits. Congress’ bipartisan action to fully repeal the military widow’s tax is a much-needed improvement,” said Senator Mike Crapo (R-Idaho).

“For 26 years, I have been denied the full benefits that my husband earned and paid for to help take care of his family in the event of tragedy. The long fight to repeal the Military Widow’s Tax has been difficult and none of us want to talk repeatedly about the deaths of our spouses, but that has been necessary to inform our public officials and ask for their help. Though I will be 76 when my husband’s benefits are fully reinstated, I am happy to know that those who sadly become military widows and widowers in the future will no longer have to fight this battle year after year. My own senator from Alabama, Senator Doug Jones, has championed our cause with passion and persistence and led with bipartisanship to see this bill finally passed! In Alabama terms, he carried the ball into the end zone!” said Cathy Milford, a surviving military spouse from Mobile, Alabama.

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“On behalf of the 67,000 widows across the United States, I want to say thank you to Senator Jones for his stellar leadership in the elimination of the Widow’s Tax. We in Alabama are so proud of our Senator Doug Jones, who has been the catalyst to coordinate the bipartisan support for this legislation. Many people have worked tirelessly for almost 20 years, and finally with the leadership of Senator Jones, this is happening. What a gift and we want to thank him,” said Anne Hartline of Vestavia Hills, Alabama, who serves as Chair of the Surviving Spouse Advisory Committee to the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA).

“The reality is, this probably would not have happened without Senator Jones’ unbelievable spirit of getting things done. The entire House and Senate have come together to produce something that is going to change the life of the widows of the men and women who’ve passed serving their country. My wife and I have been involved in this for almost 20 years, and we have lost many friends who have lost their lives over the years. This particular bill is going to make a huge difference to the widows who are surviving. It would have never happened without Senator Jones and the bipartisan effort that we’ve seen take place over the past year,” said retired General Charles Krulak, 31stCommandant of the U.S. Marine Corps.

 

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Congress

Ivey urges Alabamians to complete census or risk losing federal funding, seat in Congress

Micah Danney

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Gov. Kay Ivey urged all Alabama residents to complete the 2020 census before the Sept. 30 deadline in a 30-second video released on Friday.

In the video, Ivey said, “Complete your 2020 Census today. We only have until Sept. 30th. Without you, Alabama stands to lose billions in funding, a seat in Congress and economic development opportunities.

“It only takes minutes to complete. Go to my2020census.gov or participate by phone or mail. Be counted – if not for you, for those in Alabama who depend on you for a brighter tomorrow.”

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National

Jones says Mitch McConnell failed country by adjourning without COVID-19 aid

Eddie Burkhalter

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U.S. Sen. Doug Jones speaks during a livestreamed press briefing. (VIA SEN. DOUG JONES'S OFFICE)

Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, on Friday expressed his concern over the Senate majority leader adjourning the Senate without passing another round of COVID-19 relief aid.  

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, adjourned the Senate until Sept. 8 without passage of relief aid that Jones said is critical for struggling citizens and businesses. 

Jones’s statement:

“Mitch McConnell’s decision to adjourn the Senate without any further efforts to fulfill the Senate’s obligation to the American public during a healthcare and economic crisis demonstrates an unconscionable failure of leadership. Congress acted swiftly in March as the pandemic took hold and every American who put their lives on hold and stayed home for weeks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 did so out of a patriotic duty and a belief that it would give our government leaders time to implement a plan to get this virus under control.

“Now, it’s been five months and not only do we still have no national strategy, our nation is facing some of the highest rates of coronavirus spread in the world, over 167,000 Americans dead, unprecedented housing and eviction crises on the horizon, and we are slowly coming out of the worst economy since the Great Depression and the highest level of unemployment ever recorded.

“The House of Representatives passed a relief bill on May 15th – three months ago – because it was clear even then that this virus would be with us longer than we had hoped and that more support to American businesses and American citizens would be needed to save lives and save livelihoods. Sadly, however, instead of using this legislation as a framework for a bipartisan relief package, Mitch McConnell buried it in his office and sat on his hands, letting vital programs expire without even participating in efforts to reach agreement. 

“His decision to send the Senate home for the next three weeks is an insult to every sacrifice made, every job lost, every small business that has had to close its doors, every person who had to say their final goodbye to a loved one over Facetime, and every graduation or wedding or birth celebrated over Zoom instead of in person. The American people have done their duty, and today Mitch McConnell has thrown in the towel and given up on doing his.”

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Jones calls for fixes to USPS delays and reduced costs for election mail

“Like voting itself, the U.S. Postal Service is vital to our democracy,” wrote Sen. Doug Jones and 46 other senators to the U.S. postmaster general.

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Democratic Alabama Sen. Doug Jones and 46 Senate colleagues in a letter to the U.S. postmaster general on Thursday expressed serious concerns over changes that will increase the cost of citizens to vote.

“Like voting itself, the U.S. Postal Service is vital to our democracy. Since you assumed the role of Postmaster General, there have been disturbing reports regarding changes at USPS that are causing significant delays in the delivery of mail. Under normal circumstances, delayed mail is a major problem – during a pandemic in the middle of a presidential election, it is catastrophic,” the senators wrote in the letter to Postmaster General Louis DeJoy. 

President Donald Trump on Thursday repeated statements he’s made that the U.S. Postal Service won’t be able to process mail-in ballots in the November election without the needed federal funding, which he is withholding. 

“They want $3.5 billion for the mail-in votes. Universal mail-in ballots. They want $25 billion—billion—for the post office. Now they need that money in order to have post office work so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots,” Trump told Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo Thursday morning. “Those are just two items. But if you don’t get those two items, that means you can’t have universal mail-in voting. Because they’re not equipped to have it.”

DeJoy in recent days has ordered major reshuffling in the Postal Service’s management ranks, ordered a hiring freeze and made other cuts. Secretaries of state nationwide were also notified that instead of the 20-cent bulk rate for election mail, as has been used for decades, now it would cost 55 cents to send such mail via first-class postage. 

The Postal Service in previous elections treated all election mail, no matter how much was spent on postage, as first-class and as such expedited delivery. The recent announcement signals that election mail not sent first class will not receive the same expedited delivery times, worrying many that DeJoy, appointed by the Postal Service’s majority-Republican board in May, is attempting to exert political influence into mail delivery just before the presidential election. 

Trump has repeatedly said, without factual cause, that mail-in ballots are ripe for fraud. Mail-in voting has surged across the country in recent elections and even more so amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Several states — including California, Colorado and Washington — conduct all elections almost entirely by mail.

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Mail-in voting fraud is incredibly rare, according to The Brennan Center for Justice, which noted that in Oregon, a state that votes primarily by mail, only about a dozen cases of voter fraud were proven out of 100 million mail-in ballots since 2000. 

“As Postmaster General, you have a duty to our democracy to ensure the timely delivery of election mail. Millions of Americans’ right to vote depends on your ability to get the job done. We urge you not to increase costs for election officials, and to direct all Postal Service employees to continue to prioritize delivery of election mail,” the senators’ letter continues.

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Elections

Voter Protection Corps recruiting local organizers in Alabama

Micah Danney

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The national nonprofit March On is recruiting regional leaders for its Voter Protection Corps. (GRAPHIC VIA MARCH ON)

The national nonprofit March On is recruiting regional leaders for its Voter Protection Corps, a grassroots network of organizers who will be trained to spot and counteract voter suppression ahead of the 2020 election in 14 key states, of which Alabama is one.

“With closed polling places, broken machines, long lines and the assault on mail-in ballots, voter suppression efforts have reached dangerous new heights in 2020,” said Andi Pringle, March On’s director of strategic and political campaigns. “Coupled with a global pandemic, these efforts threaten our ability to hold a free, fair and safe election in November. March On is looking for young leaders who are fired up to turn out the vote and protect democracy.”

Selected recruits will function as captains who then recruit at least five volunteers to form a squad. There will be about 20 squads in each state, Pringle said.

Captains will be trained by lawyers to know the ins and outs of their local election laws. They will train their squads to help voters exercise their rights to mail-in voting and early voting and will establish relationships with local election protection initiatives, election officials and community leaders.

Voter suppression can take many forms, Pringle said, including misinformation about polling locations, voter ID laws and various legal and administrative obstacles that can prevent average people “who don’t live and breathe this stuff” from casting their vote. Fighting such tactics is generally talked about in terms of attorneys and happens on or after Election Day, but that doesn’t prevent bureaucratic disenfranchisement that occurs in the days and weeks before the election, Pringle said.

“So the vote is already suppressed before they even get to the polls,” she said.

March On is recruiting captains from the Divine 9 Black fraternities and sororities, as well as women, veterans, young professionals, college students and recent graduates. It plans to have more than 7,000 corps members nationally.

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