The Alabama Board of Veterans Affairs on Friday approved site selection for a new approximately $60 million veterans home to be located in Enterprise, which is expected to open by 2023.
The 108-acre Coffee County location between US 84 and Alabama 167 was identified as having the largest veteran population projections in a study done to determine veterans needs into the future, according to a press release from the Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs on Friday.
“This was a difficult selection process, as many communities submitted excellent proposals for the new veterans home. We are excited about this project, as this location will give access to many underserved veterans,” Chad Richmond, SBVA vice-chairman, said in a statement. “The committee team worked diligently and fairly through this process, and I’m confident that our selection of Enterprise will provide the setting and care our veterans deserve.”
In 2018 a consulting company was hired to conduct a feasibility study to determine the long-term healthcare needs of Alabama’s veterans.
The results of that study showed that 1,440 veterans would need a skilled-care bed by 2045. Currently, the state VA operates 704 beds across four veterans homes.
Researchers selected the 10-county Wiregrass region as the best location for the new home to meet veterans’ needs, as it has no such facility. The nearest facility is an hour’s drive from the region.
The state Department of Veterans Affairs in April applied for a federal grant which will pay for 65 percent of the approximately. $60 million cost. The state is to pay the remaining 35 percent.
A sight selection committee reviewed the 12 proposals submitted to the state agency and in December visited several of those locations.
The Bill Nichols State Veterans Home opened in Alexander City in 1989, followed by the 1995 opening of the Floyd E. “Tut” Fann State Veterans Home in Huntsville and the William F. Green State Veterans Home in Bay Minette. The Colonel Robert L. Howard State Veterans Home opened in Pell City in 2012, according to the state DVA.
All four existing veterans homes are operated by South Carolina-based HMR Veterans Services Inc., under oversight by the Alabama Board of Veterans Affairs. HMR Veterans Services also operates homes in South Carolina, Maryland and Texas, according to the company’s website.
Finance director: Alabama expects to spend nearly all of $1.8 billion in CARES Act funds
“I think we’ll be down to less than $10 million, and hopefully less than that,” the state finance director said.
Alabama has until Dec. 30 to spend the $818 million that remains of $1.8 billion in federal CARES Act money allocated to the state, or the remaining funds revert back to the federal government, but the state’s finance director believes that’s possible, for the most part.
“I think we’ll be down to less than $10 million, and hopefully less than that,” said Alabama State Finance Director Kelly Butler, speaking to reporters Wednesday.
With new daily COVID-19 cases continuing to break records in Alabama and coronavirus hospitalizations reaching record levels this week, many have expressed concern that Alabama could leave millions on the table at a time when the money could do the most good.
It’s not clear if lawmakers in Washington D.C. will agree in time to extend the deadline for states to spend the cash, and Butler said Wednesday that state officials had hoped the extension would come to pass but aren’t banking on it.
“The reality is, if we’re going to be able to get the money out the door, we can’t wait on that any longer,” Butler said. “So we’ve got to put the pedal to the metal and assume that December 30 is a hard cutoff, and that’s the way we’re operating.”
Butler explained that almost all of the CARES Act money to various state programs and entities are reimbursement programs, meaning those entities must show they spent the money on coronavirus-related expenses, as required by the federal government, then ask the state for reimbursement.
“This is particularly true for local governments, state government agencies, hospitals,” Butler said.
Butler also explained that despite the many needs, the federal money comes with substantial limitations.
“There is a perception out there that this money can solve everybody’s problem, and can be used for everything that people want it to be used for,” Butler said. “And the reality is that the Treasury guidance, particularly the audit guidance issued by the Treasury, it just does not allow us to do everything that everybody wants us to do, and the penalty, if we use the money outside the bounds outside the law and the regulations, is that the state has to repay the money.”
Gov. Kay Ivey on Nov. 23 allocated $3.6 million in CARES Act funds to food banks statewide, Butler noted, and another $2 million to a program that provides counseling for veterans with PTSD.
“We have money out there for hospitals, nursing homes. We are in constant communication with them,” Butler said. “We have done before this latest grant program, we’ve done one small business grant program, a faith-based organization grant program, a nonprofit organization grant program, a medical provider grant program, an agricultural producer grant program, so we haven’t stopped since May.”
Asked whether any of the federal aid has gone to the Alabama Department of Public Health to help set up the administration of COVID-19 vaccines, Butler said the state has allocated more than $30 million to the Department of Public Health, but most of that was done before it was clear Alabama could get a vaccine this month.
Butler said until recently it wasn’t thought a vaccine would be available before the end of the year, and that “up until recently, it was not something that we were allowed to spend money on.”
“We have allocated a small amount to a company in Huntsville called Aclinnate Genetics for vaccine education, particularly in the African American community throughout the state,” Butler said.
There remains the possibility of reallocating unspent money to other programs, Butler said, as has been done twice before. That requires conversations between Butler, Gov. Kay Ivey and legislative leadership Butler said, adding that he anticipates at least one more reallocation before the deadline.
“Our plans are to, as I’ve said daily, evaluate the programs and somewhere around the middle of this month, sort of do a final tally and go back to the Legislature and ask for reallocations so that we can allocate money to things that and programs that might need it,” Butler said.
One possibility would be to allocate additional money to the state’s unemployment trust fund, Butler said. As much as $287 million could be reallocated to the fund, he said.
“Health care, with the virus continuing, is also another definite possibility,” Butler said.
Asked about concerns some local governments and other groups have had that the entities don’t have the money to spend, to then ask for reimbursement, Butler said that he has heard those concerns but that federal guidelines connected to the CARES Act funding are strict.
“The reality is the Treasury guidance and the CARES act, we believe, prohibit us from sending the money out upfront,” Butler said. “And it’s just not something we believe we can do.”
Butler said the state has worked closely with local municipalities and groups, including the Black Belt Foundation, to help them apply for reimbursements and get the money returned quickly.
A reporter asked about as-of-yet unpaid reimbursement requests of more than $850,000 from the Madison County Commission from August, and Butler said the state does have a backlog of requests, and that while the program was established on May 28, many local governments waited until August to submit applications.
Butler then said that he’s been told the Madison County Commission’s requests were being processed Wednesday and the commission should see that money soon.
Butler said the state has received word from the U.S. Treasury that as long as those reimbursement requests are turned in before the Dec. 30 deadline “we will have a two to three month period to work out those prior bills as long as they were expenses incurred before December.”
Report shows inequalities, strengths of Alabama women
The Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham set out to examine the challenges facing women in the state.
Researchers didn’t set out to establish a baseline that could be used to later examine what impact COVID-19 is having on women in Alabama, but that’s what happened when the Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham set out in the fall of last year to examine the challenges facing women in the state.
The resulting report, released Wednesday and titled “Status of Women in Alabama: 2020” was compiled with the help of researchers at the Washington D.C.-based Institute for Women’s Policy and Research and focuses on four areas: work, earnings, and family; poverty and opportunity; health and well-being; and political representation and leadership.
The report shows women in Alabama faired worse than women nationwide in terms of the wage gap and percent of women living in poverty, but that women in Alabama are entrepreneurial and are heavily relied on as their families’ main source of income.
The report also briefly notes the impact COVID-19 is having on each of the parameters studied, but it will be some time before data is available to further that research.
“When women thrive, Alabama thrives,” the report’s executive summary begins. “When barriers for women are removed, their success extends to their families, our economy, and the state as a whole.”
Melanie Bridgeforth, president and CEO of the Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham, a nonprofit philanthropic foundation that advocates for women and girls, told reporters during a press briefing Wednesday that you cannot change what you don’t know.
“And so we felt strongly that by producing responsible and credible data that illuminates gaps and benchmark progress, we can also help make a difference and improve the status of women in Alabama simply by shining a light,” Bridgeforth said.
Elyse Shaw, a study director at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, said during the briefing that women’s earnings are no longer optional for families.
“Women’s earnings are essential to economic security,” Shaw said.
Women in Alabama earn just 73 cents for every dollar that men earn, compared to the U.S. as a whole, where women earn 82 cents on the dollar, according to the report.
“If the current trend continues, Alabama women will have to wait until the year 2089 to reach pay equity,” the report reads.
Even with the wide wage gap, women’s earnings in Alabama are relied on to keep households afloat. The share of Alabama women who are breadwinners, meaning all single women and married women who earn at least 40 percent of household income, is 74.2 percent. Black mothers with children under 18 in Alabama make up 77.9 percent of breadwinners.
“The earnings of Black mothers are vital to their families, and they’re more likely to be in the jobs that have been hit hardest by this economic recession,” Shaw said.
One of the bright spots the report found was the entrepreneurship among Alabama women, who make up 37 percent of the state’s business ownership, compared to 36 percent nationally, Shaw said. One in four women in Alabama have a bachelor’s degree or higher, the report found.
“So women in Alabama are out there, starting businesses, stepping forward and really supporting themselves and their families,” Shaw said.
The COVID-19 pandemic is having dramatic impacts on the ability of women to earn incomes, and Black people are disproportionately impacted, the report notes. In August unemployment was 5.6 percent in Alabama, and of the unemployment claims, 57.3 percent of claims were made by women and 53.5 percent of claims were made by individuals who are Black.
Coronavirus is also clearly impacting the health and wellbeing of women in Alabama, who make up 55.5 percent of those who tested positive for COVID-19 as of Sept. 1. Almost 50 percent of the deaths during that time frame were women. Nationally, women comprised 51.7 percent of those who tested positive and 46 percent of the deaths, according to the CDC.
The report largely uses data that was compiled by state and federal agencies well before the COVID-19 pandemic began, Shaw explained, so it will likely be another year before they’ll be able to see data that reflects COVID-19’s true impact on Alabama women.
“This will be our baseline data,” Bridgeforth said of the 2020 report.
Bridgeforth said that the nonprofit plans to put out a new report every two years, and that they expect they might see in the next report is “the literal flattening of our childcare industry. Folks who have lost jobs or going back into jobs where there are unstable or stagnant wages.”
“I’m amazed when people say that COVID has caused so much,” Bridgeforth said. “COVID has merely shone a light and illuminated and exposed broken systems that were already there.”
“You do have that baseline now to then compare as the years go on,” Shaw said. “And you see not only what is the impact of COVID, but what are the repercussions that ripple down the years.”
Sewell selected as chief deputy whip for the 117th Congress
It is the job of the whips to communicate between the Democratic membership and the Democratic leadership in the House.
House Majority Whip James Clyburn announced that Congresswoman Terri Sewell, D-Alabama, has been selected as a chief deputy whip for the Democratic Party House Majority during the 117th Congress. Sewell has served as a chief deputy whip since she was appointed in the 113th Congress in 2013.
“I proudly accept the honor of serving as a Chief Deputy Whip under the leadership of Democratic Whip James Clyburn’s for the 117th Congress,” Sewell said. “I am thrilled to continue working with this dynamic team and Democratic Leadership in the House to advance an agenda focused on providing for the lives and livelihoods of the American people during this unprecedented time in our nation’s history. As this public health crisis continues, I am confident we have the leadership necessary to meet the challenges for the American people that include crushing this virus, strengthening our economy, improving our nation’s infrastructure, and putting Alabamians back to work.”
“I am pleased that Terri will continue serving as Chief Deputy Whip in the 117th Congress,” Clyburn said. “Terri’s experience and work ethic will continue to serve the Whip team well as we face historic challenges and opportunities next year. I look forward to working with her in collaboration with the incoming administration to advance our legislative priorities.”
Clyburn announced ten total representatives who will serve as chief deputy whips in the 116th Congress, including North Carolina Rep. G.K. Butterfield and Illinois Rep. Jan Schakowsky, who will serve as Senior Chief Deputy Whips; and Texas Rep. Henry Cuellar, Texas Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, Michigan Rep. Dan Kildee, Florida Rep. Stephanie Murphy, California Rep. Jimmy Panetta, Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Vermont Rep. Peter Welch as chief deputy whips.
It is the job of the whips to communicate between the Democratic membership and the Democratic leadership in the House so that Speaker Nancy Pelosi knows how the Democratic members in the House are going to vote. The whips also strongly encourage members of the Democratic majority to vote with the leadership and where possible work to address concerns of the members with pending legislation so that they can support that legislation.
The 116th Congress, which began in 2019, was the first Congress since 2010 that the Democrats had the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives. Democrats were able to keep control of the House in the 117th Congress, which begins in 2021, but their majority has grown smaller, making the job of the whips both more difficult and more important as Democrats hope to advance the agenda of the Biden administration.
Sewell was just re-elected to a sixth term representing the 7th Congressional District.
U.S. Chamber announces support for a coronavirus aid bill before Christmas
The Chamber is supporting a $908 billion bipartisan stimulus proposal.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce said Wednesday that it strongly supports coronavirus relief legislation introduced by a bipartisan group of lawmakers Tuesday.
“For pandemic relief to become law, it must be bipartisan,” said Neil Bradley, the executive vice president and chief policy officer for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “We are greatly encouraged that a bipartisan group of House and Senate members along with the Problem Solvers Caucus have released an outline that can potentially break the partisan gridlock that has prevented long-overdue pandemic relief. Between this effort and the recent revisions to the Senate Republican proposal — which maintains critical elements especially with respect to liability protection — we believe there is an opportunity for Republicans and Democrats to negotiate a bill that can become law.”
While it is critical that lawmakers get the details right, time is of the essence. American families cannot wait until next year, Bradley said.
“The Chamber urges lawmakers to support bipartisan efforts to enact pandemic relief in the coming weeks,” he said. “We also urge lawmakers to work with the business community to ensure that relief reaches small businesses as soon as possible and that liability reforms provide meaningful protections like in the ‘Safe to Work Act’.”
Before the election, House Democrats passed a $2.2 trillion stimulus package that included stimulus checks for every family in America. That costly package was dead on arrival in the Republican-controlled Senate like their earlier $4.4 trillion HEROES Act proposal, which they passed in the early summer. Senate Republicans supported a $500 billion “skinny” package that failed because Senate Democrats filibustered. Senate Democrats also killed a $500 billion extension of the Payroll Protection Program.
The $908 billion bipartisan stimulus proposal does not mail out a second round of checks to every family like the CARES Act did. To get Democratic support, this bill — unlike the two Republican bills — does include $160 billion in support for state and local governments. Small businesses would receive $288 billion, at least partially through the Paycheck Protection Program. The PPP loans would keep people on payrolls through the holiday season and into next year. The unemployed would be paid an additional $300 per week in federal unemployment benefits for four months, totaling $180 billion. There is also $82 billion earmarked for education and $16 billion for vaccine development and distribution.
The latest bipartisan proposal was put together in the Senate by Democratic Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, Mark Warner of Virginia and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, along with Independent Sen. Angus King of Maine and Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Susan Collins of Maine and Mitt Romney of Utah.
In the House of Representatives, it is supported by Democrats Dean Phillips of Minnesota, Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey and Abigail Spanberger of Virginia, and Republicans Fred Upton of Michigan, Tom Reed of New York, Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio and Dusty Johnson of South Dakota.
In a joint news conference, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, said that they could support the legislation but that they want some tweaks to it. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, called the bill a “waste of time,” saying that he thought it was too big and is still supporting his $500 billion stimulus bill. Republicans say they are concerned that a large third stimulus bill would only add to the debt.
The incoming Biden administration’s transition team is also supporting the bill.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is the world’s largest business organization representing companies of all sizes across every sector of the economy. Members range from the small businesses and local chambers of commerce that line the main streets of America to leading industry associations and large corporations.