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Sewell announces grants to help the homeless

Brandon Moseley

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Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Selma) announced that the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has recently awarded $11,445,018 to local “Continuums of Care” (CoCs) across Alabama’s 7th Congressional District.

HUD’s Continuum of Care (CoC) Program works with local non-profit providers and state and local governments (CoCs) to end homelessness, providing rapid rehousing and other resources to alleviate mental and physical trauma and encourage stability and independence.

“Housing is a basic human need and in this country should be a basic human right,” said Rep. Sewell. “I am pleased by HUD’s recent investment in securing housing and support for the 7th District’s homeless population, knowing that money will go a long way toward alleviating some of the extraordinary burdens they face on a daily basis. A home is more than just a shelter, and I will continue working to ensure that each and every constituent across the district has a warm bed to sleep in at night.”

One Roof received $8,944,355 to provide services for Jefferson County (among others outside of the 7th District.) The funding will go toward safe havens, which provide housing and support for two primary at-risk populations: the severely mentally ill and the physically impaired.

“We are grateful for the almost nine million dollars that we have been awarded from HUD,” said Michelle Farley, Executive Director of One Roof. “This money goes toward defending our most vulnerable. Twenty years ago, many of the people we are serving would be institutionalized; today they are able to live in these safe havens with support. We know that this is the first announcement, and we are looking forward to the second.”

The Mid-Alabama Coalition for the Homeless received $1,176,724 in funding. They provide services for Montgomery, Macon, Lowndes, Autauga and Elmore Counties. The two main projects this funding will service are “Rapid Rehousing,” which provides assistance to people who are street or shelter homeless, in moving into affordable housing; and “Homelessness Prevention,” which provides assistance to people who are facing imminent eviction. The funding will also go toward supportive services for coordinated entry, which helps to determine the ranking of need for assistance; toward housing assistance for victims of domestic abuse; and toward housing assistance for people suffering a major mental health diagnosis.

“We’re pleased that HUD continues to provide funds to address the needs of the River Region’s homeless populations,” said Lydia Pickett, Executive Director of the Mid-Alabama Coalition for the Homeless. “All funds will be used to assist people in severe need. We’re elated that Congresswoman Sewell’s office supports our efforts to combat homelessness, and look forward to working together toward this shared goal. People wishing to access support should call 2-1-1.”

The Alabama Balance of State CoC (ARCH) received $1,126,358 in funding. They provide services for Choctaw, Dallas, Greene, Hale, Marengo, Pickens, Perry, Sumter and Wilcox Counties (among others outside of the 7th District.) The Alabama Balance of State CoC (ARCH) is a collaboration of service providers and stakeholders working hand in hand to eradicate homelessness in Alabama. The funding will go towards expanding housing and support services, increasing planning capabilities and increasing aggregate data on homeless populations in rural Alabama.

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“These competitive grant awards represent the confidence of HUD in our compassionate approach to homelessness, ” said Felicia Jackson, Executive Director of ARCH. “The collective effort on the part of our Continuum of Care community partners, housing developers, state, county and city leaders and our successful coordinated access system known as RA-CAS (Rural Alabama Coordinated Access System), have been instrumental in creating an effective system to end homelessness in rural Alabama by helping individuals and families obtain the supportive services and housing they need.”

The West Alabama Coalition for the Homeless (WACH) received $197,581. They provide services for Tuscaloosa County. Three sub-recipients will receive funding through the WACH: The City of Tuscaloosa, to continue to manage the Homelessness Management Information System; the Tuscaloosa Housing Authority, to continue to provide permanent and supportive housing opportunities; and the Salvation Army, to continue to operate a veteran transitional housing opportunity.

“WACH, a volunteer group, is proud to have made a successful application to HUD and the award helps to sustain the energy the completely volunteer group commits to coordinating this area’s efforts to respond to homelessness,” said Kimberly Montgomery, Administrator at the West Alabama Coalition for the Homeless.

Terri Sewell represents Alabama’s Seventh Congressional District.

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Health

Sen. Doug Jones calls on Alabama governor to order shelter-in-place

Chip Brownlee

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Alabama Sen. Doug Jones during a virtual town hall on Thursday called on Gov. Kay Ivey to implement a statewide shelter-in-place or stay-at-home order.

“I have been promoting stay at home orders for some time,” Jones said, adding that he “absolutely” thinks the state should implement such an order.

“The reason I would like to see one is because it sends a strong message to the people of Alabama of how significant it is to use the social distancing, to use whatever means necessary to stop the spread of this virus,” he said.

Jones said an order from the governor would have more force than social media messages asking people to stay home.

Public health experts have also called for such measures.

“People’s health is about the least political thing there should be,” said Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, the director of the Division of Infectious Diseases and a professor of medicine at The University of Alabama Birmingham, who participated in the town hall. “I don’t care what you call it, but the messaging should be consistent. We should all be playing from the same playbook.”

Ivey has said she is trying to balance the economy and public health by closing beaches and closing some non-essential businesses. But she has not ordered people to stay home. She has said she doesn’t want to put more strain on the economy by adding a more restrictive shelter-in-place order.

“The governor remains committed to exploring all options and has not ruled anything out, but she hopes that we do not need to take this approach,” Ivey’s spokesperson said Wednesday. “The governor’s priority is protecting the health, safety and well-being of all Alabamians, and their well-being also relies on being able to have a job and provide for themselves and their families. Many factors surround a statewide shelter-in-place, and Alabama is not at a place where we are ready to make this call.”

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Jones said what would be best for the economy is to defeat the virus.

“We help this economy by staying home because we can stop the spread, and we can get rolling again pretty soon,” Jones said.

Jones also encouraged the president to continue to invoke the Defense Production Act to direct companies to manufacture more personal protective equipment, testing supplies and ventilators for hospitals fighting the virus. “We need to have more and if it takes an invoking of the Defense Production Act, then so be it.”

In the town hall, Jones warned that Alabama is on the verge of a health care crisis. As of Thursday morning, there are nearly 1,200 lab-confirmed cases of the virus in the state and at least 32 deaths.

“Our healthcare response is getting overwhelmed,” Jones said.

Jones continued to call on Alabamians to heed the advice of medical professionals who are asking people to stay home except for most essential needs.

“Listen to the medical professions. Do it for yourself and do it for your parents and do it for each other,” Jones said.

 

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Congress

Alabama municipalities may be left out of $2 trillion stimulus package

Bill Britt

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As the largest economic stimulus in American history flows to states and municipalities around the nation, stipulations in the two-trillion dollar emergency fund may leave Alabama cities out altogether.

As enacted, the third stimulus bill, the CARE Act, directs funding for states, and local governments, the catch is that the act only allocates funds for municipalities with a population of 500,000 or more.

No city in Alabama has a population of 500,000, leaving an unanswered question as to who gets what and who gets nothing?

The state has 463 municipalities spread out over 67 counties. Not one has a population nearing half a million yet each one is experiencing the negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are working with Treasury and the Governor’s office to understand what municipalities can expect,” said Greg Cochran, deputy director of the Alabama League of Municipalities.

Alabama will receive $1.9 billion from the stimulus package, as a block grant, which could be allocated in a 55-45 split, according to the League’s estimation with around $1.04 billion to the state and $856 million going to local governments.

“Currently, there is little guidance on how those shared resources are to be distributed to local governments,” said Cochran. “Nor is there clear directive that those resources are to be shared with local governments with less than 500,000 populations.”

The National League of Cities is also seeking clarification from Treasury Department on these questions and guidelines to ensure funds are shared with local governments.

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“Congress is working on a fourth stimulus bill, and we are working diligently with our Congressional delegation, NLC and other stakeholders to have all cities and towns are recognized for federal funding assistance,” Cochran said.

However, on Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell cast doubt on a fourth package, saying that Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s needed to “stand down” on passing another rescue bill. “She needs to stand down on the notion that we’re going to go along with taking advantage of the crisis to do things that are unrelated to the crisis,” as reported by The Washington Post.

Alabama’s biggest cites, Birmingham, Montgomery, Huntsville, Mobile and Tuscaloosa, are already facing strain under the weight of the COVID-19 outbreak.

But so are smaller cities like Auburn, Hoover, Madison, Opelika and others. Lee County and Chambers County have far more cases of the virus per capita than the state’s more populous counties.

“I was not really happy with the way that they limited the money,” Jones said, adding that the money could go to counties with 500,000 or above. Jefferson County would qualify for that.

Jones also said he would like to see more money for city and county expenses not directly related to COVID-19 like fire and police. “We’re going to have to do what I think we can to backfill some of the expenses,” Jones said.

In addition to health and welfare concerns for residents during the COVID-19 calamity, cites are dealing with what is certain to be a downward spiral on tax revenue and other sources of income and a subsequent rise in costs. The U.S. Department of Labor reported Thursday that at least 90,000 people have applied for unemployment compensation in the state over the last two weeks.

“Knowing that our municipalities will experience a loss in revenue because they rely on sales, motor fuel and lodgings taxes, we are urging our state Legislature to be mindful of actions they take when they return regarding unfunded mandates/preemptions,” said Cochran. “Additionally, we are concerned about the adverse impact this could have on 2021 business licenses, which are based on sales from 2020.”

The combined population of the state’s two biggest cities, Birmingham and Montgomery, do not equal 500,000, the threshold for receiving funds under the Care Act.

Cochran says that the League is working tirelessly to find answers as to how local governments can participate in Congress’s emergency funding.

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Aerospace and Defense

Brooks releases road map for completing defense appropriations bill despite coronavirus crisis

Brandon Moseley

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Congressman Mo Brooks, R-Huntsville, on Wednesday released the House Armed Services Committee road map for completing the FY2021 National Defense Authorization Act despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

“National defense is the #1 priority of the federal government. Despite the once-in-a-century COVID-19 pandemic, the House Armed Services Committee stands fully committed to passing the annual National Defense Authorization Act,” Brooks said. “The NDAA has passed Congress 59 consecutive years. I will work to ensure FY 2021 is no different. I thank Chairman Smith and Ranking Member Thornberry for their leadership and commitment to passing the FY21 NDAA in the face of COVID-19 challenges. While the process will be different, I am confident the final House Armed Services Committee product will be no less effective at securing America.”

Committee Chairman Adam Smith and Ranking Member Mac Thornberry’s attached the March 31, 2020 letter providing HASC’s plan to have the NDAA ready for committee debate by May 1st.

The letter was addressed to Members of the Committee on Armed Services, including Brooks.

“We want to update HASC members and staff on plans for our committee during the month of April, given the nationwide disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Smith and Thornberry wrote. “One challenge is deciding how to handle meetings of the committee and subcommittees since all such meetings for April will have to be held by conference call or video conference.”

“We must continue to exercise our oversight responsibilities and prepare to pass the Fiscal Year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) out of committee and off the House floor,” the letter continued. “Our goal is to have the bill ready to go by May 1st, and we will schedule the date of the mark up once the House schedule for the next few months becomes clear.”

“First, we want you all to understand that because of House rules we cannot hold public hearings or classified briefings in the formal sense like in normal circumstances,” they explained. “We will have to do what can best be called, informal events.”

“Public hearings are required to be open to the public,” the leaders of the HASC committee wrote. “They also require a quorum, involving the physical presence of members. Neither of these things are possible to achieve in conference calls or video conferences. Obviously, we also cannot have classified briefings over the phone or on video. There is no way to set up secure connections amongst the number of people that would have to be involved.”

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“Informal events, therefore, would take the form of the full committee or the subcommittees doing video or phone conferences and linking up the necessary members, staff, and witnesses,” the letter continued. “We have one such informal event, set for April 1st with Department of Defense officials to discuss their response to the pandemic. This will be a conference call.”

“We believe that future informal events like this for the month of April make sense, and welcome any suggestions from members on appropriate topics and witnesses,” Smith and Thornberry continued. “But, we hope members will keep in mind some of the responsibilities that will need to be balanced in deciding when to pull together such informal events. We face three significant limitations during the month of April when it comes to setting up these informal events. First, HASC staff and members, as they always are in the month leading up to finalizing full and subcommittee marks, are spending an enormous amount of time doing the work necessary to get the mark done. In fact, we did not plan on having a significant number of public hearings or briefings in April even before the shutdown happened due to this staff workload. Second, these are not normal times. As we’re sure all of you have been doing, we and the HASC staff and everyone at the Department have been fully engaged on managing the pandemic crisis. It is a complex problem and the Department plays a crucial role. We are all working countless angles to address the crisis and that crucial work must be given priority. Finally, efforts to prevent the spread of the virus among Department personnel and others will without question limit the ability of the Department and other witnesses to be available at times in the coming month.”

Smith and Thornberry wrote that these informal events are needed for to get the bill done, while exercising the necessary oversight of the Department.

The informal events are meant to substitute for normal public hearings and briefings and are not the only or even the main thing that the committee is doing.

Social distancing and the prohibition on meeting with more than ten present has made it difficult for Congress to fulfill many of its duties.

Congressman Mo Brooks is serving in his fifth term representing Alabama’s Fifth Congressional District. Brooks recently won the Republican primary. Since he has no Democratic opponent this means that Brooks has been effectively re-elected to his sixth term in Congress.

 

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National

As cases surpass 1,100 in Alabama, still no “stay-at-home” order

Chip Brownlee

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The number of positive novel coronavirus cases in Alabama rocketed past a thousand Wednesday, but the state still has no shelter-in-place order — and Gov. Kay Ivey’s office says she is not ready to implement one.

“The governor remains committed to exploring all options and has not ruled anything out, but she hopes that we do not need to take this approach,” Ivey’s spokesperson said Wednesday.

By 6 p.m., there were 1,108 confirmed cases of the virus and at least 28 deaths statewide related to COVID-19. Cases grew by triple digits again after a brief lull in new cases Tuesday. But the infections are also widespread. Cases have been reported in 62 of the state’s 67 counties — and not just in the more urban ones.

Only one city in the state, Birmingham, has issued a shelter-in-place order. The city is in Jefferson County, which, in coordination with the city, has taken a stricter approach to handling the coronavirus outbreak because it has the most cases in the state.

The cities of Montgomery and Tuscaloosa have also implemented curfews, but they have far fewer cases per capita than many other areas of the state. (No. 30 and 31 out of 67 counties in per capita cases.)

But some of the hardest-hit counties in the state are outside of Jefferson County, and the health departments in those counties do not have as much authority to issue their own directives as Jefferson County and Mobile County do. They’re the only two health departments in the state that are independent with the legal authority to act autonomously from the state health department.

Cities and counties in some of the hardest-hit areas like Lee and Chambers counties have also not issued shelter-in-place orders by municipal ordinance as has been the case in Jefferson County.

Lee County and Chambers County in East Alabama have the highest infection rates in the state, and the highest per capita number of cases, yet the cities and counties there are following a statewide order that is less restrictive than the measures in place in Birmingham, Tuscaloosa or Montgomery.

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Lee County has 83 cases, and Chambers County has 45. But per capita, Chambers County has 135 cases per 100,000. (For comparison, Jefferson County, where there are 302 cases, has only 46 cases per 100,000 people.) Chambers County also has the highest number of deaths per capita in the state, at 12 per 100,000 people.

The hospital that serves Lee, Chambers and the surrounding counties — East Alabama Medical Center — is currently treating 30 patients with a confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19. It has already discharged 16 other COVID-19 patients, and there are 12 more in the hospital with suspected cases of the virus.

While the hospital says it is currently stable in the number of ventilators and other equipment it has available, it is still asking for donations of some needed supplies like latex-free gloves and bleach wipes.

Aside from UAB in Birmingham, EAMC is currently treating the most COVID-19 patients, according to data APR collected over the past two days. As the state continues to avoid issuing a statewide stay-at-home or shelter-in-place order, East Alabama Medical Center is urging the residents in the area to act as if there has been an order issued.

“While there is not yet a mandate to shelter in place, EAMC encourages it as the best way to stop the spread of COVID-19,” the hospital said. “Community leaders, city officials and the media have shared this important message, but there are still reports of groups gathering, children playing in neighborhood parks, dinner parties, bible studies and other events.”

All of Alabama’s neighboring states have issued shelter-in-place orders. Mississippi, Georgia, Florida and Louisiana have done so. The governors of Mississippi, Florida and Georgia all decided to issue orders today after balking at the idea for weeks.

Ivey has taken steps to curb the spread of the virus. She and the Alabama Department of Health issued an order on March 19 that closed the state’s beaches and limited gatherings of 25 or more people. She’s also closed schools for the remainder of the academic year.

On Friday, March 27, Ivey ordered closed a number of different types of businesses including athletic events, entertainment venues, non-essential retail shops and service establishments with close contact. The state has also tightened its prohibition on social gatherings by limiting non-work related gatherings of 10 people or more.

Ivey’s order Friday is not that far off from a shelter-in-place order, but it lacks the force of telling the state’s residents to stay home if at all possible. A number of businesses and manufacturing facilities are also allowed to keep operating, though they have been encouraged to abide by social-distancing guidelines as much as possible.

But Ivey has said she doesn’t want to issue a shelter-in-place or stay-at-home order because she doesn’t want to put more stress on the economy.

“You have to consider all the factors, such as the importance of keeping businesses and companies open and the economy going as much as possible,” Ivey said on Friday.

Ivey’s spokesperson Wednesday said the governor has taken appropriate action thus far.

“In consultation with the Coronavirus Task Force, the governor and the Alabama Department of Public Health have taken aggressive measures to combat COVID-19,” her spokesperson, Gina Maiola, said. “The governor’s priority is protecting the health, safety and well-being of all Alabamians, and their well-being also relies on being able to have a job and provide for themselves and their families. Many factors surround a statewide shelter-in-place, and Alabama is not at a place where we are ready to make this call.”

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