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

Chip Brownlee | The Trace

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.”

Chip Brownlee is a former political reporter, online content manager and webmaster at the Alabama Political Reporter. He is now a reporter at The Trace, a non-profit newsroom covering guns in America.

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Jones introduces bill to encourage investments in minority-serving banks

“One of the biggest hurdles for minority entrepreneurs is access to capital,” Jones said.

Eddie Burkhalter

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U.S. Sen. Doug Jones

Alabama U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, on Tuesday introduced legislation that would encourage investments in banks that serve minority communities.

“One of the biggest hurdles for minority entrepreneurs is access to capital,” Jones said in a statement. “That’s why this bill is so important. Increasing access to capital at the banks that serve minority communities will help expand financial opportunities for individuals and business owners in those communities.”

Jones, a member of the Senate Banking Committee, in April urged the Federal Reserve and the U.S. Treasury to support Community Development Financial Institutions and minority-owned banks disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and he threw his support behind more federal funding for small community banks, minority-owned banks and CDFIs during the recent Paycheck Protection Program replenishment.

According to a press release from Jones’s office, the bill would attract investments to those financial institutions by changing rules to allow “minority-owned banks, community banks with under $10 billion in deposits” and CDFIs to accept brokered deposits, or investments with high interest rates, thereby bolstering those institutions and encourage them to invest and lend in their communities.

It would also allow low-income and minority credit unions to access the National Credit Union Administration’s Community Development Revolving Loan Fund.

“Commonwealth National Bank would like to thank Senator Jones for his leadership in introducing the Minority Depository Institution and Community Bank Deposit Access Act. As a small Alabama home grown institution, this proposal will allow us to accept needed deposits without the current limitations that hinder our ability to better serve the historically underserved communities that our institutions were created to serve. We support your efforts and encourage you to keep fighting the good fight for all of America,” said Sidney King, president and CEO of Commonwealth National Bank, in a statement.

“The Minority Depository Institution and Community Bank Deposit Access Act is a welcomed first step in helping Minority Depository Institutions like our National Bankers Association member banks develop the kinds of national deposit networks that allow our institutions to compete for deposits with larger banks and to better meet the credit needs of the communities we serve. The National Bankers Association commends Senator Jones’ leadership on this issue, and we look forward to continuing to engage with him on the ultimate passage of this proposal,” said Kenneth Kelly, chairman of the National Bankers Association, in a statement.

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A recent report by the Brookings Institute highlighted problems minority-owned businesses had accessing federal COVID-19 relief aid from PPP loans. Researchers found that it took seven days longer for small businesses with paid employees in majority Black zip codes to receive PPP loans, compared to majority-white communities. That gap grew to three weeks for non-employer minority-owned small businesses, the report notes.

The report also states that while minority-owned small businesses, many of which are unbanked or under banked, get approximately 80 percent of their loans from financial technology companies and online lending companies, fintechs weren’t allowed under federal law to issue PPP loans until April 14.

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Sewell’s Caribbean trade bill passes House with unanimous support

Brandon Moseley

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Congresswoman Terri Sewell

Congresswoman Terri Sewell, D-Alabama, this week applauded the passage of a bipartisan bill she introduced to reauthorize the U.S. Caribbean Basin Trade Partnership Act. The legislation, HR991, passed the House by a unanimous voice vote.

The legislation extends the U.S.-Caribbean Basin Trade Partnership Act through 2030.

The CBTPA is a preferential trade agreement that provides for duty and quota-free access for apparel products manufactured in designated beneficiary Caribbean Basin region countries. CBTPA also requires that Caribbean Basin countries use U.S. formed yarns, fabrics and thread.

The CBTPA was first enacted in 2000 and is currently authorized through Sept. 30, 2020. Eligible CBTPA countries include Barbados, Belize, Curacao, Guyana, Haiti, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica and St. Lucia.

“As the lead sponsor of the legislation to reauthorize the Caribbean Basin Trade Partnership Act, I am thrilled that Congress is taking action on this issue before the program expires at the end of the month,” Sewell said. “CBTPA is such an important economic tool for the United States and each of our partner countries, and it is critical to our continued diplomatic relationships in the Caribbean Basin. The bipartisan effort to reauthorize this program will allow us to export more American-made goods and strengthen Western supply chains, while contributing to economic development and job creation in Haiti and other countries throughout the Caribbean Basin region. I am grateful for its passage by unanimous voice vote in the House, and I urge the Senate to take up this bill before the September 30th deadline. ”

“I am incredibly grateful for Congresswoman Sewell’s commitment to economic prosperity in the Republic of Haiti and the Caribbean region,” said Ambassador Herve Denis. “The Extension of the Caribbean Basin Economic Recovery Act (CBERA), H.R. 991, which has received bipartisan and bicameral support, is a testament to Congress’ unwavering support for working families in Haiti and CARICOM countries. This legislation has created countless jobs and generated billions of dollars in revenue over the past decade.”

“Furthermore, CBTPA would play a crucial role in strengthening the supply chains for PPEs and textiles in response to COVID-19, making America less dependent on nations outside the Western Hemisphere,” Herve said. “With the issues regarding China, Haiti hopes and expects to benefit from the ‘Near-Shoring’ concept introduced by Congress. Together, we can continue to strengthen bilateral trade relations between two of the oldest republics in the Americas.”

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“I’m proud to support our nation’s trade preference programs, which bolster further economic expansion in developing nations and support jobs here in America — a true win-win scenario,” said Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, the Republican lead co-sponsor. “In particular, our bipartisan bill to extend the Caribbean Basin Trade Partnership Act accomplishes that goal in the Caribbean, providing trade benefits to eight Caribbean nations, most notably Haiti. I want to thank Congresswoman Terri Sewell for partnering with me on this important legislation and urge the Senate to consider it without delay.”

The Caribbean Basin Economic Recovery Act and the CBTPA are collectively known as the Caribbean Basin Initiative. The two acts work together to facilitate the development of 17 independent countries of the Caribbean Basin region.

Eligible CBERA countries include: Antigua and Barbuda, Aruba, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, the British Virgin Islands, Curacao, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Trinidad and Tobago.

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On Sept. 4, the National Council of Textile Organizations and National Cotton Council sent a letter to the chairs and ranking members of two key congressional committees voicing their support for passing the reauthorization of the CBTPA.

Sewell represents Alabama’s 7th Congressional District. She has no Republican opponent in the Nov. 3 general election.

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Congress

Resources are available to persons damaged by Hurricane Sally, Roby says

Brandon Moseley

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A satellite image of Hurricane Sally. (VIA NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE)

Hurricane Sally struck on the Alabama Gulf Coast as a category two hurricane on Sept. 16, but authorities, property owners and farmers are still assessing the damage.

“As Hurricane Sally moved through Alabama last week, I remained in close communication with Governor Ivey’s office regarding recovery efforts, and she ensured us that the appropriate state agency resources will be available to our counties and municipalities in the Second District,” said Congresswoman Martha Roby. “My team also stayed in contact with leaders and elected officials across the district to communicate with them our readiness to assist.”

“My thoughts and prayers are with those throughout our state who have been affected by this powerful storm,” Roby added. “Please do not hesitate to reach out to one of my offices if you or someone you know needs assistance.”

“The Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries launched a survey to gather information from farmers and producers who experienced agricultural damages due to Hurricane Sally,” Roby said.

Separately, the Alabama Farmers Federation is also collecting information from affected farmers. For more information on disaster assistance, visit this website.

Prior to and after Sally hit our state, the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries has been hard at work to assist Alabama farmers and consumers. The department is gathering information from farmers who experienced agricultural damage from the excessive winds, rainfall and flooding caused by Hurricane Sally.

This information can be helpful to federal and state leaders in the aftermath of the storm.

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To collect the most accurate damage assessments, the department has established an online reporting survey to simplify the process for producers who have experienced agricultural damage. Producers should visit agi.alabama.gov/HurricaneSally to complete the survey.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to those who experienced significant damage during this powerful hurricane,” said Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries Rick Pate. “Alabama farmers have already faced economic hardships this year due to market instability, trade concerns and the coronavirus pandemic.”

Many farmers had a crop that was ready for harvest. Many of those farmers lost that entire crop.

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“Most of our farmers had as good a crop as we’ve ever seen, and it was so close to harvest for cotton, soybeans, peanuts and pecans,” said Alabama Farmers Federation President Jimmy Parnell. “It’s devastating to lose a crop that had so much promise. Our farmers are great people who are assisting each other with cleaning up the damage, and we’re so grateful to everyone across the state who is helping in some way.”

According to the department, reportable damage would include structural, crop and livestock losses. Producers are also encouraged to take photos of damage.

Congressman Bradley Byrne, R-Alabama, said, “Feeding the Gulf Coast has a number of distribution and pantry options for those in who need food assistance due to Hurricane Sally. You can find the locations on their website.”

“If you have insurance, you should file a claim with them first before registering with FEMA,” Byrne said. “That will allow for the quickest response. Even if you have made a claim with your insurance company, you can still register for FEMA assistance.”

To apply for FEMA disaster assistance visit disasterassistance.gov or call 1-800-621-3362.

They eye of Hurricane Sally came ashore near Gulf Shores but the damage stretches across much of south Alabama and the western Florida panhandle. Baldwin, Mobile and Escambia Counties have been declared a natural disaster by FEMA.

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Congress

Brooks supports DOJ decision to declare New York City an “anarchist jurisdiction”

Brandon Moseley

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Congressman Mo Brooks speaks during a television interview.

Congressman Mo Brooks, R-Alabama, on Tuesday said the New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and other “socialist Democrat elected officials” have “utterly failed to maintain law and order.” Brooks said that the lack of leadership has led the U.S. Department of Justice to declare New York City an “anarchist jurisdiction.”

President Donald Trump issued a memo ordering financial retribution against cities that he views as having bowed to violent mobs and cut funding for their police departments. The declaration will purportedly allow the Trump administration to cut federal funding for the cities including New York, Portland and Seattle.

“Socialist Democrat elected officials running some of America’s largest cities have utterly failed to maintain law & order — one of the most basic functions of government,” Brooks said. “New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio have willfully allowed violent anarchists to rampage so badly that the U.S. Department of Justice has designated New York City as an ‘Anarchist Jurisdiction.’ Let Cuomo and DeBlasio’s leadership failure be a warning to American voters everywhere. Placing feckless Socialist Democrats in charge is tantamount to turning your city over to violent anarchists.”

There has been national attention on rising rates of shootings in a number of large cities.

“When state and local leaders impede their own law enforcement officers and agencies from doing their jobs, it endangers innocent citizens who deserve to be protected, including those who are trying to peacefully assemble and protest,” Attorney General Bill Barr said in a statement Monday. “We cannot allow federal tax dollars to be wasted when the safety of the citizenry hangs in the balance.”

“It is my hope that the cities identified by the Department of Justice today will reverse course and become serious about performing the basic function of government and start protecting their own citizens,” Barr added.

White House budget director Russ Vought is set to issue guidance to federal agencies on withdrawing funds from the cities in less than two weeks. The DOJ said that the list of cities eligible for defunding will be updated periodically.

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It is not yet clear what funds are likely to be cut. New York City gets roughly $7 billion in federal funding.

New York City Council passed a budget this summer that cut $1 billion from the New York Police Department’s $6 billion annual budget amid protests against police brutality.

Brooks represents Alabama’s 5th Congressional District and has no Democratic opponent in the Nov. 3 general election.

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