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Economy retools to fight COVID-19

Brandon Moseley

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The Ford Motor Company has announced that they, in collaboration with GE Healthcare, will begin building ventilators designed by Airon Corp. at their plant in Rawsonville, Michigan.

The United Auto Workers Union has already given their full support to the move. The joint venture between Ford and GE Healthcare to produce the GE/Airon Model A-E ventilator is targeted to start the week of April 20 at Ford’s Rawsonville (Mich.) Components Plant

Ford expects to produce 50,000 of the ventilators within the next 100 days, with the ability to produce 30,000 a month thereafter if needed.

As of press time, 188,592 Americans have been confirmed with COVID-19. 4,056 have died. The U.S. now has more confirmed cases than any other country on Earth. New York alone has 75,983 cases that have already resulted in 1,714 deaths. Alabama has 999 confirmed cases that have resulted in 24 deaths. 4,576, including dozens in Alabama, are in critical or serious condition. Many of the serious or critical care patients require ventilators.

The simplified ventilator design is licensed by GE Healthcare from Florida-based Airon Corp. and is responsive to the needs of most COVID-19 patients, and operates on air pressure without the need for electricity.

Ford and GE Healthcare have previously announced program to increase production capacity of existing GE Healthcare ventilators.

The White House is actively seeking to retool much of the American economy to deal with the growing threat of the coronavirus strain, SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19.

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Economic developer Dr. Nicole Jones said, “Involving the private sector in the COVID-19 crisis is essential because in many instances, the private sector has the ability to work at a much faster pace than government can. Ford teaming with GE to build ventilators is an excellent example of how companies can quickly adapt to the needs of the market and assist the nation during a critical time in history.”

On Monday, Alabama Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield briefed legislators on state efforts to convert existing Alabama companies to the production of personal protection equipment (PPEs) and other medical equipment.

“Secretary Greg Canfield and the Alabama Department of Commerce share a similar mindset and are currently working with 30 Alabama-based companies that have the capacity to manufacture COVID-19 personal protection equipment (PPE),” Dr. Jones said. “Stay tuned for updates in the near future.”

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Also on Monday, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey (R) told legislators that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers under the command of U.S. Army Major General Diana Holland is already on the ground evaluating hotels for conversion into COVID-19 hospitals in Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, Auburn, Montgomery, Mobile, and Huntsville.

On Sunday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, told CNN’s Jake Tapper that the White House expects millions of Americans to get COVID-19 and that 100,000 to 200,000 will die.

Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, America had approximately 96,000 intensive care beds total across the country and they were about 65 percent occupied. That left approximately thirty thousand available. Already COVID-19 is taking up thousands of those available beds.

Alabama Public Health Officer Scott Harris told the legislators that hospitals are converting extra space such as waiting rooms into new intensive care wards.

The Alabama National Guard stands ready to help convert the hotels to hospitals, if necessary, and staff them; but there is still tremendous needs for equipment and supplies like ventilators and PPE forcing the U.S. to begin retooling the economy.

Hotels are ideal for fast conversions into hospitals because they already have water, air conditioning, electricity, and bathrooms in each room and the rooms are connected by hallways. Office buildings with the cubicle arrangements would be more difficult to convert as would warehouses that just have a lot of empty space.

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with eight and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.

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Congress

Sens. Doug Jones, Cory Gardner introduce the American Dream Down Payment Act

Brandon Moseley

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U.S. Sen. Doug Jones (VIA CSPAN)

Democratic Alabama Sen. Doug Jones and Republican Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner have introduced the American Dream Down Payment Act of 2020, a bipartisan piece of legislation that would help prospective homeowners save for a traditional 20 percent down payment by creating special tax-advantaged savings accounts for eligible housing costs.

“As the coronavirus pandemic continues to devastate our nation’s economy, it is getting even harder for many folks in Alabama and across the country to put money away in savings and to work toward the American dream of owning a home,” Jones said. “Down payments are the biggest barrier to homeownership for first-time homebuyers, especially among low-income and minority Americans, and make it harder to build generational wealth that is often tied to home-ownership. Our legislation would provide a new path to help make the dream of buying a home a reality by making it easier to save money for down payments and other housing-related costs.”

“A down payment on a home can be a significant barrier to becoming a homeowner,” Gardner said. “Inspired by the popular 529 education savings accounts, this bipartisan bill will make it easier for people to save for a down payment, which will aid both our unique housing challenges in Colorado and our economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. I’m proud to work with Senators Jones and Brown to help more families achieve the American Dream and own a home.”

These accounts would be similar to the popular 529 Plan accounts that encourage people to save pre-tax money to pay for future education expenses. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, is the ranking member of the Senate Banking and Housing Committee and an original co-sponsor of the legislation.

The sponsors cite a recent survey by the Urban Institute that found that more than two-thirds of renters view down payments as a barrier to owning a home. As rents and student loan debt rise, it can be harder for prospective homeowners to save for a down payment, especially if they are a first-time homebuyer or aren’t able to receive help from family members.

“Borrowers of color have been locked out of affordable homeownership for decades,” Brown said. “The gap in Black and white homeownership rates remain as large now as it was before the Fair Housing Act was signed into law. These troubling and persistent inequities in homeownership rates have prevented generations of Black and brown families from obtaining the American dream of owning a home. The American Dream Down Payment Act is a new tool to help make homeownership a reality.”

Even though the nationwide homeownership rate is relatively stable, there are significant disparities in homeownership by age, race and ethnicity. The Black homeownership rate, which peaked just prior to the Great Recession, has fallen to a 50-year low in 2016, at just 41.7 percent. That remains nearly 30 points below the white homeownership rate. This is before the recent COVID-19 economic panic. Millennials are less likely to own a home by age 34 than their parents or grandparents were. If these trends continue, a growing number of Americans will be locked out of homeownership.

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“The introduction of the American Dream Down Payment Act offers Black American families and individuals the opportunity to build legacy wealth through homeownership,” Brown added. “The ability to accumulate tax-free savings funds breaks down/eliminates one of the most prominent barriers to achieving homeownership, the down payment. This Act serves as a tangible springboard to increase Black homeownership and real wealth-building prospects which the National Association of Real Estate Brokers (NAREB) includes in the meaning of its time-honored slogan, Democracy in Housing,” said Donnell Williams, National President, National Association of Real Estate Brokers.”

The American Dream Down Payment Act would let states establish American Dream Down Payment Accounts, which they would manage in the same way they manage 529 Plan accounts today. It would also allow prospective homeowners to save up as much as 20 percent of today’s housing cost, indexed for inflation, to use for an eligible down payment and other housing costs. It would facilitate long-term savings for a down payment and allow contributions from family and friends and allow homebuyers using their American Dream Down Payment Account savings and earnings to use those funds tax-free at withdrawal for eligible expenses.

To protect American Dream Down Payment Account holders, the Securities and Exchange Commission would be required to set standards for the investments of eligible accounts and allowable fees.

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This legislation is supported by the National Association of Realtors, Habitat for Humanity and the National Association of Real Estate Brokers.

Jones is a member of the Senate Banking and Housing Committee. Both Jones and Gardner face tough re-election battles this year.

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Economy

Payroll Protection Program deadline has been extended to Saturday

Brandon Moseley

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Congresswoman Martha Roby, R-Montgomery, this week reminded business owners that the deadline to apply for the Payroll Protection Program, knowns as the PPP, has been extended to Saturday.

“The Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) application deadline was recently extended to Saturday, August 8,” Roby wrote in an email to constituents. “Do not forget to fill out your application if you are a small business that has been impacted by the Coronavirus pandemic.“

The PPP was a loan program administered by the Small Business Administration. It was part of the bipartisan CARES Act to address the economic collapse caused by the COVID-19 global pandemic and the forced economic shutdowns, which were implemented in the early months of the public health emergency in an attempt to slow the spread of the novel strain of the coronavirus and allow public health agencies and health care systems time to build up testing, contact-tracing and hospital bed capacity.

The PPP loans are 1 percent interest loans available through the SBA. If the business uses the money to make payroll and pay standard operating expenses then the loans will be forgiven. Forgiveness is based on the employer maintaining or quickly rehiring employees and maintaining salary levels. Forgiveness will be reduced if full-time headcount declines, or if salaries and wages decrease. The loan forgiveness form and instructions include several measures to reduce compliance burdens and simplify the process for borrowers.

The PPP has been very popular, so much so that that program ran out of money just weeks after Congress passed it. Congress had to go back and provide more funding for the PPP.

Businesses can apply through any existing SBA 7(a) lender or through any federally insured depository institution, federally insured credit union and Farm Credit System institution that is participating. Other regulated lenders will be available to make these loans once they are approved and enrolled in the program. You should consult with your local lender as to whether it is participating in the program.

Senate Democrats are meeting with the Trump Administration, Senate Republicans and House leadership on a compromise plan for a fifth coronavirus relief package. A big point of contention has been the size of the total package. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-California, supports a $3.2 trillion coronavirus relief bill while Republicans prefer a more modest $1 trillion relief bill. The two sides are expected to continue to negotiate through Friday in an attempt to reach a compromise before the August recess.

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Roby is serving in her fifth term representing Alabama’s 2nd congressional district. She is not seeking re-election.

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Congress

Entrance fees to visit federal public lands are waived today

Brandon Moseley

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The United States Department of Interior has designated Wednesday as a fee-free day for public lands to commemorate the signing of the Great American Outdoors Act, which is aimed at addressing the historically underfunded, multi-billion-dollar deferred maintenance backlog at national parks and public lands. In celebration of this achievement, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt announced that entrance fees paid by visitors coming to lands managed by the department will be waived on Aug. 5.

Bernhardt also announced that Aug. 4 will be designated “Great American Outdoors Day,” a fee-free day each year moving forward to commemorate the signing of the act.

“President Trump has just enacted the most consequential dedicated funding for national parks, wildlife refuges, public recreation facilities and American Indian school infrastructure in U.S. history,” Bernhardt said. “I’ve designated August 4th as Great American Outdoors Day and waived entrance fees to celebrate the passage of this historic conservation law.”

Entrance fees will be waived at all fee collecting public lands at the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The department holds fee-free days throughout the year to encourage visitation and appreciation for America’s public lands. On fee-free days, site-specific standard amenity and day-use fees at recreation sites and areas will be waived for the specified dates. Other fees, such as overnight camping, cabin rentals, group day use and use of special areas will remain in effect.

There are other remaining fee-free days in 2020.

For the National Park Service, Aug. 5 is Great American Outdoors Act Commemoration, Aug. 25 is National Park Service Birthday, Sept. 26 is National Public Lands Day and Nov. 11 is Veterans Day.

For the Bureau of Land Management, Aug. 5 is Great American Outdoors Act Commemoration, Sept. 26 is National Public Lands Day and Nov. 11 is Veterans Day.

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For U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lands, Aug. 5 is Great American Outdoors Act Commemoration, Sept. 26 is National Public Lands Day, Oct. 11 is First Sunday of National Wildlife Refuge Week and Nov. 11 is Veterans Day.

On March 3, President Trump called on Congress to send him a bill that fully and permanently funded the Land and Water Conservation Fund and restored our National Parks. The president noted that it would be historic for America’s beautiful public lands when he signed such a bill into law. The Trump Administration worked with Congress to secure the passage of this landmark conservation legislation, which will use revenues from energy development to provide up to $1.9 billion a year for five years in the National Parks and Public Land Legacy Restoration Fund to provide needed maintenance for critical facilities and infrastructure in our national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, recreation areas and American Indian schools. It will also use royalties from offshore oil and natural gas to permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund to the tune of $900 million a year to invest in conservation and recreation opportunities across the country.

“We’re here today to celebrate the passage of truly landmark legislation that will preserve America’s majestic natural wonders, priceless historic treasures — and that’s exactly what they are — grand national monuments, and glorious national parks,” Pres. Trump said. “This is a very big deal. And from an environmental standpoint and from just the beauty of our country standpoint, there hasn’t been anything like this since Teddy Roosevelt, I suspect.”

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Last year, the NPS welcomed 327 million visitors who generated an economic impact of more than $41 billion and supported more than 340,000 jobs. The increasing popularity of our public lands has resulted in our national parks needing upgrades and improvements for more than 5,500 miles of paved roads, 17,000 miles of trails and 24,000 buildings. This legislation provides a long-term solution to this significant issue for the benefit of the American people and the betterment of our public lands.

Approximately 67 million visitors annually come to BLM-managed lands, supporting approximately 48,000 jobs nationwide and contributing almost $7 billion to the U.S. economy. BLM-managed public lands offer a wide array of recreational opportunities including hiking, hunting, fishing, camping, mountain biking, horseback riding, boating, rafting, off-highway vehicle driving, rock climbing and more.

FWS welcomes approximately 54 million people to refuges each year. Their spending generates $3.2 billion in sales to local economies, employing more than 41,000 people and providing $1.1 billion in employment income.

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Congress

Congressman Gary Palmer praises Trump executive order expanding Medicare access

Brandon Moseley

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U.S. Rep. Gary Palmer

Congressman Gary Palmer, R-Hoover, on Tuesday praised a recent executive order expanding telehealth services for Medicare recipients. President Donald Trump recently signed the order designed to expand access to care for Medicare beneficiaries, particularly those in rural areas. In response, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services issued a proposed rule that would permanently add certain services to those eligible to be delivered via telemedicine.

“The Executive Order signed by the President will be a lifeline for rural communities that often lack meaningful access to care,” Palmer said. “The unprecedented expansion of telehealth services overseen by the Trump Administration during the pandemic will have lasting benefits for patients and I’m pleased to see some of these changes made permanent. These changes, combined with investments in the infrastructure necessary for their delivery, will ensure patients receive the care they need without having to travel long distances to be seen by a provider and I believe it will save lives.”

“Expanded access to medical care through telemedicine is essential to fighting the virus,” Trump said.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said that just 0.1 percent of primary care visits covered by traditional Medicare were done via telehealth in February. COVID-19 brought about dramatic changes in how Americans receive their health care services. This spring, from March to April, the number of patients using telehealth services in traditional Medicare increased from roughly 13,000 a week to over 1.5 million a week. By April, 43.5 percent of primary care visits paid for by traditional Medicare were utilizing telehealth services.

“The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services dramatically expanded Medicare coverage for telehealth, doubling the number of services that can be provided through telehealth to include everything from emergency department visits to eye exams and therapy services,” Azar wrote. “HHS’s Office for Civil Rights provided flexibility to allow health care providers to do telehealth visits immediately using popular communication apps like FaceTime and Skype, without any additional paperwork and without risking penalties for HIPAA violations. HHS’s Office of Inspector General provided flexibility for healthcare providers to reduce or waive cost-sharing for telehealth in federal programs, so that providers can limit costs to patients using telehealth.”

“We’re now aggressively looking at how to make the telehealth revolution a permanent part of American medicine,” Azar explained. “The past several months will give us experience and data that can inform regulatory reforms. In many cases, Congress needs to make statutory changes, and we’re working with members of both parties on that already.”

The president’s executive order requires HHS to announce a new payment model testing innovations that empower rural hospitals to transform health care in their communities on a broader scale.

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To improve connectivity, the president’s order also directs the federal government to launch a joint initiative in 30 days to improve the health care communication infrastructure and to expand rural health care services.

The Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense have also taken steps to expand telehealth services for veterans, active military and their families.


Palmer represents Alabama’s 6th Congressional District.

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