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Economy

Ivey says plan for reopening the economy “will be data driven not date driven”

Brandon Moseley and Nicole Jones

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Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey held her weekly briefing Monday with state legislators to update them on the state’s COVID-19 response and plans for reopening the economy.

Ivey told state legislators that reopening the economy will be data-driven rather than date-driven. Reopening the economy will be a balance of health and economics, she said. Thirty to 40 percent of the Alabama population have underlying conditions that make them a high risk for a bad outcome with COVID-19.

Ivey told the legislators that less than 1 percent of Alabama residents have been tested for COVID-19. Despite Alabama implementing a controversial stay at home order two and a half weeks ago, the state has experienced a 50 percent increase in deaths and hospitalizations within the last 10 days. Approximately one thousand healthcare workers have tested positive and have had to leave their place of employment.

Due to the ballooning unemployment applications, the Alabama Department of Labor is working nights and weekends to process claims and is working to ensure that all claimants who are eligible for benefits will receive them.

Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris told the group that Alabama has had over about 5,000 positive tests for COVID-19 with more than 160 deaths. More than 170 Alabamians tested positive for the disease just yesterday.

“We do not have an adequate supply of quick test machines,” Harris told the legislators.

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Mobile is a hotspot. As testing has increased there, the state has seen a significant increase in the number of cases.

“Last week President Trump shared the federal plan to open the economy,” Harris said.

The White House guidelines provided solid criteria to re-open each state, including 14 days of downward trajectory in the number of COVID-19 cases and having the hospital capacity to handle cases, etc.

Harris said, “We feel like that is a solid plan and are working hard that Alabama can satisfy the federal requirements.”

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State Finance Officer Kelly Butler is the Chairman of the Governor’s Coronavirus Task Force Executive Committee.

The committee was put together in the middle of last week and was tasked with reviewing various reports and informational sources and to get recommendations back to Harris and Ivey by Monday, April 27.

Butler said that the committee has read through and reviewed the White House recommendations and the Alabama Small Business Commission report. Recommendations by the Alabama congressional delegation are expected on Wednesday.

Butler said that the committee will meet by teleconference to hear from business leaders to get input on their view of the Small Business Report. The committee will meet Tuesday with Blue Cross Blue Shield in Birmingham.

Agricultural Commissioner Rick Pate provided an update on food supply in Alabama.

Pate said that there were challenges with the critical infrastructure designation. Lots of industries, for example, garden centers, veterinarians, poultry producers, etc. asked to be included, and they were. Farmers markets were concerned that they could not initially stay open. The state of Alabama did allow the farmers’ markets to open with social distancing protocols. This was important for small businesses and the food supply chain.

“Alabama agriculture is 100 percent fully functional and has a solid food supply chain,” Pate assured the legislators. “Food safety is critical.” With food safety, it is understood that food has to be thrown out if power is out for too long, due to the recent storms.

Pate said that he is participating in weekly phone calls with Secretary Purdue at USDA, The White House, and the AG Alabama Coalition composed of poultry and egg producers, grocers, truckers, forestry, cattlemen, etc.

Pate said that the state’s food banks’ biggest problem is having enough cold storage to store the perishable food items being given to them. There is plenty of meats, poultry, and eggs that are trying to funnel to the food banks; but many of the lack adequate cold storage facilities.

Fitzgerald Washington is the Secretary of Labor.

Washington reported that last Friday it was announced that, March unemployment was 3.5 percent, which is up from 2.7 percent in February. The full impact of the mass layoffs will be seen in the April and May numbers.

Washington said that all labor agencies have had a challenge because the federal government has been slow in the guidance of how the CARES Act can be administered. The $600 per week federal stimulus unemployment benefit is allowable from March 29 to July 21 only. The states did not receive clear federal guidance on how to pay the $600 until April 7. Alabama paid out $40 million in benefits one day later. That includes $275 in Alabama benefit with the $600 federal stimulus. Alabama was one of 5 states to pay the stimulus upon receipt of guidance.

Washington said that the Alabama Department of Labor staff have answered a lot of questions.

One constituent stated that they repeatedly tried to call ADOL but could not get a response. “Keep trying.” We have implemented a call center to help. Also send emails. If you are self-employed, employed by a government entity, or worked for a nonprofit, you are automatically denied. ADOL will redetermine and will pay retroactively. If a legitimate denial, file an appeal.

Direct deposit will be the fastest way to receive benefits. ADOL also issues debit cards, which will take an additional 5 to 7 days to receive. ADOL launched unemployment tracker last week.

“We only have a limited number of experienced staff to answer highly technical questions,” Washington said. Lawmakers and others should email to ADOL.

316,000 unemployment claims have been filed. ADOL has paid out over $208 million in claims and $132 million in stimulus relief since April 8. Almost 40 percent of those who have filed claims in Alabama have been paid. Other states are in single-digit numbers.

Washington said that ADOL has a responsibility to protect the safety of its employees. Employees have had their lives threatened by irate constituents and have also been verbally threatened and called names in various parts of the state. ADOL will prosecute threats to the fullest extent of the law. Our staff “Is working tirelessly to meet the demand to process the claims. Folks are getting paid.”

Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) Commissioner Jeff Dunn said that ADOC has recently had notification of inmates testing positive for COVID-19. ADOC put out a public release on Friday that three inmates tested positive. There are only two states in the U.S. with no positive inmates as of Thursday. As of Friday, Alabama had three inmates test positive. One was in the hospital at the time for 23 out of the past 24 days with a terminal illness. He contracted COVID-19 and then passed away a day later. A St. Clair inmate is at a hospital receiving treatment. He is not on a ventilator, and is improving. The inmate was in a small, secluded part of the prison, which is now quarantined. At Bullock, a small dormitory that that the third inmate lived in is now under quarantine.

Dunn said that a resumption of the modified intake pilot program starts April 21. “We want to avoid introducing new inmates that can potentially have COVID-19.” We set up a system, which we will test and refine over the next two weeks and adjust appropriately.

Dunn said that he has shifted textile manufacturing to making masks. As of this week, every inmate should have two protective masks to wear. Within two weeks, each inmate will have four. The staff also has masks. Part of ADOC’s production capability has been switched to create protective gowns. Have enough PPE for the foreseeable future and more on the way. There has been strong support from advocates and the faith-based community for hygiene items for inmates.

Dunn said that if inmates test positive, ADOC is taking immediate actions to ensure the health and safety of staff and other inmates. The area is immediately quarantined. Follow-on action is to ensure appropriate isolation and quarantine zones are created and any additional surveillance is conducted. This is done by rapid response teams created in each facility.

“The number of inmate positive tests is low, and we are taking every CDC guideline for correctional facilities,” Dunn said. ADOC has tested 53 inmates. Three tested positive. Eight ADOC employees self-reported that they were positive. ADOC tests when a doctor requests a test and under CDC guidelines.

Admiral Kent Davis is the Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs.

Admiral Davis said that all 51 veterans service offices have been closed to the public since late March. All veterans can still receive counseling via telephone. The burials in Spanish Fort are casket burials for now. Families can reschedule for future ceremony with appropriate military honors. The state veterans homes are ok on PPE and staffing now right now; but warned that there will not be enough if numbers of COVID-19 positives go up.

Davis has requested supplies of PPE from the federal government.

Admiral Davis said that the patients who tested positive are either completely segregated in the facility or were transferred to another facility. The Alabama National Guard (ANG) has put together a task force for sanitizing procedures.

The Alexander City veterans home is where there were positive tests. Alabama’s other three homes have tested negative. The Department is sanitizing all homes.

Davis said that Veterans Affairs website has resources and also uses WebX, Facebook live, and Zoom when appropriate

Davis said that Alabama Medal of Honor recipient Bennie Adkins passed away last week of COVID-19 and is being honored.

Ivey left the conference call early for a conference call with President Donald Trump.

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Economy

State unemployment rate dropped to 5.8 percent last month

Alabama’s unemployment rate decreased from 6.7 in September to 5.8 percent in October.

Micah Danney

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Alabama’s unemployment rate decreased from 6.7 in September to 5.8 percent in October, according to the Alabama Department of Labor. October’s seasonally adjusted rate represents 130,329 unemployed persons, down from 153,338 in September. That compares to 61,210 in October 2019.

“We’re glad to see a drop of almost an entire percentage point in our unemployment rate this month,” said ADOL Secretary Fitzgerald Washington. “We will continue to see fluctuations in these economic indicators as pandemic concerns remain, but this month showed growth in both the number of jobs we are supporting and the number of people who are working.”

The number of people counted as employed in October was 2,121,505, up from 2,119,297 in September, but down from the 2,186,771 measured in October 2019.

There were 9,262 new unemployment claims filed in Alabama last week, up from 8,764 the previous week, according to the Alabama Department of Labor. 

Of the claims filed between Nov. 8 and Nov. 14, there were 3,001, or 32 percent, that were related to COVID-19, down from 38 percent the previous week.

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Economy

Governor announces $200 million “Revive Plus” small business grant program

Revive Plus is the second wave of funding for organizations with 50 or fewer employees and will award grants of up to $20,000 for expenses.

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Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (VIA GOVERNOR'S OFFICE)

Gov. Kay Ivey on Wednesday announced Revive Plus, a $200 million grant program to support small businesses, non-profits and faith-based organizations in Alabama that have been impacted by COVID-19. Revive Plus is the second wave of funding for these organizations with 50 or fewer employees and will award grants of up to $20,000 for expenses they have incurred due to operational interruptions caused by the pandemic and related business closures.

“As the state has rolled out over $1 billion of the CARES Act monies to the individuals and businesses affected by COVID-19, it became evident the group most overwhelmingly hurt during the pandemic were the small ‘mom and pop’ shops,” Ivey said. “A second round of assistance through Revive Plus will ensure that the small business owners who have borne the brunt of the downed economy can be made as whole as possible. As we head into the holiday season, my hope is that this will be welcome news for our businesses and help ease their burdens from what has been a very hard year.”

Entities may receive up to $20,000 to reimburse qualifying expenses if they have not received federal assistance for the corresponding item they are claiming with the state of Alabama. The Revive Plus grant is in addition to any state of Alabama Coronavirus Relief Fund grant previously received, including the Revive Alabama Small Business, Non-Profit, Faith-Based, and Health Care Provider grants. There is no set cap on the number of entities that may be awarded a Revive Plus Grant. Grants will be awarded to qualifying applicants on a first-come, first-served basis until the funds are exhausted.

“The Revive Plus program is much needed in our small business economy,” said Senate General Fund Chairman Greg Albritton, R-Atmore. “I commend Governor Ivey for taking this action, recapturing unspent dollars and using a proven program to bring economic relief to our small business owners.”

Alabama received approximately $1.9 billion of CARES Act funding to respond to and mitigate the coronavirus pandemic. Alabama Act 2020-199 initially designated up to $300 million of the Coronavirus Relief Fund for individuals, businesses, non-profit and faith-based organizations directly impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. After the initial $100 million for small business that was reimbursed starting in July 2020, legislative leadership approved a second round of $200 million from allocations made to reimburse state government and from other grant programs that have ended with the full allocation unspent.

“This second round of funding for Alabama entities will provide much needed resources for our state’s economy,” said Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro. “I appreciate the governor and the Finance Department’s work to ensure we utilize these funds to the benefit of our citizens.”

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Entities may access grant information and the grant application through the Coronavirus Relief Fund website. The application period for the Revive Plus Grant Program will open at noon, Nov. 23, 2020 and run through noon, Dec. 4, 2020.

“This is welcome news for small businesses, non-profits and faith-based organizations that are continuing to feel the adverse effects of the Covid-19 virus,” said House General Fund Chairman Steve Clouse, R-Ozark. “Time is of the essence and I urge all qualified entities to apply as soon as possible beginning Monday, November 23rd.”

A coalition of the Business Council of Alabama, the National Federation of Independent Business of Alabama (NFIB Alabama) and the Alabama Restaurant Association worked closely with the governor’s office to revisit the grant program after the initial round of Revive Alabama reached the $100 million cap.

“Businesses throughout the state are working diligently to keep their employees and customers safe, all while ensuring commerce throughout Alabama continues to move,” said Business Council of Alabama President and CEO Katie Britt. “Revive Plus will be essential in giving Alabama businesses access to the necessary and needed funding to keep their doors open and keep hard working Alabamians employed. Our broad coalition of businesses, associations and chambers commend Governor Ivey and her administration for putting these critical funds into the hands of businesses who need it most.”

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Qualifying entities must have been in business March 1, 2020, are currently in business and have a valid W-9 to apply for a Revive Plus Grant.

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Economy

Applications open the Livestock Auction Market Direct Payment Program, Poultry Processor Reimbursement Program

Each program will assist Alabama’s agriculture with costs associated with disruptions experienced due to COVID-19.

Brandon Moseley

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Alabama Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries Rick Pate announced that both the Livestock Market Direct Payment Program and the Poultry Processor Reimbursement Program applications are open.

The applications are available at agi.alabama.gov or crf.alabama.gov. The deadline to submit applications is Dec. 1, 2020. Each program will assist Alabama’s agriculture with costs associated with disruptions experienced due to COVID-19.

Pate and agricultural stakeholders developed a broad-based relief plan to support agribusiness in the state of Alabama, which has been hard hit by the coronavirus crisis and the resulting supply chain interruptions.

In August, Gov. Kay Ivey announced that $26 million of CARES Act Funds could be used to assist Alabama agriculture impacted by COVID-19. These funds were used to establish the Alabama Agricultural Stabilization Program (AASP).

Pate said on Monday that the Livestock Market Direct Payment Program is a $500,000 program to provide direct payments to stockyards affected by the crisis. Payments cannot exceed $25,000. Only licensed Alabama cattle auction markets are eligible.

Pate said the Poultry Processor Reimbursement Program is a $1.2 million program to reimburse Alabama poultry processing facilities for purchases of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE), disinfectants, workstation dividers and COVID-19 testing kits to protect their employees from COVID-19.

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Reimbursements for these expenses would be capped at a maximum of $40,000 per facility. Additional eligibility requirements will be posted at agi.alabama.gov or crf.alabama.gov.

The state has until the end of the year to spend nearly $1 billion in CARES Act money or it goes back to the federal government.

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Economy

Sewell’s annual job fair will be virtual this year

Job seekers will have the opportunity to connect with employers from 10 different industries.

Brandon Moseley

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(VIA OFFICE OF TERRI SEWELL)

Congresswoman Terri Sewell’s annual job fair is open for registration. This year, the job fair will be virtual, hosted via Zoom.

Sewell announced the opening of registration for Alabama’s 7th District 9th Annual Job Fair. Job Fair 2020 will be a two-day event held virtually on Wednesday and Thursday, Nov. 18 and 19, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. central time.

Job seekers will have the opportunity to connect with employers from 10 different industries. Registration is required via Eventbrite. Participation in the job fair is free and open to the public.

“Since the COVID-19 pandemic, I know so many jobs have been lost, and now more than ever our annual Job Fair is needed,” Sewell said. “For the past 8 years, the Job Fair has been a space for job seekers in Alabama’s 7th Congressional District to connect directly with employers. We are very excited to continue our tradition with a robust 2020 virtual program! Over the course of two days, job seekers can learn about jobs available right NOW in Alabama.”

This year’s virtual event will feature employers from more than 10 types of industries, including automotive, restaurant and food management, transportation and construction, hospitality and retail, health services, utilities and telecommunications, manufacturing and production, staffing agencies, government agencies and law enforcement.

Sewell said she made a commitment to work to improve the lives of people in the 7th Congressional District when she was elected. Getting people jobs and growing the economy of the district has been the goal of the job fair.

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Sewell said that when she was elected, the counties of the district had some of the highest unemployment rates in the country. Coming out of the Great Recession, the district had an unemployment rate about 14 percent.

That rate is now down to 6 percent — still double the national average but a tremendous improvement for the people in the district. Then COVID hit.

Sewell said that the district, like the rest of the country, was hard hit by the coronavirus crisis and many jobs, particularly in the hospitality sector, were lost.

Sewell said that they don’t have as many employers participating in this year’s job fair as in some in the past but it is “still a great opportunity.”

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“We have a pretty good track record,” Sewell said. According to surveys, 25 to 30 percent of participants in past job fairs found jobs through the Job Fair, Sewell’s office said. Since that is dependent on participants responding to the surveys, they suspect the number is higher.

“We do have very strong participation from all the largest employers in the state,” Sewell said. There are opportunities there for people with a variety of skill sets.

Sewell said that she is very proud of all of the investments that have been made by manufacturers in the 7th Congressional District and cited the expansions at Hyundai and Golden Dragon in Wilcox County.

“We have a very good track record,” Sewell said of past job fairs. “Everywhere I go I meet people who tell me how their lives changed because of our job fairs.”

On Nov. 3, Sewell was elected to her sixth term in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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