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Opinion | Unemployed Alabama workers deserve support, not suspicion

Josh Moon

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Thousands of sick Alabamians. Hundreds of dead Alabamians. Hundreds of thousands of Alabamians out of work. 

These are the realities of the COVID-19 virus’ effect on this state. 

But they are not the most worrisome aspects of this crisis. 

No, the most worrisome aspect, it turns out — and really, y’all, hold onto your seats because you won’t be ready for this — is that some low-wage workers, because of the federal government’s added unemployment incentives of $600 per week, are drawing more money being out of work than they did while working. 

Get the pitchforks and the tiki torches, we’re marching! 

That gem of a revelation was contained in a report submitted to Gov. Kay Ivey by the Alabama Policy Institute, which bills itself as a “think tank,” despite what I’ve just told you. 

In reality, API is a glorified group of rightwing elitists who spend their every waking hour coming up with ways to give themselves and their friends more tax breaks and advantages and making sure that the working poor in Alabama never ever sniff a break of any kind. 

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In decently run states, such a group would be fringe and you’d mostly never hear of them, and I’d never waste my time and yours writing a column about their horrible ideas for governance. In Alabama, unfortunately, the governor includes them when requesting ideas on when best to ease back her stay-at-home order in the middle of a pandemic. 

So, as Alabama’s congresspeople and other medical professionals are submitting suggestions cemented in facts and reason, mixed among their reports is one that contains this beauty: “While helpful to individuals out of work the unfortunate impact of (increased federal and state unemployment payments during the coronavirus crisis) is the disincentivization of workers to work and/or return to work. Many individuals are being paid more now to not work.”

Let me put this in perspective for you, Alabama worker. 

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While you’re worried about the ongoing crisis, trying to protect your loved ones and your possessions in a tumultuous time and continue to put food on the table every day, this group that’s now apparently advising the governor believes the major concern here is your lack of motivation to get back out on the job site because instead of the near-slave wages you were earning, there’s now nearly enough coming in to pay all the bills. 

And the group that’s making this complaint, according to its most recent tax filings, takes in more than a million dollars annually in donations and … federal grants. 

Which is pretty on-brand for Alabama, where we’re absolutely running over with rich, white men who keep turning up at the State House with their hands out even as they’re lecturing the poor and minorities about pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps. 

But this tactic is even more sinister than usual. Because it seeks to push the working people of the state back into potentially dangerous working conditions by removing their only lifeline — their unemployment compensation. 

Without that check coming in each month, and with some businesses reopening soon, some employees could face a literal life-or-death decision. 

Making matters worse, the Alabama Department of Labor has issued new guidance for businesses and the unemployed, making it clear that those workers whose employers reopen could be ineligible for unemployment compensation unless they are again laid off or fired. It even promoted a new reporting system where employers could report employees they suspect of violating the rules. 

That is a dangerous position for the state of Alabama to assume, because it sets up a scenario in which the Department of Labor is determining, during a pandemic, whether workers are choosing to remain out of work due to legitimate health care concerns or if they’re faking it to get a decent check. 

If the Department of Labor denies a claim and essentially forces a person back to work, and then that person dies from COVID-19, that would seem to be a very large legal issue. One that could be multiplied several thousand times over. 

Here’s an idea: Instead of always, always assuming the worst out of a workforce that had about a 3 percent unemployment rate prior to this crisis, how about we assume that the overwhelming majority of that workforce would very much like to get back to work and a normal life as soon as it’s safe to do so? How about you just pay the unemployment claims and imagine them feeding a family of four, with a hardworking dad and church-going mom, who just need a little help right now? 

Is that so hard?

And maybe save the anger and frustration for the failures of the federal government to properly prepare for this pandemic or to properly respond to it. And for the major companies who bought up stocks with their tax break money and couldn’t make it a month during the shutdown. And for the boobs who keep showing up on capitol steps with their AR-15s and stupid signs. 

The working people of this state are overwhelmingly good and decent people who just want to feed their families. 

Leave them alone. 

Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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Economy

New unemployment claims continue to drop

Micah Danney

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(STOCK PHOTO)

There were 11,692 unemployment claims filed in Alabama last week, down from 17,439 the previous week, according to the Alabama Department of Labor.

Seventy-six percent of the claims from July 26 to Aug. 1 were related to COVID-19, according to the Alabama Department of Labor. That compares to 89 percent the week before.

New claims increased over the first half of July but declined in the second half.

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Economy

Alabama Power is returning $100 million to customers

Brandon Moseley

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The Alabama Public Service Commission approved a plan Tuesday to credit Alabama Power Company customers on their October bills. The move returns approximately $100 million to Alabama Power Company customers.

“Putting money back into the pockets of hard-working Alabamians is one of the ways we can help on the road to recovery,” Public Service Commission President Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh said on social media. “Alabama Power to refund $100 million to customers.”

The typical Alabama Power customer will receive a $25 credit on their October bill. The newly approved credit is on top of a 3 percent rate reduction that customers are already enjoying in 2020. This previous rate cuts and the October credit amount to about $300 million in savings for Alabama Power customers this year.

“We appreciate the commission voting today to expedite this credit for our customers,” said Richard Hutto, Alabama Power’s vice president of regulatory affairs.

The global economic collapse due to the COVID-19 pandemic has hurt people across Alabama. It has also dramatically lowered fuel costs for Alabama Power Company’s plants.

A typical residential customer using 1,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity per month is expected to receive a credit of $25. Customers who use more energy will receive a larger credit. Customers who use less power receive a smaller credit but had a smaller bill to begin with. Adjustments to fuel costs are typically calculated at the end of the year, with savings passed to customers beginning in January, but due to the economic downturn and pandemic-related job losses, Alabama Power and the PSC are rushing that money to Alabama families and businesses.

“Many of our customers have been hurt by COVID-19. We hope this credit will provide some additional relief at this difficult time,” Hutto explained.

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The 3 percent rate reduction, that took effect in January, was based on earlier estimates of lower costs for fuel and other expenses for 2020. The rate reduction alone equates to about a $4.50-per-month reduction for the typical residential customer.

“Our employees are working every day to keep costs low while providing industry-leading reliability for our customers,” Hutto added.

Alabama Power said in a statement that their total retail price is below the national average and has been for decades. When adjusted for inflation, the price customers pay for electricity is lower today than it was 30 years ago.

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Alabama Power has been assisting customers in other ways during the COVID-19 outbreak. Since the start of the pandemic, the company has suspended disconnects and late payment fees for customers hurt by the coronavirus.

Cavanaugh is seeking another term as president of the Commission.

“It is crucial that we have strong pro-jobs conservatives supporting President Trump’s agenda at all levels of government,” Cavanaugh said on social media.

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Economy

Payroll Protection Program deadline has been extended to Saturday

Brandon Moseley

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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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Economy

State’s unemployment claims slowed last week

Last week saw the lowest number of new claims since the week-to-week number first spiked from 1,824 to 10,982 when the lockdown started in mid-March.

Micah Danney

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(STOCK PHOTO)

The number of unemployment claims in Alabama slipped last week after increasing through the first half of July.

There were 17,439 claims filed from July 19 to 25, according to the Alabama Department of Labor. Of those, 15,461, or 89 percent, were COVID-19 related.

Claims soared at the start of the pandemic in late March, hitting a weekly high of 106,739 in the first week of April. The rate of new claims declined sharply in May, with each week counting under 30,000 claims.

Since then, the number has decreased somewhat steadily. Claims rose several thousand over the course of this month, from 19,058 in the week ending July 4 to 23,678 in the week ending July 18.

Last week saw the lowest number of new claims since the week-to-week number first spiked from 1,824 to 10,982 when the lockdown started in mid-March.

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