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Economy

State finance director recommended waiting to debate state budgets

Eddie Burkhalter

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Alabama’s finance director said that he recommended to Gov. Kay Ivey and to the Alabama Legislature that they wait to debate the state’s budgets until there was more information about the impact COVID-19 was having on Alabama’s economy and the government’s tax revenues.

But lawmakers made the decision to move forward with the budgets. Most state lawmakers returned to Montgomery on Monday, and by Wednesday, the state Senate had approved Alabama’s General Fund budget. 

Kelly Butler, the state’s finance director, spoke to state House Democrats during a Wednesday online meeting about what he described as an unprecedented economic hit that came quicker than any he’s seen in his 30 years working in Alabama’s Budget Office.

Democratic lawmakers decried the return to the Legislative Session and said returning to Montgomery so early would be unsafe for the lawmakers, many of whom are older and have underlying health problems that makes them more likely to suffer serious complications or death from COVID-19.

All but one Democratic member of Alabama’s House of Representatives have sat out of the resumed session, deciding instead to stay at home and avoid any potential risk of contracting the virus in Alabama’s cramped State House.

Democratic House members also echoed Butler’s concerns and said returning too early would leave lawmakers without enough information on what impacts the COVID-19 crisis and partial shutdowns of the state’s economy will have on Alabama’s budgets. 

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Instead of returning to Montgomery with their Republican counterparts, Democrats have held online meetings with state officials and other experts this week to discuss how the virus is affecting the state’s economy, public health, hospitals, nursing homes and other aspects of the state.

Butler told lawmakers Wednesday that prior to March, Alabama’s economy was arguably as strong as it had ever been, and unemployment was very low.

“Because of the coronavirus, and because of social distancing and safer-at-home and stay-at-home orders, we have had over, 400,000 Alabama residents who have filed for unemployment with the Department of Labor in a very short period of time. Five or six weeks,” Butler said. “I’ve not seen that before.” 

Butler said that while things are evolving daily, they’ve estimated that because of the COVID-19 crisis, Education Trust Fund and General Fund budget revenues will decline by approximately $1 billion over the rest of the Fiscal Year 2020 and into the Fiscal Year 2021 — an approximated 10 percent reduction. 

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“The budgets that are being debated now in the Legislature have been adjusted downward,” Butler said, speaking as the state Senate was debating those very numbers and before the budget was passed on a unanimous 31-0 vote. 

Butler said that because the state’s economy was in good shape before the crisis, he doesn’t foresee the need to make cuts to the current Education Trust Fund budget, which can cause severe hardships on schools and universities that rely on the money. 

“The General Fund was in the same situation,” Butler said. “High cash balance and good revenues for the first six months, so we also think the General Fund will not have to be prorated.” 

Alabama’s share of the federal Coronavirus Relief Fund was $1.9 billion — but the money cannot be used to supplant budget shortfalls, and can only be spent on coronavirus-related expenditures. 

“The risk to this, as is always the risk with large federal dollars, is if you spend the money outside their guidelines the federal auditor will show up three years later and want their money back,” Butler said. 

Butler said the Alabama Emergency Management Agency has already bought personal protective equipment such as masks, gloves and gowns “and some ventilators to the tune of about $50 million” out of the state’s General Fund, but he believes that money can be replaced with the federal relief aid.  

“We have not actually reimbursed any money from these federal dollars. It’s all still in the Treasury, because we do not want to do that until we have final guidance. Just erring on the caution side, there,” Butler said. 

Butler is also the chair of Ivey’s seven-member Coronavirus Task Force and said that since Ivey’s latest order loosening some of her previous restrictions while leaving others in place,  task force members have been talking with church leaders and owners of restaurants, barbershops, salons and gyms, all of which are either ordered closed or are under restrictions meant to prevent the continued spread of the virus.

Butler said by the end of Wednesday the task force was to make additional recommendations to Ivey and to State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris.

“I don’t want to talk about what those are, because the committee process is still going on, but those are the entities we’ve been looking at and seeing if there’s a way to safely start the process of reopening,” Butler said.

“I think it’s fair to say that everyone realizes that we need to get people reopened as quickly and as safely as we can,” Butler said. “It’s a very difficult task because there’s just so much unknown about this virus, but the committee is working in good faith to make what we believe are solid recommendations so people can start reopening their businesses.” 

The Alabama Senate passed the state’s $2.38 General Fund budget Wednesday, which was a $168.8 million increase from the state’s 2020 General Fund budget. 

The budget approved Wednesday includes a $23 million increase to the Alabama Department of Corrections, $35 million more for the Alabama Department of Public Health, an additional $3 million for the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency and an extra $25 million to the Alabama Department of Mental Health.

 

Eddie Burkhalter is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or reach him via Twitter.

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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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