Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey on Thursday refused to sign a controversial piece of legislation that would have taken spending authority over most of the $1.9 billion in CARES Act funds for Alabama away from the governor and given authority to the Legislature instead.
“I have reviewed Senate Bill 161 and believe that all federal CARES Act funds should be appropriated immediately,” Ivey said in an official message to the Legislature, saying she didn’t want to decide how the money could be spent but that it needs to be appropriated and spent as soon as possible.
If the money isn’t spent — not just appropriated — by the end of the year, it would return to the federal government, and Alabama would lose any money not spent. The governor’s amendment essentially forces the Legislature to make a decision on how to appropriate the funds now instead of waiting for a special session.
Ivey has said she is not willing to let the money, intended only for COVID-19 expenditures, go to waste.
“Alabama’s total share of the CARES Act funds is a little over $1.9 billion,” Ivey said in a statement. “That’s a lot of money for sure, and if spent wisely, it could very well help us pay for many legitimate expenses incurred by cities, counties and the state, nursing homes and hospitals, schools and colleges — and other worthy expenditures – that are directly connected to COVID-19.”
The governor and the GOP-controlled Legislature have been in a rare public battle over how to use the CARES Act funding and the process by which the money can be spent. In the CARES Act, Congress and the president gave governors across the country control of the money so they could spend it quickly to address the economic and public health crisis caused by COVID-19.
The governor has criticized the Legislature for delaying the funds and for suggesting in a lawmaker-written “wish list” that $200 million of the COVID-19 emergency funding should be spent to build a new State House for the Legislature.
In the version of the bill the Legislature sent to the governor earlier this week, the Legislature allocated only $200 million of the $1.9 billion for the governor to pay for more immediate expenses.
The rest would have to be appropriated in a special session later this year. The governor has said she won’t call a special session unless the Legislature provides a full list of how it plans to appropriate the money, saying she fear the money could be appropriated behind closed doors.
Instead of signing the legislation, Ivey sent it back to the Legislature with an executive amendment, which doesn’t amount to a full veto but is nonetheless used by governors to slow, block or force changes to bills.
“The purpose of this amendment is simple: To ensure that the CARES Act money is immediately put to use for the purposes Congress and President Trump intended,” Ivey wrote in a letter to the Legislature.
Ivey said she would sign the General Fund and Education Trust Fund budgets but provided the executive amendment to the supplemental appropriations bill that would appropriate the CARES Act dollars.
“Let me be clear,” Ivey said in the letter to lawmakers. “I know the Alabama Constitution gives the Legislature the authority to appropriate funds. Again, I never had any interest in controlling where this money goes; I simply believe it should go where it can do the most good to help the most people who have been adversely affected by this deadly and costly disease. We have but one opportunity to get this right for Alabama.”
The proposed executive amendment would give the executive and the Department of Finance control of the $1.8 billion in federal CARES Act funds to be used for certain costs:
- Up to $300 million to reimburse state agencies for COVID-19 expenditures
- Up to $250 million to reimburse local governments for COVID-19 expenditures
- Up to $250 million to “support the delivery of healthcare and related services to citizens of Alabama related to” COVID-19
- Up to $300 million to support citizens, businesses and non-profit and faith-based organizations impacted by COVID-19
- Up to $53 million for reimbursement of equipment and infrastructure necessary for remote work and public access to functions of state government impacted by COVID-19
- Up to $300 million for technology and infrastructure for remote instruction and learning
- Up to $200 million for the Department of Corrections to address COVID-19
- Up to $10 million for courts to ensure access during COVID-19
- Up to $5 million to reimburse the State General Fund for previous appropriations to the Alabama Department of Public Health
- The remaining $118 million could be used for any lawful purpose in line with federal guidance
Lawmakers will have to consider the amendment during the final day of the legislative session, scheduled for Monday.
If the Senate, the bill’s chamber of origin, refuses to accept the governor’s amendment and passes the bill again as it was originally passed, and the House concurs, it would become law without the governor’s signature. It would be as if the Legislature overrode a veto.
If for some reason the Senate and House do not come to an agreement, and the two chambers do not vote on the bill, the bill could die as Monday is the last day of the legislative session.
If both chambers adopt the governor’s amendment, it will return to her desk for her signature as any other legislation.
To pass the bill into law without the governor’s amendment will require absolute majorities in both chambers — not just a majority of those present on the day of the vote. Most House Democrats have been absent since the legislative session resumed amid the pandemic, but Republicans have supermajorities in both chambers.
Ivey’s full statement:
“Unlike other emergency relief bills that have been passed by Congress during recent disasters, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was signed into law by President Trump on March 27th with the clear intent of reimbursing only those expenses incurred due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Moreover, this obligation is for a period that begins on March 1, 2020, and ends on December 30, 2020, meaning if this money isn’t spent, not just allocated, by the end of this year, it goes back to the U.S. Treasury.
“Alabama’s total share of the CARES Act funds is a little over $1.9 billion. That’s a lot of money for sure, and if spent wisely, it could very well help us pay for many legitimate expenses incurred by cities, counties and the state, nursing homes and hospitals, schools and colleges — and other worthy expenditures – that are directly connected to COVID-19.
“This afternoon, I sent a letter to each member of the Legislature to inform them I intend to sign both the FY 2021 General Fund Budget and the FY 2021 Education Trust Fund Budget. Additionally, I will be proposing an Executive Amendment to SB161 to ensure that the CARES Act money is immediately put to use for the purposes Congress and President Trump intended.
“I have known many in the legislature for a long time and have built many lasting, true friendships. Like any working relationship, you will have occasional disagreements. Tension can be a good thing if you allow it to birth good ideas; we must not allow ego or personal agendas to outweigh the public good. My firm opinion remains that most members of the Legislature want to do the right thing while making certain this money helps the people of Alabama who have been harmed by this disease.
“There are over 10,700 people who have currently tested positive and 450 have died in the last two months from this disease. Also, over 450,000 people have filed for unemployment compensation, which is more than the last two years combined. While no one could have predicted COVID-19, it is easy to conclude this pandemic has touched every aspect of our daily lives.
“I look forward to working with the Legislature on Monday and in the days ahead.”
Section 125 of the Alabama Constitution:
If the governor’s message proposes amendment, which would remove his objections, the house to which it is sent may so amend the bill and send it with the governor’s message to the other house, which may adopt, but can not amend, said amendment; and both houses concurring in the amendment, the bill shall again be sent to the governor and acted on by him as other bills.
If the house to which the bill is returned refuses to make such amendment, it shall proceed to reconsider it; and if a majority of the whole number elected to that house shall vote for the passage of the bill, it shall be sent with the objections to the other house, by which it shall likewise be reconsidered, and if approved by a majority of the whole number elected to that house, it shall become a law.
If the house to which the bill is returned makes the amendment, and the other house declines to pass the same, that house shall proceed to reconsider it, as though the bill had originated therein, and such proceedings shall be taken thereon as above provided.
Alabama Gulf Coast beaches remain closed for now
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey announced that beaches will remain closed for now due to ongoing repair and cleanup efforts in the wake of Hurricane Sally.
“Working closely with Gulf Shores Mayor Robert Craft and Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon, as well as Commissioner Billy Joe Underwood, the governor has agreed to keep Baldwin County’s beaches closed until Friday, October 2nd,” the governor’s office said in a statement. “This will allow those communities additional time to get their beaches ready for public enjoyment in a safe, responsible manner.”
Mobile County beaches might open earlier than that.
“Likewise, the governor has been in touch with Mayor Jeff Collier, and she is prepared to amend the beach closure order for Mobile County when he signals that Dauphin Island is ready to reopen their beaches,” the governor’s office said in a statement. “At the present time, all Alabama beaches remain closed until further notice.”
Hurricane Sally came ashore near Gulf Shores on Sept. 16 as a category two hurricane with 105 mile per hour winds. Numerous homes, businesses and farms have been destroyed and many more have seen serious damage.
“As of Wednesday night, approx. 37,000 cubic yards of Hurricane Sally debris (equivalent to roughly 1,700 truck loads worth) has been picked up in Orange Beach since Sunday (4 days),” the city of Orange Beach announced. “Kudos to our debris contractor CrowderGulf.”
“I spent Sunday afternoon meeting with senior staff and I believe we will need some time to get our buildings safe for children to return,” said Baldwin County Schools Superintendent Eddie Taylor in a letter to parents. “We live in a very large county. Power may be on in your area and your school may not have any damage, but we cannot open schools unless all schools can open. Our pacing guides, state testing, meal and accountability requirements are based on the system, not individual schools.”
“We have schools without power and for which we do not expect power until later this week,” Taylor said. “In this new age, we need internet and communications which are currently down so we cannot run any system tests. We have physical damage at our schools including some with standing water, collapsed ceilings and blown out windows. We have debris on our properties and debris blocking our transportation teams from picking up students. All of this must be resolved before we can successfully re-open.”
“If everything goes as planned, I expect we will welcome back students on Wednesday, September 30,” Taylor said. “Prior to returning students to school, we will hold two teacher work days to get our classrooms and our lessons plans back on track.”
SNAP replacement benefits coming to three counties hit by Hurricane Sally
Thousands of SNAP recipients in Mobile, Baldwin and Escambia counties are set to receive automatic replacement benefits as a result of Hurricane Sally, the Alabama Department of Human Resources announced Thursday.
Recipients who received their benefits Sept. 1 through Sept. 16 will receive a replacement of 50 percent of their regular monthly benefit. Those who received supplemental pandemic maximum allotment payments will receive a replacement of 30 percent of those benefits.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service approved the replacement benefits today at the request of DHR. The benefits are intended to replace food purchased with SNAP that was lost to widespread power outages caused when Hurricane Sally made landfall on Sept. 16.
“Our priority is to remove the very real threat of hunger for the many Alabamians who are struggling from the devastation of Hurricane Sally,” said Alabama DHR Commissioner Nancy Buckner. “The first step toward that goal is to replace the food that so many Alabamians lost to the storm. We are actively working to obtain additional resources to provide much-needed relief for the region as it recovers.”
Hurricane Sally caused over 265,000 households to lose power for at least four hours in Mobile, Baldwin and Escambia counties, where approximately 54,000 households will receive SNAP benefits totaling an estimated $8.5 million.
Those recipients should expect to see the replacement benefits automatically loaded onto their EBT cards next week.
The Food Assistance Division of DHR administers the SNAP program in Alabama.
More information about the program can be found at dhr.alabama.gov/food-assistance.
Unemployment assistance available to workers in Baldwin, Escambia and Mobile Counties
Alabama Department of Labor Secretary Fitzgerald Washington announced Thursday that workers who became unemployed as a direct result of Hurricane Sally in Baldwin, Escambia and Mobile Counties may qualify for unemployment assistance.
People who live in or worked in these counties and became unemployed due to Hurricane Sally during the period of Sept. 14, 2020, may be eligible for assistance under the Disaster Unemployment Assistance program, which was triggered when President Donald Trump designated the area as a disaster area on Sept. 20, 2020.
“Generally, those who are eligible for state unemployment benefits are not eligible for DUA, but a claimant may qualify if state unemployment compensation benefits are exhausted,” said Washington. “If you believe you are entitled to these benefits, I urge you to file a claim to see if you are eligible.”
People who may be eligible for Disaster Unemployment Assistance include the following:
- Individuals who no longer have a job, are unable to reach the place of employment, or were scheduled to start work in the major disaster area and the job no longer exists
- Those who became the breadwinner or major support of the family because the head of household died, or those who cannot work because of an injury incurred during the major disaster
All the previously described circumstances must be as a direct result of the hurricane. Self-employed individuals must provide a copy of their 2019 tax return, business license or Form 1099 within 21 days after applying for DUA benefits.
Claims can be filed through ADOL’s website at labor.alabama.gov or by calling 1-866-234-5382.
The deadline to file a DUA claim is Oct. 28, 2020, for Baldwin, Escambia and Mobile Counties.
Alabama Farmer’s Federation starts a relief fund for farmers impacted by Sally
The Alabama Farmers Federation said Monday that it has established a relief fund to help farmers from across the state whose farms were damaged by Hurricane Sally.
“When disaster strikes, I am always impressed by the people of Alabama and their giving spirits,” said Alabama Farmers Federation President Jimmy Parnell. “As we started receiving photos of damaged crops, barns and equipment, we also started getting questions from people about what they could do to help our farmers, and that’s why we’ve established this fund.”
All the donations to the relief fund are tax-deductible and may be made online or by check payable to Alabama Farmers Agriculture Foundation at P.O. Box 11000, Montgomery, AL 36191. Please include “hurricane relief fund” in the check memo line.
“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,” Parnell said. “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, like donating to the relief fund.”
Hurricane Sally made landfall near Gulf Shores as a category two storm Sept. 16 with maximum sustained winds of 105 mph. Official reports from the National Weather Service show more than 20 inches of rain in Baldwin County.
The combination of heavy rains and high winds damaged crops, structures and equipment from Mobile and Baldwin Counties in the southwest through Russell County in the east.
It has been a difficult few years for farmers.
While the general economy had been doing well prior to the coronavirus global pandemic, the farmers were caught in the middle of an international trade dispute over tariffs and fair competition.
Chinese retaliation against Americans farm products depressed commodity markets from 2018 through early this year.
When it appeared that the U.S. and China had come to a trade accord in January, the coronavirus hit along with massive disruptions in the supply chain.
Farm bankruptcies were already up pre-COVID-19. The loss of the 2020 crop could push some already struggling agribusinesses over the brink.
The Alabama Farmers Federation is Alabama’s largest and most influential farmers’ organization.