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President Trump approves Alabama disaster declaration

Brandon Moseley

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President Donald Trump on Thursday declared that a major disaster exists in the state of Alabama and ordered federal assistance to supplement state, tribal and local recovery efforts in the areas affected by severe storms and flooding from February 5 to March 6, 2020.

Federal funding is available to state, tribal and eligible local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations on a cost-sharing basis for emergency work and the repair or replacement of facilities damaged by the severe storms and flooding in Butler, Chambers, Choctaw, Colbert, Covington, Crenshaw, Cullman, Dallas, Fayette, Greene, Lamar, Limestone, Macon, Marion, Perry, Randolph, Tuscaloosa and Wilcox Counties.

Federal funding is also available on a cost-sharing basis for hazard mitigation measures statewide.

Pete Gaynor is the administrator of FEMA.

Gaynor named Terry Quarles as the Federal Coordinating Officer for Federal recovery operations in the affected areas.

Additional designations may be made at a later date if requested by the state and warranted by the results of further damage assessments.

Residents and business owners who sustained losses in the designated counties can begin applying for assistance by registering online.

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Or by calling 1-800-621-FEMA(3362) or 1-800-462-7585 (TTY) for the hearing and speech impaired. The toll-free telephone numbers will operate from 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. (local time) seven days a week until further notice.

 

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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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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Economy

GDP fell by an unprecedented 9.5 percent in second quarter

Brandon Moseley

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(STOCK PHOTO)

The Bureau of Economic Analysis released its advance estimate of U.S. GDP for the second quarter of 2020 reflecting the months of April, May and June dropped 9.5 percent in the second quarter, According to the BEA report, real GDP contracted at an unprecedented annualized rate of 32.9 percent. This is the largest quarterly decline since the series began in 1947, though market expectations were so low the actual number was slightly better than what the market and official estimates had expected.

President Donald Trump’s Council of Economic Advisors said that despite this massive contraction, the resiliency of the U.S. economy and the swift fiscal response of the Federal Government can aid in a strong recovery.

The Council of Economic Advisors said that the U.S. economy entered this contraction on a healthier and more resilient footing than it did both prior to the Financial Crisis of 2008 to 09 and relative to other advanced economies. This was due in part, to the longest expansion in U.S. history. American households also had a smaller overall debt burden prior to this pandemic than prior to the Financial Crisis. Household liabilities as a percent of personal disposable income were 136 percent leading into the Financial Crisis but were below 100 percent prior to this pandemic.

The United States had the highest growth rate among the G7 countries prior to the pandemic, with growth roughly double the non-U.S. G7 average.

The second-quarter decline in GDP was widespread, touching nearly every facet of the economy. Consumer spending, which accounts for roughly 70 percent of the U.S. economy, contributed to most of the decline, accounting for 25.05 percentage points of the 32.9 percent decline. The report also showed sharp contractions in business fixed investment, residential investment, inventory investment, and state & local government spending which contributed to the decline.

A massive but uneven decline in consumer spending (-34.6 percent at an annualized rate) revealed how quarantines have driven spending patterns. Individuals increased consumption of recreational goods & vehicles and housing & utilities, but lessened consumption of gasoline & other energy goods, health care, transportation services, recreational services, and food services & accommodation. The decline in business fixed investment was also widely spread, though it was particularly sharp in transportation equipment investment and mining structures investment, the latter reflecting subdued oil and gas production activity responding to extraordinarily low prices.

The pandemic and the forced economic shutdowns caused a sharp drop in real personal income as many workers faced lower wages, fewer hours or loss of their jobs completely. The University of Pennsylvania estimates that the CARES Act reduced the GDP contraction in the second quarter by 7 percentage points.

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The Council of Economic Advisors are predicting strong real GDP growth in the third quarter. The current Blue Chip consensus forecast of 17.7 percent annualized growth in the third quarter would be the largest recorded quarterly growth rate and a 36 percent recovery of the second quarter contraction.

The Council of Economic Advisors claim that the pace of the recovery so far has exceeded expectations, providing a source of optimism as we look ahead. In fact, the majority of major economic data releases over the past month—reflecting May and June data—have surpassed market outlooks. Most notably, the record-breaking number of jobs added in both May and June beat market expectations by a combined 11.7 million. Furthermore, high-frequency data indicate that 80 percent of America’s small businesses are now open, up from a low in April of just 52 percent. Consumer credit & debit card spending has recovered roughly 80 percent from the pandemic low, with spending in low-income zip codes rebounding the furthest, now just 2 percent below pre-pandemic spending levels.

Another 1.43 million Americans filed initial unemployment claims last week, the nineteenth week the total has surpassed one million new claims.

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The recovery could be threatened by surging coronavirus cases, which could force a second shutdown in some states. Governors in Texas, Florida, and California have had to implement some social distancing restrictions and Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey has had to impose a mask requirement on all citizens and even on school children.

The uncertainty with the virus and the economy has put pressure on Congress to approve another coronavirus relief package.

“Our nation is going through a time of testing,” Vice President Mike Pence said. “And let me say from my heart that our prayers and our sympathies are with all of the more than 150,000 families that have lost loved ones in the midst of this pandemic. As we continue to contend with the coronavirus in various places across our country, President Trump and our team, and the task force will continue to marshal the full resources of the federal government and the full power of the American economy to meet this moment and put the health of America first.”

“It’s amazing to think, at the lowest point in this pandemic, our economy lost 22 million jobs,” VP Pence said. “But thanks to that solid foundation that President Trump laid in our first three years, we’ve already gained back 8 million jobs just in May and June alone.”

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Economy

USDA says more than 50 million Farmers to Families Food Boxes have been distributed

Brandon Moseley

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(STOCK PHOTO)

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue on Wednesday said that the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farmers to Families Food Box Program has distributed over 50 million food boxes in support of American farmers and families affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The delivery of 50 Million food boxes has helped an incredible number of Americans in need,” Perdue said. “I couldn’t be prouder of the great job done by the food box program staff and the many farmers, distributors and non-profits that helped to get this program off the ground for the American people. The Farmers to Families Food Box Program got off to a strong start, delivering over 35.5 million boxes in the first 45 days, and has now reached over 50 million boxes delivered – a testament to everyone’s hard work. I have been meeting with food banks and recipients across the country and it’s been heartening to hear all the positive feedback on how the program has saved businesses and fed Americans in need. We are well into the second round of deliveries and we’re working harder than ever to continue to build on the success of the program.”

“50 million Farmers to Families Food Boxes have brought fresh and nutritious food grown by great American farmers to those most in need during this pandemic,” said adviser to the president Ivanka Trump. “I am proud of the profound impact this program has had on strengthening our workforce and nourishing hungry families. We will continue to prioritize our Nation’s farmers, ranchers, workers and families through this robust new Farmers to Families Food Box Program.”

Economic developer Nicole Jones said, “USDA’s willingness to partner with farmers and food banks nationwide is an important community development action that has helped provide stability for families and save businesses. Thank you, Secretary Sonny Perdue and USDA, for taking significant steps to assist our farmers and ensure Americans do not go hungry amidst the pandemic.”

Flavor 1st owner Kirby Johnson said, “I was actually planting green beans when this happened. A good friend called me about this program. I was going down the row real slow planting green beans. I laughed to myself that by the time this program gets in motion, (the pandemic) will be over. Let me tell you, that was a Tuesday, the following Thursday I was packing in this packing house vegetables to go to the people. I’ve done a lot of government stuff. Nothing has ever been done this quick, especially produce. People that need it need it. They don’t need it two months from now, they need it now.”

Sabrina Tumey, with the Sitka Salvation Army, said, “The produce and the fruits are beautiful. And I literally have had people being so thankful and so grateful, almost to the verge of tears.”

Vince Winter, with AC Lakeside, said, “It feels good to be able to be an active part in getting food to those in need here in Sitka, being a part of the Sitka community. There is no better feeling in the world.”

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Marijo Martinec, the CEO and executive director of the Food Bank of Northern Indiana, said, “We get some very nice emails and phone calls. I mean, they can make you cry. People are really grateful for them. The fresh products have been wonderful.”

Sarah Ochoa, the community health services director for Community Action Partnership of Western Nebraska, “Definitely, there’s a need in the community. We’re not seeing the same people every week, which is a good thing, people are coming when they need it.”

Annie Forrest, who received a Food Box, said, “Being physically handicapped, this means a lot to me.”

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On April 17, 2020, Secretary Perdue announced the program as part of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program developed to help farmers, ranchers, distributors and consumers in response to the COVID-19 national emergency.

Last week, USDA announced it would launch a third round of Farmers to Families Food Box Program purchases with distributions to occur beginning by September 1 with completion by October 31, 2020. The purchases will spend the balance of $3 billion authorized for the program. In this third round of purchases, USDA plans to purchase combination boxes to ensure all recipient organizations have access to fresh produce, dairy products, fluid milk, and meat products.

Eligibility in the third round will be open to entities who can meet the government’s requirements and specifications. Proposals will be expected to illustrate how coverage will be provided to areas identified as opportunity zones, detail subcontracting agreements, and address the “last mile” delivery of product into the hands of the food insecure population.

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Economy

Survey: 70 percent of small businesses say they are bracing for COVID-19 resurgence

Fifty-six percent report that they believe it will take six months to a year before the small business climate returns to normal.

Brandon Moseley

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(STOCK PHOTO)

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce reported Wednesday that the economic recovery is faltering amid growing concerns about a “second wave” of the pandemic. The small business recovery sputtered in recent weeks, according to a new poll of small business owners taken between July 9 and 16 released by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and MetLife.

According to the polling, after retreating from record lows earlier this spring, key measures like perceived business health and cash flow have stalled, and the number reporting concerns around reopening guidance has increased. Despite this, small business owners remain unyieldingly optimistic with regards to future revenue and bullish on hiring and investment plans, the survey found.

Of those surveyed, 55 percent of small businesses are reporting good overall health. This is down 14 percentage points from the end of 2019. The number of small businesses that say they are in poor health has held flat at 18 percent over the month. It is double the number (9 percent) that reported the same at the beginning of 2020 prior to the pandemic; 45 percent are reporting they are not comfortable with their cash flow. This is three times higher than pre-pandemic levels.

“Small businesses face a cash flow crunch that is making it difficult for them to pay rent, payroll, and utilities,” said Tom Sullivan, U.S. Chamber vice president of small business policy. “It’s a long road to recovery, and these businesses are being tested like never before. Despite these considerable headwinds, our poll finds small businesses will innovate and fight their way to better days.”

Despite the stall around key measures of business health on Main Street, there are results showing cause for optimism. According to the poll, 86 percent of small businesses report that they have either fully or partially reopened since the pandemic began. The number of fully open businesses has climbed 11 percentage points since May.

53 percent reported that they expect next year’s revenues to increase. This is up from 50 percent in May and 47 percent from April. Just 18 percent of business owners expect their revenues to decrease next year. 35 percent of small business owners report that they are now more likely to increase investments in the upcoming year. This is up eight percentage points from May. This is nearly double the number that report plans to reduce investments (18 percent).

“We know concerns remain among small businesses as they contemplate future spikes and a potential second wave of the virus,” said Jessica Moser, senior vice president, Small and Specialty Business at MetLife. “But the fact that 55% of owners say that their businesses are in good health and 53% say they expect next year’s revenue to increase, leaves room for some cautious optimism for the future.”

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60 percent of small businesses report maintaining the same size staff over the last year. This is down from 67 percent in May. 20 percent report increasing staff. This is up from 13 percent in May. 30 percent however say that they anticipate increasing staff in the next year. This is up seven percentage points since late May). 29 percent report that they have adjusted their employee salaries or hours in response to the pandemic.

78 percent of small businesses remain concerned about the impact of coronavirus on their businesses. 65 percent are concerned that they will have to close again or stay closed if there is a second wave of COVID-19. Among those who have already had to endure a COVID shutdown, 85 percent report being concerned about a second wave. Small businesses in the South are the region most concerned about a second wave – 72 percent. The industry most concerned is the service industry at 72 percent.

Seventy percent of small business owners report they have adjusted business operations to prepare for a second wave of COVID-19 and a second wave of business interruptions. 30 percent report that they have been evaluating long term staffing plans or making plans for future layoffs to prepare for a second wave. 32 percent report that they are purchasing additional supplies to prevent shortages for another business interruption. 29 percent report that they are updating their website and/or social media profile(s) to prepare for a second business interruption. 25 percent report that they are ncreasing e-commerce or digital payment options.

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56 percent of small businesses expressed concern over the lack of guidance on proper reopening procedures. This is up eight percentage points from the previous report released in June.

“As America’s businesses look to reopen safely and keep their employees and customers healthy, employers are facing unprecedented new challenges and are looking for certainty from our elected leaders,” Sullivan said. “Main Street needs assurances from Washington that small business will remain a priority in rebuilding America’s economy. It’s a long road to recovery, but SBA loan assistance and nation-wide liability protections will help small businesses get back up and running at full speed.”

56 percent report that they believe it will take six months to a year before the small business climate returns to normal. This is in line with late May’s 55 percent. 7 percent responded that they think that it will never return to normal.

The Small Business Coronavirus Impact Poll is a special monthly coronavirus report, separate from the quarterly MetLife & U.S. Chamber of Commerce Small Business Index.

The U.S. has had 4,568,375 coronavirus cases thus far in the global pandemic. 153,848 Americans have already been killed by COVID-19, including 1,489 in Alabama. 2,245,521 have recovered from their illnesses.

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