U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Alabama, and David Trone, D-Maryland, led 82 of their colleagues in sending a letter Tuesday to leaders of the House and Senate urging them to include in any future COVID-19 relief package at least $86 billion for the deployment of high-speed broadband internet.
Sewell and Trone sent the letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
“The coronavirus has only further highlighted the importance of high-speed, affordable internet, as lack of access has made it more difficult for Alabamians to learn from home, access telehealth service and telework during the pandemic,” Sewell said. “It is beyond time that high-speed internet is treated as a basic utility and rolled out to every community across the country. The letter provides the framework for a future relief package that acknowledges just how critical broadband access is and calls on leadership to make a significant investment in its implementation.”
“The coronavirus pandemic has shown that swaths of this country are being left behind by insufficient broadband infrastructure,” Trone said. “It’s time to invest in digital highways to bring the entire country into the 21st century and global economy. I want to thank Congresswoman Sewell and Whip Clyburn for joining in the effort to ensure this critical infrastructure is included in the next Congressional stimulus package.”
According to Microsoft, about 25 million Americans lack access to reliable, high-speed internet and about 3.3 million Alabama residents do not have the minimum broadband speeds needed for video conferencing or streaming at home. The divide disproportionately impacts rural residents — with 19 million of the 25 million Americans without broadband living in rural areas.
“Future stimulus packages should support the deployment of secure and resilient broadband, provide hotspots for students to close the homework gap and allow for distance learning, and expand access and affordability for unserved and underserved communities with sufficient speed and data that reflects American families’ increased reliance on internet access,” they wrote in their letter. “We cannot wait to invest in high-speed broadband deployment necessary to reach every unserved and underserved American family, hospital, school and small business. … If we fail to invest now, millions of American will be disconnected from the economic recovery on the other side of this crisis.”
Racial disparities also exist between which Americans have access to broadband and which do not. According to a 2017 Joint Economic Committee report, 82 percent of white households have access to high speed internet while just 70 percent of Black households do. Seventy-four percent of Hispanic households do and just 65 percent of Native American households do.
“We believe that in the response to the COVID-19 crisis an overall investment of $86 billion is needed,” the letter continued. “This would expedite high-speed broadband deployment and expand funding to ensure that Americans who need broadband service can remain connected during this public health crisis and recovery. This includes expanded service for low-income consumers that meet the demands of telework, telehealth and telelearning. For instance, two tools ready to address these issues are the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) existing Lifeline and E-Rate educational connectivity programs.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic has made it increasingly clear that having access to high speed broadband is a necessity,” the letter said. “We must invest in expanding affordable and reliable high-speed Internet access in the next emergency relief package. We thank you for your attention to this critical issue and looking forward to working in tandem to bring broadband to communities that are in desperate need of this essential tool for life in the 21st Century.”
There is wide bipartisan support for increasing broadband access.
“COVID19 highlights the need for more broadband access in America,” Congressman Mo Brooks, R-Alabama, said. “According to the Federal Communications Commission, 31 percent of rural Americans do not have broadband access at home. During the pandemic, school children without broadband access have been unable to attend classes digitally or complete online homework assignments. Adults have been similarly hamstrung in an increasingly digital economy.”
Sewell is in her fifth term representing Alabama’s 7th Congressional District.
AFL-CIO endorses Adia Winfrey for Congress
Democratic congressional candidate Adia Winfrey’s campaign announced Monday that she has received the endorsement of the Alabama AFL-CIO in Alabama’s 3rd Congressional District.
At their annual convention last week, union leaders from across the state recognized Winfrey’s “passion, ability to lead and attentiveness to the issues affecting working men and women” as reasons to endorse the Democratic challenger against incumbent Congressman Mike Rogers, R-Alabama.
“Labor unions have long been a leading force in our nation’s economy,” Winfrey wrote. “Workplace safety standards, employee benefits, equal pay for women, non-discrimination policies and so much more can be attributed directly to union members who were willing to speak up for what is right. I look forward to being a voice for Alabama’s hard-working men and women in Congress.”
Winfrey is challenging Rogers, a nine-term incumbent, in the Nov. 3 general election. During his 18 years in Congress, Rogers has earned only a 16 percent lifetime rating by the AFL-CIO for his votes.
“For seven generations, my family has called Talladega, Alabama, home,” Winfrey said. “I am the mother of four amazing children, a doctor of psychology, author, founder of the H.Y.P.E. (Healing Young People thru Empowerment) Movement, and … I am running for Congress in Alabama’s 3rd Congressional District! I believe in the future of our beautiful state and nation. It is time for leadership with a new vision which is #FocusedOnAlabama.”
Winfrey has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Wilberforce University and a doctorate of clinical psychology degree from the Wright State University School of Professional Psychology.
Jones: Trump executive orders are “more for show than actual help for the Americans people”
Democratic Alabama Sen. Doug Jones had harsh words for recent executive orders that President Donald Trump signed in lieu of continuing to pursue a bipartisan legislative COVID relief package. Jones said that Trump’s executive orders extending coronavirus relief are “more for show than actual help for the American people.”
“While the President is attempting to give the appearance that he is leading the cavalry coming to the rescue of the American people, these executive orders are anything but that,” Jones said. “The executive order to extend the now-lapsed emergency unemployment assistance will cut benefits by $200 a week or more for Alabamians and asks states, whose budgets have already been burdened by the pandemic, to foot part of the bill. The payroll tax collection moratorium is a way for President Trump to follow through with his promise to defund Medicare and privatize social security by putting the solvency of these programs at risk while still leaving open the possibility that those taxes may need to be paid in a lump sum next year.”
“By signing these executive orders that are more for show than actual help for the American people, President Trump has confirmed that his administration has not acted in good faith and had no intention of reaching bipartisan agreement on legislation that would benefit all Americans,” Jones said. “The Senate, which absolutely should not have recessed without passing a relief package, needs to immediately return to Washington to pass legislation that provides adequate support for the Americans who are suffering as a result of this virus as well as our economy. We need to come to a bipartisan compromise that deals with the full slate of urgent issues facing our country: we need a national strategy for COVID testing and contact tracing, to extend federal eviction moratoriums, to provide much-needed funding for state and local governments, and to ensure schools have the resources they need to reopen safely — among so many other needs.”
Both parties wanted a fifth coronavirus aid package passed before Congress broke for August recess, but negotiations broke down between Democrats and the White House over the size of the aid package.
“It’s completely inexcusable that Mitch McConnell waited over two months after the House of Representatives passed the HEROES Act to begin negotiations on this relief package, knowing full well that many of the programs that Americans have relied on during this crisis would expire at the end of July,” Jones continued. “The failure to negotiate an adequate bipartisan deal speaks to a broader breakdown in leadership in Washington, and I strongly urge my colleagues to put partisanship aside to come together to pass a relief bill as soon as possible. Lives and livelihoods are at stake, and each day we spend arguing over politics is another day that our institution fails the American people.”
Some Democrats have threatened to challenge the president’s executive actions in court. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that Democrats would have a lot of explaining to do if they challenged the White House’s efforts to get enhanced unemployment benefits to Americans.
“We’ve cleared with the Office of Legal Counsel all these actions,” Mnuchin said on “Fox News Sunday.” “If the Democrats want to challenge us in court and hold up unemployment benefits to those hardworking Americans that are out of a job because of COVID, they’re going to have a lot of explaining to do.”
The president’s executive actions would provide $400 in increased federal unemployment benefits, which is down $200 from the $600 enhancement that they were getting.
“We thought $400 was a fair compromise. We offered to continue to pay $600 while we negotiate, and the Democrats turned that down,” Mnuchin said.
The Democratic proposal that passed the House, the HEROES Act, would have added $3.4 trillion to the national debt.
Jones is trailing Republican candidate Tommy Tuberville in the race for U.S. Senate according to a poll released last week.
Brooks: Democratic relief proposals would make Americans more dependent on government
Congressman Mo Brooks, R-Alabama, on Thursday said on social media that Democrats believe that redistributing wealth and expanding government handouts will help them in the 2020 elections.
“Socialist Democrats want as many Americans as possible dependent on the government,” Brooks said. “They perceive that redistributing wealth and expanding government handouts will help Democrats tremendously in the 2020 elections. The more Americans voting for a living rather than working for a living, the better the Socialist Democrats’ election chances.”
Fox Business Channel commentator Stuart Varney shared similar views to Brooks.
“The left doesn’t want you to work for your money, they want you to be dependent on a government handout which they control,” Varney said. “This is economic fantasy land, wealth confiscation, trashes the constitution. Money printing on a massive scale invites inflation. Socialism really is dangerous to your financial health.”
“You can see where the left is headed: tax the rich, print money, make us all dependent on the government,” said Varney. “They want to salvage political power from a government-ordered shutdown.”
In 1980, the entire national debt was just $903 billion. Since then, federal spending, much of it mandatory spending, has ballooned the size of government and the national debt. The debt has now grown to $26.6 trillion.
This year’s budget deficit is nearly triple what the whole debt was back then and Congress is debating another coronavirus aid package that would be paid by deficit spending.
One issue that Congress has been grappling with is how much money should the government give to people impacted by the coronavirus crisis.
Conservatives are concerned that borrowing more money for more and more aid will grow the debt while discouraging people from working.
“A possible consequence of a poorly targeted, expansive government stimulus package?” said Heritage Foundation Research Fellow in Economics, Budget and Entitlements Rachel Greszler. “If you continue excessively high payments, then you end up just trading a global health pandemic for a fiscal crisis.”
“It’s neither fair nor helpful to tantalize unemployed workers with unemployment benefits equal to 150% or 200% of their usual earnings, because long-term unemployment leads to lower incomes and opportunities, as well as a decline in physical and mental health,” Greszler explained. “Policymakers should be focused on helping Americans get safely back to work, including granting new flexibilities to allow workplaces to adjust to the conditions of COVID-19.”
“Humans are hard-wired to be productive,” Greszler concluded. “They will be far better off if policymakers focus on enabling work opportunities—such as removing barriers to working, trading, innovating, and investing—than on incentivizing unemployment.”
Brooks is in his fifth term representing Alabama’s 5th Congressional District. He has no Democratic opponent in the Nov. 3 general election. Brooks previously served in the Alabama House of Representatives, the Madison County Commission and as a prosecutor.
Aderholt pushes for CARES fund flexibility to improve rural broadband
Congressman Robert Aderholt, R-Alabama, on Friday released a statement after leading a bipartisan Congressional letter with Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vermont, to House and Senate leadership urging them to take immediate and necessary actions regarding rural broadband funding from the CARES Act.
“The Coronavirus pandemic has put a spotlight on the unacceptable reality of rural broadband in America,” Aderholt said. “I have been fighting to solve this problem for years, and while we have made lots of progress, there is still a long way to go. To be clear, this issue is far from new, but we are in a time now when access to high speed, reliable broadband is no longer a luxury, but a necessity. For America to thrive we must not leave rural communities behind in a digital divide.”
Aderholt said it is “high time we get rural broadband done.”
“That’s why I am leading a letter to House and Senate leadership urging that CARES Act funds be eligible for permanent rural broadband infrastructure and that Congress provides additional time for the buildout of new infrastructure,” Aderholt said. “Currently, state and local governments can only spend CARES funds on temporary broadband solutions. I believe it’s necessary to invest in permanent broadband solutions so we can meet immediate needs caused by the continued COVID disruption. To me, this is a no brainer, and the bipartisan support for this issue is evident from my colleagues across the aisle who joined me in sending this letter. We all know that rural America deserves solid broadband, and I will continue to fight for this issue until it is done.”
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey joined Aderholt in calling on Congressional leadership to take action.
“Improving access to broadband across Alabama has long been a priority of my Administration, and with the support of the Legislature, we have taken steps forward,” Ivey said. “However, when this pandemic hit and as many Alabamians worked remotely from their homes for both work and school, the need for greater connectivity in Alabama was highlighted even more. I urge Congress to provide flexibility in funding for states to be able to implement a permanent solution for our broadband infrastructure. I thank Congressman Aderholt and the other members of our House delegation for continuing to fight on this important issue.”
Alabama Senate President Pro Tempore Del Marsh, R-Anniston, had advocated for using a large part of the $1.9 billion the state received in CARES Act funding for the expansion of rural broadband, but limitations on how that money can be spent have thwarted much of those efforts.
“I would like to thank Representative Aderholt and the other members of the Alabama delegation for their diligent work on this effort in the House of Representatives,” Marsh said. “Alabama is fortunate to have a representation in Congress that understands that Broadband connectivity in today’s world is no longer a luxury; it is a necessity. I look forward to continuing to work with our delegation as we push for greater broadband accessibility for families across the state.”
Alabama’s schoolchildren return to classes this week, but half the systems are opening with online classes only. Most of the rest are offering an online e-learning option in lieu of attending risky in-person classes and possibly being exposed to the coronavirus.
Many students lack the necessary broadband connection speed in their communities to fully benefit from the online classes. Similarly millions of people are getting their medical help via online doctor’s visits.
President Donald Trump recently passed executive orders greatly expanding telehealth services paid for by Medicare and the VA. Many Alabamians, particularly in rural areas, however, still lack broadband connections to benefit from telehealth services.
Aderholt represents the people of Alabama’s 4th Congressional District. He is seeking his 13th term in the U.S. House of Representatives in November. Aderholt has been a very vocal advocate for federal funds to advance rural broadband.