Patriotism is at the top of my mind these days as we prepare for this weekend’s Fourth of July celebrations. I feel a great sense of pride in our nation, even though I often disagree with political leaders at various levels of government.
You can love your country and love many things about your country but still see problems and areas where we can do better as a city, state or nation. And one of the areas where we seem to be struggling here in Alabama is with our unemployment situation.
No one in leadership could have predicted that the coronavirus would hit us the way that it has, and our leaders have struggled to balance the need to keep our people healthy with the need to keep our economy running.
It’s a difficult balance, and while the numbers of new infections of the coronavirus keep going up and keep getting media attention, we are also seeing our unemployment benefits being stretched to the max.
The Alabama Department of Labor is understaffed and overwhelmed by the flood of people filing for unemployment benefits. The Department’s employees are making a heroic effort to make sure that those with legitimate needs are getting the help they need to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table. But even so, the unemployed have to wait for hours just to get a ticket that would allow them to speak with an employee and file a claim for their benefits.
But what’s even more concerning is the fact that the state’s unemployment fund is on track to become financially insolvent by the end of the summer. If that happens, then the state will have no choice but to borrow more money from the federal government.
Of course, everyone’s hope is that this coronavirus will begin to slow down, a vaccine will be invented, and business will be able to return to normal. Most people don’t want to rely on government checks to survive and would much rather get back to work as soon as possible.
But for now, at least, the economy is recovering slowly and our unemployment rate, while improving, is still over 6 percent. And that means that, even with borrowed federal money and the recently announced federal extended benefits program, Alabama is still in trouble and our unemployment funds are still in a dangerous situation.
As bad as the situation is, there is a possible solution that our state leaders can and should be considering, if they can get past their current bickering.
The federal government has already sent funding through the CARES Act to help the state battle the coronavirus. Most of that money should be going to providing healthcare services, such as testing for COVID-19, and personal protection equipment like masks and gloves for healthcare workers and employees in essential industries.
However, there’s no reason why some of that money can’t also go towards our unemployment program to help those who are out of work because of the coronavirus.
If some state leaders think they can use up to $200 million of that money to build a new State House, then why can’t they use that money to keep Alabama families fed and housed for a few more weeks?
As the legislative session came to an end a few weeks ago, lawmakers and the governor went to war with each other over how to spend that money. Instead of fighting over pet projects, they should be putting that money into Alabama’s families to help them survive this crisis.
The Fourth of July is all about patriotism, and there’s nothing more patriotic that solving our unemployment crisis and helping Alabama families get back on their feet.
Craig Ford is the owner of Ford Insurance Agency and the Gadsden Messenger. He represented Gadsden and Etowah County in the Alabama House of Representatives for 18 years.