The state collected more in sales tax from stores, restaurants and online retailers in the first half of this year than in the same period last year, and that bodes well for Alabama’s retail sector, according to the Alabama Retail Association.
Revenue from state sales taxes and the simplified sellers use tax program for online retailers was up nearly 6 percent during the first six months of 2020 compared to the same period last year, according to the Alabama Department of Revenue.
Collections were down in March and April compared to 2019 but increased significantly in May and June. While sales tax collections for June were up 11.32 percent over June of last year — the first such double-digit growth since a 10.99 percent increase in April 2019 — part of the increase is due to some small businesses being allowed to delay remitting sales tax from February, March and April until as late as June 1.
That fudges the numbers somewhat, but the overall takeaway is that Alabamians have continued to spend despite the global health pandemic, albeit in different ways, said ARA spokesperson Nancy King Dennis.
When places like grocery stores and home improvement stores were the only businesses that were open, their sales went up. Consumers continued to buy even though their options were limited, many with help from federal unemployment insurance that created an influx to the local economy, Dennis said.
While some businesses, including large chain stores, have closed due to the pandemic, shops and restaurants that were able to pivot and adapt did better, she said. Businesses that sell on as many channels as possible — in-store and online, including using social media — have been particularly successful.
“Smaller retailers are actually probably doing better than the larger big chain stores because they’re closer to their customers, they know their customer base,” Dennis said. “For the time that stores were closed, they were selling over Facetime, they were doing a lot of social media sales.”
The retail industry employs a quarter of Alabama’s private-sector workers, more than any other industry, according to the ARA. It provides the state with almost $2.5 billion in sales tax each year, which was about 20 percent of state revenue last year.
“When looking at the numbers back in March and April, my thought was we wouldn’t see an increase over the previous year for any months until probably 2021,” she said.
Rick Brown, president of the ARA, urged Alabamians to shop local in order to keep open small businesses that contribute to their communities.
“Alabama’s retailers and restaurants are leading our state’s recovery,” Brown said in a statement. “They continue to put people back to work, pivot to make their businesses safe for their customers and employees and innovate to serve customers however those customers prefer.”
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.