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Advocacy groups say new relief bill ‘falls short’

Following the Monday unveiling of a new COVID-19 relief bill by Republicans in the U.S. Senate, a host of Alabama advocacy groups are criticizing the legislation as insufficient to meet the needs of Alabamians.

Among the provisions in the Republicans’ $1 trillion legislation, known as the Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection and Schools (HEALS) Act, is another round of $1,200 stimulus checks for adults making less than $75,000 a year, as well as a reduction in federal unemployment benefits from $600 to $200 per week, $100 billion in funding for education, about $190 billion in renewed funding for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), five years of liability protection from pandemic-related lawsuits for businesses, schools and healthcare companies, additional funding for coronavirus testing and more.

Alabama Arise, a statewide nonprofit that advocates on behalf of low-income Alabamians, said in a press release that  the legislation “fall shorts of meeting Alabamians’ needs” as the pandemic continues to rage.

“Millions of Alabamians are being pushed to the brink during the COVID-19 crisis,” said Alabama Arise Executive Director Robyn Hyden. “They’re struggling with difficult tradeoffs between protecting their own health, paying for basic necessities and caring for children and seniors. Nearly one in four renters in Alabama are behind on rent. And one in five adults with children in our state say their kids sometimes don’t have enough to eat because the household just can’t afford enough food.”

With all of that in mind, Hyden said the Senate Republicans’ plan “fails to meet the demands of the moment.”

“This plan would slash supplemental unemployment insurance benefits amid the highest unemployment since the Great Depression,” Hyden continued. “It wouldn’t increase housing assistance to prevent families from being evicted and becoming homeless. It wouldn’t increase [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program] SNAP benefits to address the critical hunger concerns facing families of schoolchildren. And it wouldn’t provide Alabama and other states with the money needed to invest in child care, avoid teacher layoffs and prevent cuts in Medicaid and other vital services as budget shortfalls grow.”

For her part, Hyden urged Senators to take up the House-passed relief bill, which would boost Medicaid funding, provide additional support for workers and provide federal assistance to states to avoid “devastating service cuts that would hurt tens of millions of people.”

According to the Alabama Arise, a sufficient relief bill would include the following provisions:

• Increase SNAP benefits and housing assistance;

• Preserve the weekly $600 federal increase to unemployment insurance benefits;

• Provide additional federal funding for states to avert layoffs and invest in vital services, like Medicaid and child care;

• Remove administrative barriers to alternative school meal distribution procedures for districts that are holding classes online;

• Allocate federal funding to help election officials process more absentee ballots and maintain proper social distancing at polling places;

• Make the Child Tax Credit temporarily available to children in families with the lowest incomes and expand the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for low-paid workers who are not raising children in their homes.

Likewise, Cover Alabama, an alliance of 90 advocacy groups, businesses, community organizations and more advocating for affordable health coverage, said the Republican proposal “won’t help Alabama meet [its] growing need for health coverage.”

“Alabamians’ need for Medicaid coverage has surged during the coronavirus pandemic as unemployment skyrockets and the economy declines,” said Cover Alabama Campaign Director Jane Adams. “The Senate Republican proposal ignores this growing need, despite bipartisan calls for additional federal Medicaid funding for states. The failure to invest in Medicaid is particularly disastrous for people of color, who are more likely to lose coverage or to already lack coverage and to have a preexisting condition that requires ongoing care well beyond testing and COVID-19 treatment.”