To help Alabama workers recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, the state must prioritize the expansion of Medicaid, guaranteed paid sick leave, increased food and housing assistance and improvements to the state’s unemployment insurance system, according to a report released Monday by Alabama Arise, a group that defends low-income residents.
The report, The State of Working Alabama 2021, criticized the Alabama Legislature for acting quickly to pass bills to help employers instead of essential workers and other constituents considered most vulnerable by the virus. These laws include one that protects companies against claims of exposure to coronavirus.
“Lawmakers spent the first two weeks of this session protecting corporate interests,” said Robyn Hyden, Alabama Arise executive director. “They should spend the rest of the session protecting the interests of the people of Alabama.”
The report found that previous political decisions left the state ill-prepared to face the pandemic, including cuts made in 2019 in unemployment benefits and Alabama’s resistance to expanding access to Medicaid. The state’s vulnerability to the crisis was felt most by women and communities of color, the report concluded. He attributed this to the pre-existing inequalities that were neglected or contributed by legislators.
Alabama Arise listed the main recommendations for a stronger workforce recovery:
- Expand Medicaid to ensure that more than 300,000 low-income Alabamians can afford treatment for COVID-19 and other health problems.
- Ensure permanent paid sick leave for all Alabamians who work, so that no one has to choose between receiving a salary or going to work due to illness.
- Reverse 2019 cuts in Alabama’s unemployment insurance benefits and create a modernized claims system capable of handling future crises.
- Provide state support for the Alabama Housing Trust Fund and abandon efforts to impose limits on safety net programs.
- Expand accessible and high-speed broadband technology, targeting low-income and rural communities and explicitly addressing racial equity in access to broadband.
“Alabama’s economic, racial and gender inequalities are preventable and reversible,” said Jim Carnes, Alabama policy director Arise, in a statement. “These disparities are the direct result of poor political choices in the past. By making better choices now and in the future, we can chart a path towards a fairer economy. The power to build a stronger and more inclusive Alabama is in the hands of our legislators – and all of us. ”
The organization will be co-host a webinar to discuss the report’s conclusions on Friday at 12 noon It is open to the public.