There are many steps that can be taken to bridge the gap between haves and have-nots in the State of Alabama:
1. A giant step forward in narrowing the gap between the haves and the have-nots remains totally in the hands of ordinary citizens, provided they simply fill out the census form by October 31, 2020. This form can be filled out online by writing 2020census.gov or by calling this number: (1- 844-330-2020) and asking the form to be sent to you, or using that number and filling out the census form with a representative. It took me less than 10 minutes to do the census form online and I’m not a tech person. In fact, my grandson, Michael Penaskovic, age 14, knows more about the Internet than I ever will.
On Aug. 20, 2018, Gov. Kay Ivey set up a committee called “Alabama Counts,” under Kenneth Boswell as chair. The purpose of Alabama Counts is simple: to ensure Alabamians fill out the 2020 Census form. Why so? Alabama stands to receive back from the feds $15 billion dollars or $1,600 dollars for every citizen who fills out the 2020 Census. Sad to say, but so far only about 54.8 percent of the citizens in Auburn have filled out the census. Yet 59.4 percent of citizens statewide have completed the census. If our numbers do not increase, we may not only forfeit billions of dollars from the feds, but we may also lose a seat in Congress, to boot!
2. Gov. Ivey and the state legislators need to do what’s in the best interest of the citizens of Alabama, particularly the poor. Hence, Alabama needs to expand Medicaid immediately. The Affordable Care Act required states to expand Medicaid but Gov. Ivey refuses to do so, nor is there any appetite for the Alabama Legislature to do so. This is penny-wise and dollar foolish. Why so? Medicaid ensures coverage for 340,000 Alabamians including: uninsured veterans, adult college students, folks who have disabilities, older family members at home, adults caring for children, workers between jobs, and workers with low-paying jobs who can’t afford private insurance. (See Alabama Arise at alarise.org).
3. Alabama is one of three states that tax groceries. There must be an immediate elimination of the state grocery tax, not one over several years. How should we pay for this lost revenue? We can eliminate the state income tax deduction for federal income taxes or FIT. This FIT deduction may be called a skewed tax loophole that helps rich households overwhelmingly, while putting a severe burden on the poor. By totally eliminating the FIT deduction, we would have more than $400 million annually to fund the public-school system.
If this sounds too difficult to do, then we could end the grocery tax in Alabama and put a cap on the FIT deduction. In so doing, the grocery tax would be eliminated but there would not be any additional dollars for our underfunded public schools, according to Alabama Arise.
4. Why can’t Alabama raise the minimum wage to $12.00 an hour? Workers can’t survive when making only $7.25 an hour. I’ve heard stories of senior citizens eating cat food to survive in some parts of Alabama. I don’t understand how workers decide whether to use their meager pay check to pay for prescription drugs or for nutritious food. Anxiety and stress skyrocket when one has to wonder where one’s next meal is coming. The cost of living has gone up for food as a result of Covid-19, yet workers' wages have remained stagnant. Yet this is supposedly the richest nation on earth.
It must be hell on earth for the poor who go hungry to bed each night. Those legislators who call themselves Christians must ask themselves this question (WWJD) or What Would Jesus do?
Richard Penaskovic is an Emeritus Professor at Auburn University. His writings have appeared in the Birmingham News, Columbus- Ledger Enquirer, Montgomery Advertiser and online by Informed Comment and Politurco.