Medicaid expansion, consumer-friendly lending reforms and creation of a state minimum wage are among the goals on Arise’s 2017 legislative agenda. Nearly 300 Arise members picked the group’s issue priorities at its annual meeting Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016, in Montgomery. The eight goals chosen were:
“We believe in a more just and inclusive society for all Alabamians, and these proposals are a roadmap to get us there,” ACPP executive director Kimble Forrister said. “We’re excited to renew our work for policy changes to help hard-working Alabamians build a better life for their children.”
Nearly 300,000 uninsured adult Alabamians – most of them working adults and college students – would benefit from Medicaid expansion. “Closing the Medicaid coverage gap would keep workers and students healthier and more productive,” Forrister said. “It also would create thousands of new jobs and allow Alabama to save state money on mental health care and other important services.”
Alabama allows payday and title loans to carry annual interest rates of 456 percent and 300 percent, respectively. The movement for consumer-friendly reform has broad support and keeps gaining momentum, Forrister said. The state Senate voted overwhelmingly this year to reduce interest rates on payday loans, and about two dozen cities have placed moratoriums on new high-cost lenders.
As Alabama lawmakers grapple to prevent devastating Medicaid cuts, the time is right to address a related threat to our state: the health coverage gap. Nearly 200,000 Alabama workers we depend on every day – in agriculture, food service, retail, home health and other fields – have no access to regular health care. They have no health insurance because their employers don’t offer it. They earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but too little to qualify for federal tax credits to buy private plans. As a result, they often struggle to work while dealing with health problems that sap their productivity, add stress to their households and get worse without timely care.
Closing the coverage gap would not only save lives and help working families; it would stabilize the budget and boost our economy. This fact sheet by policy director Jim Carnes takes a closer look at how Medicaid expansion would benefit Alabama's health, quality of life and economy.
ACPP executive director Kimble Forrister issued the following statement Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2016, after the Alabama Legislature passed a bill to use BP settlement money to stop deep Medicaid cuts in Alabama:
“We’re relieved that the Legislature pulled Alabama back from the brink of devastating Medicaid cuts that would have hurt more than 1 million people – mostly children, seniors, and people with disabilities. And we’re pleased to see lawmakers take steps to help shore up Medicaid funding for the next two years. Still, the bottom line is that we got yet another temporary solution. Vulnerable Alabamians’ access to health care shouldn’t be left up to stopgaps or one-time money.
“Medicaid is essential to the hospitals and clinics on which we all rely. Putting our state’s health care infrastructure at risk is no way to build a stronger Alabama. Neither is lurching from one crisis to another because of a repeated failure to solve the General Fund’s long-term shortfall.
“Alabama needs sustainable new revenue for General Fund services, and Medicaid expansion should be part of the solution. Closing the coverage gap for working people and college students would keep folks healthier, create thousands of jobs, and save the state millions of dollars on mental health care and other services. Expanding Medicaid would be a victory for Alabama’s economy, budgets and families.”
A state lottery bill died, returned to life and then died again in the Alabama Legislature this week. The House voted 64-35 Thursday night for an amended version of SB 3, sponsored by Sen. Jim McClendon, R-Springville, that included revenue earmarks for Medicaid, education, and rural and community fire departments. That move came after the House reconsidered its initial 61-37 vote on the bill, which fell two votes short of the 63 votes required to pass a constitutional amendment. However, the Senate on Friday voted 23-7 against concurring with the House's changes, killing SB 3 for the session.
The House and Senate both adjourned in short order after that vote. The Legislature will take next week off and return Sept. 6 for the 10th of 12 allowable meeting days during the special session. Lawmakers still have not addressed Medicaid’s $85 million shortfall for next year. A state lottery (an issue on which Arise takes no position for or against) would not have generated revenue in time to avert those cuts.
A measure that could help stop the 2017 Medicaid cuts is still alive. HB 36, sponsored by Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, would use money from Alabama’s BP oil spill settlement to free up $70 million toward Medicaid’s $85 million shortfall. The House passed the bill 91-10 last week. The Senate has debated the bill but has not yet voted on it.
Medicaid provides health coverage for one in five Alabamians, mostly children, seniors, and people with disabilities. Alabama already has cut Medicaid payments to pediatricians and other primary care doctors by 30 percent starting Aug. 1, and even more cuts will follow if lawmakers do not address Medicaid’s funding shortfall.
By Chris Sanders, communications director. Posted Aug. 26, 2016.
On the question of a state lottery, Arise’s member organizations hold widely varying positions, some of them based on strong moral or religious beliefs. Because our bylaws prevent us from taking positions that deeply divide our membership or offend members’ deeply held beliefs, Arise Citizens' Policy Project and Alabama Arise are neutral on the lottery. However, objective analysis reveals several lessons Alabama can learn from other states.
This fact sheet by policy analyst Carol Gundlach examines how lotteries affect revenues for public services, how they affect people living in poverty, and what questions Alabama still would have to answer if it approves a lottery.
2016 legislative update: Lottery bill squeaks through Alabama Senate; BP settlement bill also advances
(The latest: A state lottery bill died, returned to life and then died again in the Alabama Legislature this week. The House voted 64-35 Thursday night for an amended version of SB 3 that included revenue earmarks for Medicaid, education, and rural and community fire departments. That move came after the House reconsidered its initial 61-37 vote on the bill, which fell two votes short of the 63 votes required to pass a constitutional amendment. However, the Senate on Friday voted 23-7 against concurring with the House's changes, killing SB 3 for the session. The Senate has yet to vote on the BP oil spill settlement bill, HB 36. Both the House and Senate have adjourned until Sept. 6. Three meeting days remain in the session.)
By the slimmest of margins, the Alabama Senate on Friday passed a heavily amended version of Gov. Robert Bentley’s state lottery proposal. Senators voted 21-12 for the plan, giving it the 60 percent majority required for proposed constitutional amendments.
SB 3, sponsored by Sen. Jim McClendon, R-Springville, now goes to the House. The Legislature will return Tuesday for its sixth of 12 possible meeting days during the special session.
Passage of SB 3, which its proponents called a “clean lottery bill,” came a day after the Senate failed to pass SB 11, also sponsored by McClendon. SB 11 not only would have created a lottery but also would have expanded gambling at six locations across the state and authorized Bentley to negotiate a compact with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians.
Senators repeatedly amended SB 3 in an effort to make the bill more acceptable to potential opponents. Key changes included earmarking the first $100 million of state lottery proceeds for Medicaid and dedicating 10 percent of proceeds to education. (The bill initially would have directed all lottery revenue to the General Fund, which supports non-education services like health care and public safety.) However, the education provision may have been removed inadvertently during the amendment process, the Montgomery Advertiser reports.
Other amendments that won Senate approval would limit further expansion of gambling, prohibit using state proceeds to advertise the lottery, and bar the lottery commission from hiring lobbyists, legislators or lawmakers’ family.
Bentley estimates the lottery would raise $225 million a year for Alabama. Proceeds from lotteries in states similar in size to Alabama ranged between $128 million and $327 million in 2014. But as more states participate, lottery revenues are declining in many parts of the country. Check out Arise’s fact sheet to learn more about how lotteries affect low-income people and state revenues.
Arise does not take a position for or against a lottery. But it’s important to note that even if a lottery passes the Legislature and wins voter approval, the proceeds would not be available in time to end the current Medicaid funding crisis. The Legislature must find an additional $85 million to address Medicaid’s 2017 shortfall and reverse the 30 percent Medicaid payment cuts to pediatricians and other primary care doctors that began Aug. 1. Medicaid provides health coverage for one in five Alabamians, mostly children, seniors, and people with disabilities.
BP settlement bill in line for Senate vote next week
One measure that could help avert the 2017 Medicaid cuts cleared a Senate committee Friday. HB 36 would issue bonds against BP oil spill settlement funds owed to the state. That revenue would be used to pay off state debts, freeing up $70 million for Medicaid. The House voted 91-10 Wednesday for the bill, sponsored by Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark.
While the Senate committee approved the House version of HB 36, changes likely will be offered on the Senate floor. If the Senate passes a different version, HB 36 would return to the House, which either could agree with the changes or send the bill to a conference committee to negotiate the differences.
By Carol Gundlach, policy analyst. Posted Aug. 19, 2016. Updated Aug. 26, 2016.