May
22
2015

Child Advocates, Healthy Food Advocates and Business Leaders Applaud Alabama Legislature for Passing Healthy Food Financing Act; New Law Helps Bring Healthier Food Options Closer to Home for Alabamians, Reduces State’s Health Care Costs

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

May 21, 2015

Contact:
Apreill Hartsfield
334-301-4191
ahartsfield@alavoices.org

MONTGOMERY – The Alabama Legislature passed Senate Bill (SB) 260 today to create the Healthy Food Financing Act of Alabama.

The bill had strong bi-partisan support, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed (R – Jasper) and carried in the House by State Rep. James E. Buskey (D – Mobile). It will establish a statewide revolving loan fund program that will provide incentives to grocers and other fresh food retailers encouraging them to develop, renovate or expand in communities with limited access to fresh, healthy food. Such robust efforts to reduce obesity in the state, including addressing the issue of food access.

“Alabama is now on a path to improving the health of our fellow residents and our economy thanks to the Healthy Food Financing Act,” said State Sen. Reed. “We have seized a tremendous opportunity to expand fresh, healthy food for people in every county in Alabama and to help grocery stores and other healthy food retailers to expand their business and create local jobs. This has been an important issue to me and I am proud of what we have done.”

“Every family should be able to access fresh, healthy food options in their community,” said State Rep. Buskey. “In some parts of Mobile and other communities across our state, this is more of a dream than a reality. I am pleased that the Healthy Food Financing Act will help make this a reality for more of Alabama’s children and families.”

According to a report, Food for Every Child: The Need for Healthy Food Financing in Alabama, commissioned by VOICES for Alabama’s Children and conducted by a national food access organization, The Food Trust, every county in the state of Alabama has at least one neighborhood with limited access to grocers and other fresh food retailers. The report showed over 1.8 million Alabamians, including nearly half a million Alabama children are impacted.

“We applaud and thank Alabama lawmakers for helping bring fresh, healthy food options closer to home for nearly half a million children” said VOICES for Alabama’s Children executive director, Melanie R. Bridgeforth, MSW. “The Healthy Food Financing Act is a win for Alabama children and it will help reverse startling health trends, create new jobs and boost local economies across the state. We are overjoyed that lawmakers recognize the health and economic benefits this policy will bring to our state.”

The lack of access to healthy food has serious consequences to the overall health and life expectancy of residents living in underserved communities. Consequences include severe and costly obesity-related illnesses such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Alabama has the highest rate of diabetes in adults and the third-highest rate of obesity in children. The state spends billions of dollars each year treating diet-related diseases. Reversing this epidemic could position the state to save over $3 billion in obesity-related health care costs by 2020.

The revolving loan fund will be administered by the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs.

“This proven program has the potential to not only improve the health of Alabama’s children and adults, but also to improve the health of local economies, said ADECA Director Jim Byard, Jr. “In Pennsylvania, 88 fresh food retail projects were funded resulting in 5,000 new or retained jobs. Alabama can experience similar results and this authorizing legislation is a big first step toward that goal.”

In May 2013, VOICES for Alabama’s Children, the American Heart Association launched a campaign in Alabama to raise awareness about the growing concern of childhood obesity and its relationship to food access and to urge decision makers to prioritize implementing a statewide healthy food financing initiative – one solution to address the issue. More information about healthy food access in Alabama can be viewed here.

“Passage of the Healthy Food Financing Act positions Alabama to be a leader in the south by tackling obesity-related health diseases with a proactive and proven policy solution,” said American Heart Association volunteer and registered nutritionist, Mim Gaines. “Alabama has the third highest childhood obesity rate in the country and we applaud the state’s lawmakers for recognizing the importance of providing children and families with healthier food options right in their own communities and for their leadership in taking steps to make this become a reality.”

Healthy food financing initiatives also provide economic and financial resources to help spur grocery store development in communities with limited access to healthy food.

“Alabama grocers across this state are thrilled that this bill will soon make it possible for them to expand in areas where they are needed the most,” said Ellie Taylor, Alabama Grocers Association president. “Grocery stores play a vital role in Alabama communities and want to be part of the solution, but startup costs for a new or expanding an existing store can be daunting to retailers who must be able to sustain their business. The Healthy Food Financing Act will provide a small economic boost that will offset these costs and will also encourage additional economic activity by generating food traffic and attracting complementary services and stores such as banks, pharmacies and restaurants.”

Opening and expanding grocery stores and other retailers that provide fresh, healthy foods in communities with low access can increase the number of venues for farmers to sell local products. In addition, farmers markets and other healthy food retailers of local food are also eligible for funding through healthy food financing.

“Farmers are committed to growing healthy, nutritious food for Alabama families,” said Alabama Farmers Federation director, state legislative programs-Senate, Matthew Durdin. “Agriculture is Alabama’s number one industry, generating $70.4 billion in economic impact and providing almost 600,000 jobs. Unfortunately, some Alabamians don’t have access to that bounty. We are pleased to support this effort to increase the availability of fresh, healthy food in Alabama communities.”

A copy of the final bill can be viewed . It is currently awaiting Governor Robert Bentley’s signature.

###

VOICES for Alabama’s Children is a statewide nonprofit that works to ensure the well-being of Alabama’s children through research, public awareness, and advocacy. For more information, see www.alavoices.org.

May
19
2015

Statement From House Minority Leader Craig Ford On The House Passing A General Fund Budget

For Immediate Release: May 19, 2015

“The budget the House passed today is going to hurt a lot of people if the Senate doesn’t make some major changes. The sad part is that all of these cuts, and all the pain that will come with them, could have been avoided. We’ve known for three years that this day was coming. But in all that time, the leadership couldn’t come up with a viable solution to the budget crisis. Now it’s up to the Senators to come up with a better solution. And for the people of Alabama’s sake I hope that they do.”

Rep. Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden and the Minority Leader in the House of Representatives.

###

May
18
2015

Who’s Leading The Alabama House of Representatives?

Every organization needs leaders. An Army needs a general. A team needs a coach. A company needs a president or CEO.

The Alabama House of Representatives also needs leadership, especially when we are facing a crisis like the one we are facing now. But over the last few weeks, it has become obvious that the wheels are coming off the bus in the state legislature, and no one really knows who’s leading anymore.

The one thing everyone agrees on is that Alabama is facing a budget crisis. But there hasn’t been much agreement beyond that.

I have to commend Gov. Bentley for stepping forward and starting the legislative session with a plan to address the problem. Do I agree with everything in the governor’s plan? No. But I have a great deal of respect for him because he has the courage to lead and offer his plan knowing that there would be political backlash.

The point of the governor’s plan was to start the conversation. But to have a conversation you have to have someone who will talk with you. And to put it bluntly, the leadership in the House of Representatives doesn’t want to work with the governor to solve the crisis. Instead, the leadership is more interested in getting a chance to override one of the governor’s vetoes. And I suspect that has a lot to do with why the leadership is now trying to push through this terrible budget that the governor has already said he will veto.

In fact, the proposed General Fund budget is the perfect example of how our leadership in the House has fallen apart.

The leadership first refused to work with the governor. Then the leadership refused to work with Republicans in the Senate after they offered their plan. Instead, the House leadership proposed a tax package that included some of the largest tax increases in state history!

The House Republican tax package was so bad the leadership couldn’t even convince a majority of House Republicans to support it. And I don’t blame them. Anyone who voted for those tax increases may as well go ahead and announce their retirement from elected office because I doubt they will get elected again.

So now the leadership is trying to force through this budget that has these cuts that will devastate Alabama.

Why?

Is it the arrogance of wanting to prove a point to Republican legislators who wouldn’t support their tax package by making them vote on a budget that may as well be a death certificate for some people in Alabama?

Or maybe it’s extreme egotism that wants to veto the governor in an attempt to display power?

Whatever the real reason, the fact that legislators are about to vote on this budget without any solutions to the crisis shows that the leadership in the state House of Representatives is no longer able to lead it’s own Party, let alone the state.

The House leadership would apparently rather take it’s political frustrations out on the taxpayers than work with the governor and Senate leadership to develop a plan that solves the crisis and protects the taxpayers.

These budget cuts will cause people to lose their healthcare; thousands of elderly people will lose access to healthy meals because of the cuts to Meals on Wheels; mothers across the state will be impacted when DHR can’t process child support payments anymore; state law enforcement will essentially exist in name only; and these examples are only scratching the surface of what our state will face if this budget becomes law.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I know that I will not vote for this budget. You’d be crazy to vote for it! The fact that legislators have to vote on it at all is proof that the House leadership is no longer able to lead. And that begs the question, who’s really leading the Alabama House of Representatives? Or maybe the better question is: who is ready to step up and lead?

###

Rep. Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden and the Minority Leader in the Alabama House of Representatives.

May
12
2015

Republicans Are Trading In That “Jobs, Jobs, Jobs” Slogan For “Taxes, Taxes, Taxes”

After five years of passing millions of dollars in tax cuts for big businesses and billion-dollar, out-of-state corporations that, in some cases, pay zero state income taxes, Republicans in the state House of Representatives are about to raise taxes on working men and women.

Only six months after campaigning on a pledge to create more jobs and never raise taxes, House Republicans have traded in that “jobs, jobs, jobs” campaign slogan for “taxes, taxes, taxes.”

Not since former President George H.W. Bush said, “Read my lips: no new taxes” have Republicans so blatantly broken their campaign promises and fully endorsed a tax package that raises taxes on Alabama families!

Had Republicans passed a lottery bill last year, they wouldn’t be raising your taxes this year. And make no mistake about it: these tax bills will mean less money in your pocket.

The worst of these taxes is the proposed tax increase on lube oil. Lube oil is used in everything from manufacturing and farm equipment to the motor oil you put in your car. What this bill does is change the tax on lube oil from an excise tax to a sales tax. That means that, in addition to the state sales tax, local county and municipal sales taxes will also kick in.

In hard numbers, this means the tax on a 55-gallon barrel of lube oil will go from $3.30 per barrel to as much as $200 a barrel. That is a 5,960 percent tax increase! And this tax will be passed on to you, the consumer.

So when you go to buy fruits and vegetables for your family and the price has gone up because farmers had to raise their prices, it will be because of the Republican tax package.

When you go to change the oil in your car and the price has gone up, it will be because of the Republican tax package.

When you buy a car and you have to pay a higher fee for your car title, it will be because of the Republican tax package.

When manufacturers (the only sector of Alabama’s economy that has grown and the reason why our unemployment rate hasn’t gone up over the last five years) have to lay people off or put on hold their plans to expand and create new jobs because their costs have gone up, you know it will be because of the Republican tax package.

Forget about bringing new industry and manufacturing business to Alabama! Anyone thinking of coming here is going to look at this and think to themselves, “Sure, they promise you all these tax incentives to come there, but then once you get there the legislature will raise taxes on the infrastructure you need to do business.”

So much for all that rhetoric about being a “business friendly” state.

But what makes all these tax increases so much worse is that Republicans campaigned on pledges not to raise taxes, knowing the whole time that they were going to raise taxes.

This crisis is not new. Legislators have known since 2012 that this day was coming. That’s when Republicans chose to borrow $437 million from the state’s savings account over three years to avoid a government shutdown. But now that money has run out, and it still took Republican leaders until almost two-thirds of this legislative session was over to finally release their plan – and that plan is to raise taxes!

Shame on Republicans for promising not to raise taxes when they knew all along that raising taxes is exactly what they were going to do!

My dad raised me to believe that a man’s word is his bond, and you don’t make a commitment that you know you can’t keep. Now, Republicans are preparing to violate those values and their own pledge not to raise taxes.

This tax package shows that Republicans are not ready to lead our state. Across Alabama, people are working harder but making less, and they don’t deserve to have their taxes raised. There are better options out there than more taxes on working people. And the only thing worse than raising taxes is lying about raising taxes.

Six months ago, Republicans won the election on a platform of creating jobs and no new taxes. This week, Republicans are trading in that “jobs, jobs, jobs” slogan for “taxes, taxes, taxes.”

###

Rep. Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden and the Minority Leader in the Alabama House of Representatives.