Federation files motion on behalf of Black Farmers, to intervene in Texas lawsuit, which blocks $4 billion debt relief in Section 1005 of the American Rescue Plan

East Point, GA — After decades of longstanding racism in the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) loan programs, Black farmers stand to lose their farms, land and livelihoods after a temporary injunction halted an estimated $4 billion in debt relief passed by Congress as part of the American Rescue Act. Today the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Public Counsel, and pro bono counsel Winston & Strawn LLP, filed an intervention motion on behalf of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund (the Federation). The motion was filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas in Miller v. Vilsack.

Section 1005 of the American Rescue Plan, signed into law on March 11, 2021, was designed to provide debt relief to Black farmers, and other farmers of color, who have long suffered at the hands of the USDA’s harmful discrimination. The USDA’s long-documented and acknowledged racist policies of denying and delaying loans prevented Black farmers from operating successful farm businesses, forcing foreclosures and continuing the shameful legacy of Black land loss in the United States.

In Miller v. Vilsack, five white Texas farmers filed a lawsuit against the USDA alleging that loan forgiveness payments violate the U.S. Constitution. This case is one of many ongoing lawsuits involving Section 1005 in other jurisdictions, including Florida, where a federal court issued a preliminary injunction against the program. Plaintiffs specifically argued that Section 1005 of the American Rescue Plan of 2021 (“ARPA”) violates the equal protection rights promised under the Constitution for farmers and ranchers who stand eligible for USDA loans but do not qualify for debt relief under the program. 

“The USDA has a documented history of discriminating against Black people and communities of color. The federal government’s attempt to rectify this injustice should be applauded, not stopped,” said Damon Hewitt, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “If this critical assistance is not provided soon, Black farmers and other farmers of color who have struggled to overcome decades of discrimination and the economic impacts of the global pandemic will face the threat of losing their land and their livelihoods.”

Farmer declarations included in the intervention cite multiple instances of discrimination, including:

Misplaced loan paperwork and approval delays of more than two years;
Inability to sell equipment to repay loans due to vandalism at the auction house in the form of racist graffiti on the tractors up for bid;
Loan paperwork being filed on time but funds chronically arriving too late for planting season;
Inaccurate advice about whether FSA loans could be restructured; and
Receiving loan funds weeks later in the season than white farmers in the same area, providing them with an unfair advantage in planting and harvesting a profitable crop.

Encountering years of unfair loan terms, mistreatment by the USDA, and discrimination at every turn, Black farmers are now currently less than 1% of all farmers in the country. This has not always been the case. In 1920, one out of every seven farms were owned by a Black farmer, but the number of Black farmers in America has dropped significantly — plummeting by 98% over the past century.   

“The Federation was encouraged by USDA’s and Congress’s attempt to address the disproportionate impact of the debt burden that farmers of color face because of historic and on-going race-based discrimination in agricultural credit,” said Cornelius Blanding, Executive Director of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund. “Black farmers have always honored their commitments to their communities and our nation; our hope is that the Department will be allowed to honor its commitment to our farmers and other farmers of color.”
 
A temporary injunction against the program stands in the way of critical debt relief for those who need it the most. Without debt relief, these farmers face losing their land, livelihoods and equipment, while also bearing the additional financial burden of the farming costs they’ve taken on in anticipation of debt forgiveness. Today’s intervention positions The Federation to vigorously defend Section 1005 and ensure that the narratives of Black farmers are heard as this debt relief is critical to their survival.

For more information on this lawsuit intervention, or to discuss other issues with discrimination and land loss, contact Attorney Dania Davy at the Federation office at: daniadavy@federation.coop or call 404-765-0991.

 

 

Greene County Commission approves $10 million budget; approves $150,000 for purchase of new ambulance

At its regular October meeting on Tuesday afternoon, the Greene County Commission approved a $10 million dollar operating budget for the fiscal year beginning October 1, 2021 through September 30, 2022.

This budget includes $3.4 million dollar General Fund, which covers most expenses of the county. It also includes a $2.5 million Gasoline Fund and other special funds which support the Highway Department and maintenance of roads and bridges in the county. It also includes funds to satisfy bond issues for the courthouse and jail construction.

The Commission also approved a supplementary budget for additional positions in the Sheriff’s Department including School Resource Officers and additional deputies and jail positions. This budget also includes payment of a vehicle lease for new cars and vans.

Agreements have been worked out between the Commission and the Board of Education for the payment for the resource officers. A separate agreement has been worked out with Sheriff Jonathan Benison for payment
of the other additional personnel and an addition $75,000 a month ($900,000) a year for the Commission in funding from electronic bingo, for the general use of the county and to help with new capital expenditures or matching Federal funds for special projects.

Under these agreements, the Board of Education and Sheriff’s Department must advance three months payment for staffing and the Sheriff must provide the $75,000 payment by the fifth of the month. The Sheriff provided a check for $163,000, which included the $88,000 advance and $75,000 for the month of September, however, the Sheriff still owes the $75,000 for October.

Commissioners Lester Brown and Tennyson Smith pointed out that the Sheriff also has not returned vehicles he promised to return to the county, after the Commission agreed to lease new ones. Brown also said the Sheriff receives funds from the jail telephone and commissary which he does not report or give to the county General Fund. The Commission agreed to write the Sheriff to return the cars by Friday Noon and pay the $75,000 in bingo funds for October.

The County Attorney pointed out that if the Sheriff or the Board of Education does not honor its payments under the agreements that the County Commission will not be obligated to pay the supplementary staff on these budgets.

Macaroy Underwood, County CFO reported that $381,781 in bills had been paid for September and an additional $76,012 in electronic payments had been made. He also asked the Commission to approve two budget amendments for payments made to staff for extra service during the pandemic.

The Commission approved an allocation of $150,000 for a new ambulance for the Greene County EMS, from the county’s $787,0000 allocation from the American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds. This will be a truck mounted ambulance that can be used for wrecks on the Interstate and other tasks in rural areas of the county. The Commission had previously approved $90,000 in ARP funds for an ambulance but this will only support a van type ambulance, which is not suitable for all tasks. The new ambulance will not be available until July 2022, but the Greene County EMS may be able to get a loaner model until the new ambulance is delivered.

In other actions, The Greene County Commission:

• Approved a resolution for Workmen’s Compensation for employees.

• Approved a Weather Preparedness Sales Tax Holiday for February 25-27, 2022.

• Approved advertising for a full-time worker for the Solid Waste Department.

• Approved continuation of the CIMS contract, for computer maintenance; and purchased an ice machine for the Highway Department.

• Approved an incentive payment of $3,000 for full time employees and $1,500 for part time employees of the county, for pandemic service, to be paid out of ARP funds.

COVID-19

As of October 12, 2021 at 10:00 AM
(according to Alabama Political Reporter)

Alabama had 809,485 confirmed cases of coronavirus,
(8,057) more than last week with 14,869 deaths (398) more
than last week)

Greene County had 1,241 confirmed cases, (10 more cases than last week), with 44 deaths

Sumter Co. had 1,298 cases with 38 deaths

Hale Co. had 2,964 cases with 86 deaths

Note: Greene County Physicians Clinic has testing and vaccination for COVID-19; Call for appointments at 205/372-3388, Ext. 142; ages 18 and up.

 

Newswire: African winner of Nobel Book Prize ignites debate in Zanzibar

Abdulrazak Gurnah
Oct. 11, 2021 (GIN) – Out of 118 Nobel Prize laureates between 1901 and 2021, only six have gone to African writers with only two to Black Africans.
 So there was a measure of celebration, excitement and pride when this year’s prize was awarded to Zanzibar-born writer Abdulrazak Gurnah.  
 “The prize is an honor to you, our Tanzanian nation and Africa in general,” Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan tweeted. Zanzibar leader Hussein Ali Mwinyi said, “We fondly recognize your writings that are centered on discourses related to colonialism. Such landmarks bring honor not only to us but to all humankind.”
 The Swedish Academy was also generous with praise, calling the book an “uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effects of colonialism and the fate of the refugee in the gulf between cultures and continents.”
 Based in Britain and writing in English, Gurnah’s 10 novels include “Paradise”, set in colonial East Africa during World War I and short-listed for the Booker Prize for Fiction, and “Desertion.” Though Swahili was his first language, English became Gurnah’s literary tool when he began writing at the age of 21.
 “I dedicate this Nobel Prize to Africa and Africans and to all my readers,” the 72 year old Gurnah tweeted after the announcement.
 But the award has ignited a vigorous debate in the author’s birthplace, with long and passionate discussions about belonging and identity, observes Sammy Awami in the online edition of Aljazeera . The relationship between Zanzibar and the mainland (Tanzania) has not always been rosy – even though Zanzibar is semi-autonomous, with its own president and parliament, he says.
 The contentious union of Zanzibar and Tanganyika in April 1964 was driven by U.S. and UK fears of a Zanzibari Cuba in Africa. 
 Gurnah left Zanzibar as a refugee for the United Kingdom in late 1967, three years after a revolution which sought to end the political dominance of the minority Arab population over the African majority. The following months and years were dominated by deep division, tensions and vengeance.
 Writes social scientist Aikande Kwayu: “The debate about the “Tanzanian” identity of Abdulrazak Gurnah should be an awakening call and a trigger to our government to think of the following: (i) Justice; (ii) Dual Citizenship; (iii) Union matters; (iv) quality education and teaching – how do we do in writing & literature?” 
 Till today, the cosmopolitan island remains divided over issues of identity and its political union with Tanzania.
Meanwhile, Ida Hadjivayanis, lecturer of Swahili studies in London and a Zanzibari native, is currently translating his 1994 novel Paradise into Swahili. Pointing out that many in Tanzania are yet to read this writer’s books, she called on the government to include his works in the school curriculum.
 

 

Newswire : Stolen Bruce’s Beach property returned to Black family 

California Governor Newsome signs bill returning land to Bruce family

Betti Halsell, Contributing Writer, Los Angeles Sentinel Newspaper

The story behind Bruce’s Beach tells a narrative of Black ownership in America. The original property owners of the resort, Charles and Willa Bruce, had their land seized by the City of Manhattan Beach. The local government managed the rights to the land for almost 100 years.
However, on Thursday, September 30, the authority of Bruce’s Beach has been given back to the descendants of the original landowners.
The waves from the Pacific Ocean crashed onto the sandy shores owned by Willa and Charles Bruce. In 1912, as the first Black landowners in Manhattan Beach, the Bruce’s became a family that owned multiple beach plots.
According to documents and records, through corrupt means, the City of Manhattan took ownership of their property, representing the racial imbalance of that time. Looking through a lens of equality today, public officials of Los Angeles County decided to revisit the possibility of returning power of the beachfront back to the descendants of the Bruce family.

Located on 2600 Highland Avenue in Manhattan Beach, California, Bruce’s Beach served as an oasis-like resort for people of color looking to enjoy the scenic coast during times of segregation. Noted previously, Willa and Charles Bruce purchased this piece of paradise for $1,225 ($33,034) and followed suit in buying more land after that.

Other families of color bought beach estates alongside them, forming a Black community of coastal property owners developed during the Jim Crow era. There was a shared notion that only certain races should be allowed selected properties; this agenda was carried out through policies to seize privately- owned land for the betterment of the community.

The distaste in Black-ownership was not hidden; racially charged vandalism and sabotage were found routinely at Bruces’ Beach and similar places. During the Jim Crow era, Manhattan Beach City officials obtained the rights to Bruce’s beach, and other Black-owned coastal plots, through an ordinance known as eminent domain.

Through the eminent domain procedure, certain members of the Manhattan community empowered City officials to acquire privately-owned properties and reinvent the lots for public use. The urgent takeover of the Bruce’s land was to fill the need for a public park.
The Bruce family fought for years in litigation; they asked for $120,000 ($3,203,044) for loss of property and damages. After a strenuous battle, the Bruces received $14,000, which is $300,000 in present-day, and the other families received far less than that.
On April 8, Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn announced steps towards returning the waterfront landscape known as Bruce’s Beach back to the decedents of Charles and Willa Bruce.
On the day of the announcement, Janice Hahn stated, “The property that was once Bruce’s, is now owned by the County and I want L.A. County to be part of righting this wrong.” She continued, “I am looking at everything from repurposing the property in a way that tells the history of Bruce’s Beach to actually giving the property back to the descendants of Charles and Willa Bruce.”

California State Governor Gavin Newsom announced through a press release, “Moving to Right Historical Wrong.” He signed legislation to return Bruce’s Beach back to descendants of the original owners.

According to the information released by the California state governor’s office, the directive, SB-796, allows Los Angeles County Supervisors to transfer the land immediately to the Bruce family. Soaking up the historical moment at Bruce’s Beach, Newsom was joined by Senator Steven Bradford, Bruce’s family members, and other civic public servants.
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors sponsored the urgent measure and authorized the county to immediately begin the process of transferring sources of ownership from Manhattan Beach back over to the Bruce family.
“As we move to remedy this nearly century-old injustice, California takes another step furthering our commitment to making the California Dream a reality for communities that were shamefully shut out by a history of racist exclusion,” said Governor Newsom. “We know our work is just beginning to make amends for our past, and California will not shy from confronting the structural racism and bias that people of color face to this day. I thank the Bruce family, Senator Bradford, the Los Angeles County Supervisors and all those who fought to keep the legacy of this place alive and deliver this long-overdue justice.”

“SB-796 shows us that it is never too late to address the injustices of the past,” said Senator Bradford, a steadfast supporter of the Bruce family and who initially introduced the bill in April with other prominent local leaders. “If you can inherit generational wealth in this country, then you can inherit generational debt too. The City of Manhattan Beach, County of Los Angeles, and the State of California owe a debt to the Bruce family.”
He continued, “This bill passed the Legislature unanimously and with overwhelming community support, making it clear that our state is committed to tackling systemic racism head-on. As a member of the California Reparations Task Force, this is an example of what real reparations can look like. I applaud Governor Newsom for helping us pay a century’s-old debt by allowing Los Angeles County to move forward and return Bruce’s Beach to its rightful owners— the Bruce family.”
Supervisor Hahn released the news through her office by clarifying the power of the legislation by stating, “The legislation does not transfer the land. Instead, it removes restrictions on the land and gives LA County the authority to transfer the property.”
Hahn was joined by Kavon Ward, the Bruce family member who founded Justice for Bruce’s Beach, Senator Bradford, former Manhattan Beach Mayor Mitch Ward, Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi, and current Manhattan Beach Mayor Hildy Stern.
“This is a milestone for us, and I want to thank, not only Governor Newsom for signing this bill into law, but Senator Bradford for his leadership and the entire state Legislature for their unanimous support,” said LA County Supervisor Janice Hahn. “The work is far from done. Now that LA County officially has the authority to transfer this property, my goal over the next several months will be to transfer this property in a way that not only works for the Bruce family but is a model that other local governments can follow. Returning Bruce’s Beach can and should set a precedent for this nation and I know that all eyes will be on Los Angeles County as this work gets underway,” Hahn stated.​

Newswire : Biden is first President to mark Indigenous Peoples’ Day

Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, which President Biden restored to full size after Trump’s cuts

By: Associated Press


President Joe Biden on Friday issued the first-ever presidential proclamation of Indigenous Peoples’ Day, lending the most significant boost yet to efforts to refocus the federal holiday celebrating Christopher Columbus toward an appreciation of Native peoples.
The day will be observed Oct. 11, along with Columbus Day, which is established by Congress. While Native Americans have campaigned for years for local and national days in recognition of the country’s indigenous peoples, Biden’s announcement appeared to catch many by surprise.
“This was completely unexpected. Even though we’ve been talking about it and wanting it for so long,” said Hillary Kempenich, an artist and member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa. In 2019, she and other tribal members successfully campaigned for her town of Grand Forks, N.D., to replace Columbus Day with a day recognizing Native peoples.
“I’m kind of overwhelmed with joy,” said Kempenich. She was waiting Friday afternoon for her eighth-grade daughter, who grew up challenging teachers’ depictions of Columbus, to come home from school so Kempenich could share the news.
“For generations, Federal policies systematically sought to assimilate and displace Native people and eradicate Native cultures,” Biden wrote in the Indigenous Peoples’ Day proclamation. “Today, we recognize Indigenous peoples’ resilience and strength as well as the immeasurable positive impact that they have made on every aspect of American society.”
In a separate proclamation on Columbus Day, Biden praised the role of Italian Americans in U.S. society, but also referenced the violence and harm Columbus and other explorers of the age brought about on the Americas.
Making landfall in what is now the Bahamas on Oct. 12, 1492, Columbus, an Italian, was the first of a wave of European explorers who decimated Native populations in the Americas in quests for gold and other wealth, including people to enslave.
“Today, we also acknowledge the painful history of wrongs and atrocities that many European explorers inflicted on Tribal Nations and Indigenous communities,” Biden wrote. “It is a measure of our greatness as a Nation that we do not seek to bury these shameful episodes of our past — that we face them honestly, we bring them to the light, and we do all we can to address them.”
It’s a break from President Donald Trump’s ardent defense of “intrepid heroes” like Columbus in his 2020 proclamation of the holiday.
“Sadly, in recent years, radical activists have sought to undermine Christopher Columbus’ legacy,” Trump said at the time. “These extremists seek to replace discussion of his vast contributions with talk of failings, his discoveries with atrocities, and his achievements with transgressions.”
Biden made the announcement on the same day the White House was disclosing its plans to restore territory to two sprawling national monuments in Utah that Trump had stripped of protections. One, Bears Ears, is on land that Native American tribes consider sacred.
Biden’s campaign against Trump saw tribal activists mobilize to get out votes for the Democrat, in activism that tribal members credited with helping Biden win some Western states.

Newswire : Bubba Wallace wins NASCAR race at Talladega, first Black driver to win in sixty years

Bubba Wallace celebrates Talladega victory with his crew

By The Associated Press

TALLADEGA, Ala. — Bubba Wallace became just the second Black driver to win at NASCAR’s top Cup Series level when rain stopped Monday’s playoff race at Talladega Superspeedway.
Wallace had driven through a crash and to the front of the field five laps before the second rain stoppage of the race. NASCAR tried to dry the track for nearly 45 minutes, but called things off as sunset approached and the rain showing no sign of ceasing.
Wallace had been waiting atop his pit stand celebrated wildly with his crew when the race was called. Wallace is in his first season driving for 23X1 Racing, a team owned by both Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan.
Wallace broke down in tears after he returned to his parked No. 23 Toyota. The car number was picked for co-owner Jordan, who wore 23 in the NBA.
“This is for all the kids out there that want to have an opportunity and whatever they want to achieve, and be the best at what they want to do,” Wallace said as he choked back tears. “You’re going to go through a lot of (BS). But you always got to stick true to your path and not let the nonsense get to you.
“Stay strong. Stay humble. Stay hungry. Been plenty of times when I wanted to give up.”
Wallace is the first Black driver to win at NASCAR’s elite Cup level since Wendell Scott in 1963 — a race where he wasn’t declared the victor for several months. NASCAR at last presented Scott’s family with his trophy from that race two months ago.
Bill Lester, a Black driver who raced intermittently in NASCAR from 1999 through one Xfinity Series start this season, tweeted his congratulations to Wallace.

 

 

Newswire: Ghana President heralds historic agreement to build a world-class W.E.B. Du Bois Museum Complex

H.E. Nana Akufo-Addo, President of the Republic of Ghana, attends signing in New York between W.E.B. Du Bois Museum Foundation and Government of Ghana


NEW YORK – H.E. Nàna Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, President of the Republic of Ghana, heralded plans to construct a state-of-the-art museum complex honoring the legacy of world-renown Black intellectual and civil rights pioneer Dr. W.E.B Du Bois as an important symbolic monument.
“The museum will provide in Ghana, yet another important monument to the collective struggle of the African peoples to get their rightful place in this world,” said President Akufo-Addo in his remarks prior to the signing of a historic partnership arrangement between the Government of Ghana and the W.E.B. Du Bois Museum Foundation’s affiliate in Ghana. The signing took place in New York City where the U.S. foundation is headquartered.

The agreement was signed on behalf of the Government of Ghana by Hon. Ken Ofori-Atta, Minister of Finance of Ghana, and Dr. Ibrahim Mohammed Awal, Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture. Signing for the W.E.B. Du Bois Museum Foundation were Japhet Aryiku, Executive Director  of the foundation in the U.S., and  Humphrey Ayim-Darke, Board Member of the W.E.B. Du Bois Museum Foundation, Ghana.
“Mr. President, let me reassure you of our commitment to making your beloved Ghana a hub of Pan-African research and heritage tourism,” said Daniel Rose, Chairman of the W.E.B. Du Bois Museum Foundation, as he kicked off the ceremony. Rose is a philanthropist and leading real estate developer with deep ties to Ghana.
The Du Bois Memorial Centre in Accra where Dr. Du Bois and his wife, Shirley Graham Du Bois, are buried, opened to the public in 1985, but in recent years had required additional upkeep and maintenance. Two years ago, Rose and two board members of the foundation, Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., a professor at Harvard University and foremost scholar on Dr. Du Bois, and Dr. Kwame Anthony Appiah, a professor at New York University whose father had worked with Dr. Du Bois, approached President Akufo-Addo about transforming the Du Bois Memorial Centre into a world-class living museum for scholars and heritage tourists.
The partnership arrangement will grant authority for the W.E.B Du Bois Museum Foundation to construct a multi-million dollar museum complex to preserve Dr. Du Bois’ legacy over a 50-year period. The complex will be designed by Sir David Adjaye, renowned Ghanaian architect and designer of the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.

The Foundation’s goal is to realize the Du Bois Museum’s full potential as an international treasure and historic memorial honoring one of the leading and most revered Black voices in world history. The ambitious project features a museum, library and reading room, event hall, outdoor auditorium and amphitheater, lecture space, guest house for visiting scholars and the refurbished bungalow where Dr. Du Bois lived and worked until his death. The complex also includes a Memorial Pavilion, housing the remains of Dr. Du Bois and the cremated ashes of his wife.
Dr. Du Bois, who was a confidant of Ghana’s first president Kwame Nkrumah, became a citizen of Ghana and resided in the country until his death in 1963. While living in Ghana, Du Bois envisioned building a unified ancestral home for Africans in the diaspora around the world.
President Akufo-Addo has invited the Africans Diaspora to follow the footsteps of Du Bois by making Africa their home and contributing to the continent’s development through the government’s “Year of Return” and “Beyond the Return” campaigns.
“The ‘Beyond the Year of Return’ campaign promotes economic empowerment and encourages  people in the Diaspora to come to Africa to invest, to live, and to do more to uplift the continent, “ said Japhet Aryiku, Executive Director, W.E.B. Du Bois Museum Foundation. Aryiku, a Ghanaian American with more than 40 years of experience in corporate America and the philanthropic community, was inspired at a young age by Du Bois’ writings and ideals.

ABOUT W.E.B DU BOIS MUSEUM FOUNDATION: The W.E.B Du Bois Museum Foundation is a leading New York-based non-profit organization dedicated to honoring the life, purpose, and legacy of Dr. W.E. B Du Bois. Daniel Rose, a philanthropist and leading real estate developer of major properties serves as the foundation’s Chairman of the Board. Ambassador Harold Doley, Jr. is the foundation’s President. Prominent board members include renowned scholars of the Du Bois legacy Professors Henry Louis Gates, Jr., of Harvard University; Kwame Anthony Appiah of New York University;  Emmanuel K. Akyeampong of the Center for African Studies at Harvard University; and Deborah Rose, a Visiting Scholar at the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Newswire: Alabama uses $400M of COVID rescue funds to build new prisons

By The Associated Press

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Amid a national debate over the use of pandemic relief funds, Alabama lawmakers swiftly approved a plan Friday to tap $400 million from the American Rescue Plan to help build two super-size prisons, brushing off criticism from congressional Democrats that the money was not intended for such projects.
The Alabama Legislature gave final approval to the $1.3 billion prison construction plan, and to a separate bill to steer $400 million of the state’s $2.1 billion from the rescue funds to pay for it.
With legislative leaders standing behind her, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed the bills into law soon afterward. The Republican called the construction plan “a major step forward” for the prison system, which faces various federal court orders and a lawsuit from the U.S. Department of Justice.
“This is a pivotal moment for the trajectory of our state’s criminal justice system,” Ivey said.
President Joe Biden’s sweeping $1.9 trillion Covid19 rescue package was signed in March, providing a stream of funds to states and cities to recover from the coronavirus pandemic. Alabama’s plan to use almost 20% of its American Rescue funds for prison construction drew criticism from some congressional Democrats, including U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell of Alabama, who argued that was not the intent of the relief program. But state Republicans argued that the expenditure addresses a public safety need and is allowed under a provision to replace lost revenue and shore up state services.
Republican Sen. Greg Albritton said the funds will “go a long way” to addressing the state’s longstanding problems in prisons. This was the right thing for Alabama to do. We’ve got crumbling infrastructure. We’ve got people housed in places that are filthy. We’ve got individuals working in conditions that are unsafe,” Albritton said.
The plan drew opposition from many Democrats in the House of Representatives, but had minimal dissenting votes in the state Senate, where senators approved the use of the pandemic money in a 30-1 vote and the overall construction plan in a 29-2 vote.
Democratic Rep. Juandalynn Givan of Birmingham, who voted against the bills in the House, said she hopes the federal government steps in and tells the state the expenditure is not allowed.
“There are many needs here in the state of Alabama and there are many people who need these funds,” she said. “But they (Republicans) saw an opportunity to take the Biden money, that $400 million, because it was just like liquid water flowing through their hands and say, ‘OK, let’s jump on it,’” Givan said.
U.S. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler of New York this week sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen asking her to “prevent the misuse of ARP funding by any state, including Alabama” to build prisons.
Asked Wednesday about Alabama’s plan, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said, “I would be surprised if that was the intention of the funding.”
Republican legislative leaders said they are comfortable they can legally use the funds because the American Rescue Plan, in addition to authorizing the dollars for economic and health care programs, says states can use the money to replace revenue lost during the pandemic to strengthen support for vital public services and help retain jobs.
The U.S. Department of Justice has sued Alabama over a prison system “riddled with prisoner-on-prisoner and guard-on-prisoner violence.” The Justice Department noted in an earlier report that dilapidated facilities were a contributing factor to the unconstitutional conditions but wrote “new facilities alone will not resolve” the matter because of problems in culture, management deficiencies, corruption, violence and other problems.
The Alabama prison construction proposal calls for three new prisons — a prison in Elmore County with at least 4,000 beds and enhanced space for medical and mental health care needs; another prison with at least 4,000 beds in Escambia County and a women’s prison — as well as renovations to existing facilities. Six current facilities would close.
The package of approved bills includes modest reform measures: The state will purchase a vacant private prison in Perry County and use it to house parole violators — instead of sending them back to prison — and provide rehabilitation programs there to try to combat recidivism.
Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn said the construction plan was both the “right thing to do” and would help the state “with respect to DOJ, with the other litigation.”
Advocacy groups argued the state needed to take on broader reforms.
“The Alabama Legislature has proved its determination to spend $400 million of American Rescue Plan funds to build two mega-prisons when we have one of the highest Covid death rates in the world,” said Katie Glenn, policy associate at the SPLC Action Fund, an arm of the Southern Poverty Law Center. “It won’t solve the problems plaguing the prison system. Only decarceration can do that.”