Eutaw City Council approves raises for police and water department

Mayor Latasha Johnson, Council members and staff present check for $30,000 to support E-911 dispatch and other emergency services. Funds came from the City’s American Rescue Act funding.

At Tuesday night’s regular Eutaw City Council meeting, the members went through an extensive agenda mostly distributing funds and buying necessary items with General Funds and special funds provided to the city under the American Rescue Plan passed by Democrats in Congress and signed by President Biden. Fiscal Advisor, Ralph Liverman reported that the City had raised $577,000 in General Fund revenues in nine months since the October 1st fiscal year had begun, compared with $525,000 in revenues forecast in the budget. “This means the city will earn additional revenues beyond what we budgeted and the Council can approve additional needed expenditures,” said Liverman. Liverman also reported that $800,914 in revenues from the City’s Water Department for nine months, ending June 30, 2021 was substantially greater than the budgeted amount and more than last year’s full collections. Liverman said Corey Martin, Water Department Supervisor had corrected problems with meters and leaks, raised collections, and secured a license as a sewer operator as well as having a water operator’s license, required to operate the city’s systems. At the Mayor’s suggestion, Liverman recommended that the Council approve a raise of $4.00 an hour for Corey Martin. The Council approved the raised based on the recommendation. It was noted at the end of September 2021, the city would no longer have to pay another contracted company $1,900 for supervising the sewer system, since Martin’s new sewage license would qualify him to play this role. The Mayor asked that the Council approve a $1.00 an hour raise for all police officers which would raise the minimum pay for certified officers to $15.00 an hour. Chief Tommy Johnson commented, “This rate of pay is still low in comparison with other cities, like Moundville and Linden who are paying $17 an hour. Some cities like Demopolis are offering a $5,000 signing bonus. Councilwoman Jacqueline Stewart said she supported a pay raise but it should be based on an evaluation of the individual officer’s work record. “Some officers may deserve more than a $1.00 an hour raise and some less,” she said. Mayor Johnson said let’s give this raise, because it is in the budget already and look again in six months to get an evaluation of all police officers for additional adjustments in pay. The Council and mayor unanimously approved this pay raise for the police. The Eutaw Council also approved spending $97,208 for a well improvement telemetry program to put all wells on a digitally monitored system instead of using a telephonic warning system, which does not provide the information on a as detailed or timely basis. They approved $3,483 a year for the On-Solve Community Notification System, to inform residents of emergencies and problems with the city utilities. They also approved $21,175 for new software for bookkeeping, cemetery maintenance and business licenses; $8,896 for purchase of body cameras for the police; and $1, 980 for replacement of the light fixtures in the City Council meeting chamber. Most of these expenditures will be paid by the American Rescue Plan funds or from the Capital Improvement budget. In other actions, the Eutaw City Council:

•Approved a resolution to set up a Water Department Revenue Account and ending the Water Deposit Account, since there are no records of water deposits paid. If a resident can produce a receipt for a water deposit they will be reimbursed. New water customers will be required to pay a one-time $100 water connection and account fee. •Adopted a written Water Leak and Bill Dispute Policy.

•Approved several members of the staff to attend an Alabama Rural Water Training in Tuscaloosa on July 15, 2021

•Approved a resolution to set up a bank account for currency seized by police in raids and arrests.

•Approved the creation of a police sub-station at the Robert H. Young Community Center (old Carver School). •Approved paying bills. •Approved a contribution of $30,000 to support E-911.

Greene County Freedom Day scheduled for July 31

Johnny Ford

Alabama Civil Rights Museum Movement, Inc. will host the 52nd Annual Greene County Freedom Day Program, Saturday, July 31, 2021 on the Rev. Thomas Gilmore Square (old courthouse). Honorable Johnny Ford, of Tuskegee, AL will serve as the keynote speaker. “On Greene County Freedom Day, July 29, 1969, a Special Election was held in the county that elected the first four Black County Commissioners and two additional Black school board members, which gave Black people control of the major agencies of government,” said Spiver W. Gordon, President of the Alabama Civil Rights Museum Movement. This special election in the summer of 1969 was ordered by the United States Supreme Court when the names of Black candidates, running on the National Democratic Party of Alabama (NDPA), were deliberately left off the November 1968 General Election ballot by the ruling white political officials of the time. “The special election of July 29, 1969 allowed Black voters, many newly registered under the 1965 Voting Rights Act, who were the majority population in Greene County to have their say in a free and democratic election” Gordon stated. COVID 19 Vaccinations will be promoted at the event. According Gordon, he is arranging for individuals to get vaccinations at the program on July 31. A limited number of gift certificates will be given to individuals getting their vaccinations on July 31. Gordon stated that more information on the gift certificates will be provided at a later time.

COVID-19

As of July 12, 2021 at 10:00 AM (according to Alabama Political Reporter) Alabama had 555,215 confirmed cases of coronavirus, (3,917) more than last week with 11,402 deaths (44 ) more than last week)

Greene County had 942 confirmed cases, (4 more cases than last week), with 35 deaths

Sumter Co. had 1,067 cases with 32 deaths

Hale Co. had 2,288 cases with 78 deaths

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

Newswire: ‘Enough’: Tuskegee Councilman Johnny Ford takes saw to Confederate monument in town square

Johnny Ford standing by Confederate statue

By: Melissa Brown and Kirsten Fiscus, Montgomery Advertiser

Before Johnny Ford drove into downtown Tuskegee and climbed into an electronic lift bucket with a saw on Wednesday, he prayed. When the saw touched the concrete ankle of the Confederate soldier statue perched over the town square, he remembered.  Ford remembered his childhood friend, Sammy Younge, a Black Navy veteran and civil rights worker gunned down in 1966 after asking to use a whites-only bathroom. Ford remembered Tuskegee University students streaming into town streets when Younge’s accused killer was acquitted, attaching chains and ropes to the towering monument to the Confederacy in a failed effort to pull it from its pedestal.  “I pledged then to remove the statue,” Ford said. On Wednesday July 7, 2021, Ford attempted to fulfill his pledge to remove the “painful” Confederate memorial from the heart of his hometown. In the early afternoon, Ford and another, unidentified person began sawing at the leg of the downtown statue.  “I was doing it for Sammy Younge. And the students who tried to pull the statue down,” Ford said. ” … The message has been sent. Everybody has just been waiting on someone to do it. It’s my council district. It’s my responsibility to do it. The people elected me, in this district. This is the first time the county and city government have taken a position to see it removed. Of course, they haven’t been able to do it because of the legal [implications]. They’re afraid of the threats from the Legislature and the attorney general. But I’m not afraid of the governor and the attorney general.” Ford said the two stopped sawing at the request of Macon County Sheriff Andre Brunson, who got wind of the attempt Wednesday afternoon and came to the square.  “Looks like he had a chop saw or something. I told him he wasn’t going to destroy the statue, not knowing he’d already chopped through one ankle,” Brunson said. “… He said he was doing it for whatever reason, and I told him he’s not going to destroy it. He was talking about what it stands for, and I told him I’m not going to allow you to commit a crime in front of me.” Ford said he moved to physically remove the statue from its platform, not damage it, after his council district constituents voted in a public meeting last week to take action. Brunson said Ford and others could face multiple charges, including destruction of property. Ford could also face civil penalties under Alabama’s Monument Preservation Act, which prohibits a local government from legally removing a monument 40 years old or older. Cities that do so face fines up to $25,000.  “I welcome that. Sometimes you have to get into good trouble in order to bring about change,” Ford said, referencing a familiar refrain from the late civil rights leader John Lewis. “During the ’60s, we were fighting for voting rights and we went to jail. We did what we had to do. This issue is very, very serious with me. This statue represents slavery. It stands for the Confederacy, whose fight was to keep slavery. My forefathers were enslaved. I take that very, very seriously.” In a telephone interview with the Greene County Democrat, Ford said, “ The Confederate statue is now on its last leg, we hope it will soon b e removed since the City Council and County Commission have voted that it be moved from the Tuskegee Town Square.”

Newswire: Leadership Conference on Civil Rights urges Congress to close Medicaid insurance coverage gap, especially in Southern states

Today, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, along with several other civil rights organizations wrote Democratic members of Congress urging them to close the Medicaid coverage gap in upcoming legislation. The groups pointed out that the current coverage gap leaves over 2 million people, including 600,000 African Americans living in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas living below the poverty line, without access to affordable health insurance coverage.  “In the states that have undertaken it, Medicaid expansion has narrowed racial and ethnic disparities in both coverage and access to care, and it has saved lives. But these more than 600,000 African Americans living in the eight Southern states that have refused to take up the Medicaid expansion have experienced none of these gains, solely because of where they live. Overall, 60 percent of people in the coverage gap in the 12 non-expansion states are people of color, reflecting long-standing racial and ethnic disparities in health care access that Medicaid expansion would do much to address. In these states, African Americans are 19 percent of the adult population but 28 percent of those in the coverage gap,” they noted.  The groups also urged members of Congress to address the coverage disparity in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. “The COVID-19 pandemic amplified pre-existing inequities in health care, with deadly consequences for many in the Black community as well as other communities of color,” they said. “Therefore, we are urging Congress to address this by providing a federal pathway to coverage for the millions of African Americans and other people of color shut out of their state’s Medicaid program.”  Given the systemic racial and economic disparities in the American healthcare system, the groups concluded by insisting that Congress move to address this coverage gap immediately, to ensure that mistakes of the past are not repeated to the detriment of the most vulnerable communities.  You can view the full letter at the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights webs

Working around Republican resistance on Medicaid expansion

SOS demonstration for Medicaid Expansion at the Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery

By Rebekah Barber, first published in Facing South, the on-line magazine of the Institute for Southern Studies

 Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, Southern states have been among those that have done the least to protect their residents from contracting the deadly virus. They were some of the last to impose mask mandates and among the first to reopen after temporary shutdowns. And many sectors in the region, like poultry processing, never shut down at all. That makes it particularly striking that essential workers in Southern states disproportionately fall in the Medicaid coverage gap. Not provided health insurance through their jobs and unable to afford it in the private market, these workers risk their lives to keep the economy running — and disproportionately die in the process. Eight of the 12 states that have refused to accept federal funds to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act are located in the South: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Mississippi, Tennessee, Texas, and South Carolina. All have Republican-controlled legislatures. A recent report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) looked at data from 2019, the year before the pandemic hit, and calculated that over 550,000 people working in essential or frontline industries fall in the Medicaid coverage gap. The states with the greatest number of essential workers in the coverage gap are Texas (209,000) and Florida (98,000) — GOP-led states that have had notoriously ineffective public health responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. In total, over 2 million people living in Southern states fall into the gap. “A large body of research demonstrates that Medicaid expansion increases health insurance coverage, improves access to care, provides financial security, and improves health outcomes,” the report states. CBPP also documented glaring racial disparities, finding that people of color make up 60% of those in the Medicaid coverage gap even though they account for only 41% of the non-elderly adult population in non-expansion states. In Texas, 74% of those in the coverage gap are people of color, while Black people account for a majority of people in the coverage gap in Mississippi and 40% in Georgia and South Carolina. At the same time, people of color face a higher risk of COVID-19 infection, hospitalization, and death. In Alabama, 48% of the 11,300 people who have died to date from the coronavirus, did not have health insurance (that is over 5,400 people). The report notes that about three in ten adults in the coverage gap have children at home. And a third are women of childbearing age, meaning that if they get pregnant, they can apply for existing Medicaid coverage. However, the coverage would not begin until they are determined to be eligible, meaning they could miss out on critical prenatal care during the first months of pregnancy. CBPP points to an Oregon study that found Medicaid expansion was associated with an increase in early and adequate prenatal care. In addition, CBPP calculates that about 15% of people in the Medicaid coverage gap have disabilities. That includes 7% with serious cognitive difficulties, and more than 6% who have difficulty with basic physical activities such as walking, climbing stairs, carrying, or reaching. In the years leading up to the pandemic, states that expanded Medicaid cut their uninsured rates by half. That made them better prepared for both the ensuing public health crisis and consequent economic downturn, which resulted in an estimated 2 million to 3 million people nationwide losing employer-based coverage between March and September.  Efforts are now underway in the Democratic-controlled Congress to find a way to bring Medicaid to more essential workers — and Americans in general — despite Republican resistance at the state level.  U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, a Texas Democrat, recently proposed the “Cover Outstanding Vulnerable Expansion-Eligible Residents (COVER) Now Act.” The bill, which already has over 40 cosponsors, would authorize the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to work directly with counties, cities, and other local governments to expand Medicaid coverage in states that have refused to do so. It’s based on previous successful demonstration projects in several counties in California, Illinois, and Ohio, and it’s won the endorsement of groups including the American Diabetes Association, National Alliance on Mental Illness, and the Texas Academy of Family Physicians. “The COVER Now Act empowers local leaders to assure that the obstructionists at the top can no longer harm the most at-risk living at the bottom,” Doggett said in a statement. Counties and municipalities would be able to get Medicaid coverage for their citizens on the same basis as initially offered to states – the first three years free and the next four years, the local contribution would rise to 10% of costs. No explanation is given of where the local funding would come from, to pay for the matching contributions over time. And over in the Senate, Raphael Warnock of Georgia this week announced that he is drafting a proposal that would bypass his state’s Republican leadership while calling on the White House to include a “federal fix” in the next jobs package. Warnock told reporters that he’s hoping to introduce legislation soon. The Georgia Recorder has reported that Gov. Brian Kemp (R) is pushing a plan to expand Medicaid to about 50,000 additional Georgians, but the Biden administration has put the brakes on it over concerns that it requires participants to rack up 80 hours of work, school, or other qualifying activity every month to gain and keep their coverage. In a letter sent last month to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Warnock and U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff of Georgia suggested that one possible solution could be a federal Medicaid look-alike program run through the CMS. “We have a duty to our constituents and a duty to those suffering from a lack of access to health care to provide for them when they are in need,” Warnock and Ossoff said in the letter. “We can no longer wait for states to find a sense of morality and must step in to close the coverage gap and finally ensure that all low- and middle-income Americans have access to quality, affordable health care.” The details of the Warnock-Ossoff proposal for a “Medicaid look-alike”, available through the ACA marketplace, have not been spelled out. The critical details of coverages and costs remain to be worked out and also face the question of who bears the 10% matching costs. In Alabama, 300,000 or more working poor people are caught in this Medicaid coverage gap. These people who need healthcare the most and who have been shown to be most vulnerable during the coronavirus pandemic, could be provided with healthcare if Governor Ivey were simply willing to sign the agreements with CMS/HHS to expand Medicaid. Resources are available in the American Recovery Act to incentivize and pay Alabama’s initial three years of costs to expand. After three years, health experts project that the state could realize new tax revenues, from the thousands of new jobs created, to pay for the continuing 10% matching cost of providing this desperately needed coverage to those who most need it. The SaveOurselves Movement for Justice and Democracy has waged a seven-year unrelenting campaign, including some acts of civil disobedience, to try to persuade the Governor of Alabama to Expand Medicaid. Leaders of SOS say they will not stop their campaign until the goal is reached. Some additions, relevant to Alabama, were made to this article by John Zippert, Co-Publisher and Editor of the Greene County Democrat.

Greene County welcomes the new County Extension Coordinator Douglas Fulghum

Douglas (Doug) Fulghum, a native of Sumter County and a graduate of Livingston High School, is the new County Extension Coordinator for Greene County. He completed his B.S. Degree in Forestry Science at Alabama A&M University in 2003. Fulghum began his professional career as a Southern Pine Beetle Forester for the North Carolina Division of Forest Resources. In 2005, he returned to Alabama to work with the Alabama Forestry Commission. He was employed with this agency for 14, serving as a Forester and a County Supervisor. While employed there, he became familiar with the needs of landowners throughout West Alabama. After 14 years with the Alabama Forestry Commission, Mr. Fulghum transitioned to the Alabama Cooperative Extension System in 2019 as a Regional Extension Agent in the Specialty Area of Forestry/Wildlife. After two years as a REA, serving Greene as one of his counties, Fulghum was chosen to serve in a new capacity, Greene County Cooperative Extension Coordinator (CEC). According to Doug, this new position gives him the opportunity to focus on one county and go beyond forestry services. “I am now in a position to connect with various Regional Extension Agents (REA) and bring added services to Greene County, including 4-H and Work Force Development for youth; Food and Nutrition and AlProHealth. We have plans to provide new playground equipment for residents at Eutaw Housing Authority, as well as other community service projects,” he stated. Doug held his first Advisory Committee meeting, Friday, June 25, which drew representatives from local governments, service agencies, non-profit organizations, the farming community and other interested and supportive groups and individuals. His goal is to continue serving Greene County by bringing needed programs to the area. His plans are to work with the county and city governments, the school system and other entities to help bring this county to a new dimension. “There is so much I want to do, but I recognize that I am still learning. My approach is to serve through collaboration and cooperation,” he said. Doug is married to Danielle Harper Fulghum and they have two daugthers, Madison and Melonie. Mr. Douglas Fulghum stands ready to assist. He can be reached on the office phone at (205) 372-3401, on his cell at 205-609-0347, or via email at ddf0007@auburn.edu.

Newswires: President Biden signs bipartisan bill to curb predatory lending 

By Charlene Crowell  

(TriceEdneyWire.com) – In recent years, consumer finance protections withered through a series of harsh attacks that either outright rejected or significantly diminished financial guard rails in the marketplace. But a new consumer victory, urged by a groundswell of support from everyday people, academicians, and bicameral legislators signals an important step toward fair financial rules.   On June 30, President Joe Biden’s signature ended an ill-advised rule that favored predatory loans instead of America’s consumers. Predatory loans, such as payday loans, disparately impact African-Americans and other people of color.    “These are so called ‘rent-a-bank’ schemes”, said President Biden at the June 30 signing ceremony.  “And they allow lenders to prey on veterans, seniors, and other unsuspecting borrowers tapping in the — trapping them into a cycle of debt.  And the last administration let it happened, but we won’t.”   Days earlier on June 24, a bipartisan vote of 218-208 in the U.S. House of Representatives sent a key financial rule change to the President’s desk. Just a few weeks earlier the Senate had passed the same bill with a bipartisan vote. Using authority from the Congressional Review Act, the votes sought to eliminate a recently passed regulation. In this case, the goal was to nix the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) “fake lender” rule issued late in the Trump Administration.   As the nation’s seat of government, Capitol Hill is a place where an array of interests vies for both attention and influence.  Lean-budgeted but principled public interest organizations can often find themselves disadvantaged by deep pocketed interests.   That’s why it’s important to acknowledge and celebrate overcoming stacked odds to forge changes that result in real life benefits for everyday people and small businesses alike.  Especially for Black America and other communities of color, solid steps toward ending billion-dollar financial exploitation are particularly deserving of attention. Historically, we have already borne the brunt of predatory greed.   “Eliminating this harmful OCC rule will prevent more people from being exposed to high-interest loans that pull borrowers down deep into debt and despair,” said Center for Responsible Lending (CRL) Director of Federal Campaigns Graciela Aponte-Diaz.“Nixing the rule will curb the spread of predatory loans that target Black, Latinx, and low-income individuals – many of whom are struggling from the economic downturn. This action will allow states to protect their residents by enforcing their state interest rate laws.”   As reported previously in this column, OCC’s “True Lender” rule gave a green light to predatory lenders. By effectively overriding a string of state laws in almost every state enacted to prevent abusive payday, car-title, and installment loans with explosive interest rates of more than 100 percent took effect in late December 2020. Payday and high-cost installment lenders paid fees to banks for use of their name and charter to dodge state interest rate laws by claiming the bank’s exemption from those laws for itself.   Consumer advocates referred to the rule change as a ‘Fake Lender’ as the real lender is the predatory non-bank lender – not a bank.   Reactions to the successful consumer challenge soon followed.  One of the first public comments came as a joint statement from two key U.S. Senators.   “Striking down the Trump ‘Rent-a-Bank’ rule will help prevent predatory lenders from ripping off consumers and charging loan-shark rates under deceptive terms”, noted Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, a member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs and co-sponsor of the resolution.   “The OCC, when it allowed banks to evade state interest rate caps, betrayed hard-working families and attacked states’ ability to protect their citizens from predatory loans,” added Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, the committee’s chair. “Congress showed the people we serve that we’re on their side.”   For California’s Congresswoman Maxine Waters, chair of the House Financial Services Committee, the resolution rids the nation of financial rubbish. “The Trump-era ‘True Lender’ rule is a back-door way for nonbanks to charge triple-digit interest rates on loans at the expense of consumers in states where voters turned out to pass interest rate cap laws,” said Waters. “No wonder some call this the ‘fake lender’ rule.”   Just how much financial harm resulted from the ill-advised rule has been documented by the National Consumer Law Center (NCLC), a member of a diverse coalition that advocated repeal.   According to NCLC, predatory small business lenders are using the fake lender rule to defend a 268% annual percentage rate (APR) rate on loans totaling $67,000 to a Black restaurant owner in New York, where the criminal usury rate is 25%, and secured by property in New Jersey, where the legal limit is 30%. The lender pretended that the nominal participation of a bank based in Nevada justified its astronomical rate. Nevada has no interest limits on loans.   In another example, OppLoans (also known as OppFi), an online lender offers 160 percent APR loans in  26 states that prohibit triple-digit rate loans. This lender has also cited the OCC’s fake lender rule to defend its loan to a disabled veteran in California, where the usury rate on the loan is 24 percent. OppLoans is also evading state rate cap laws supported by broad majorities of voters in Arizona, Montana, Nebraska, and South Dakota. Even in states where legislatures have enacted rate caps, the fake lender rule would have essentially negated those rate cap protections.   For consumer advocates, along with their partners in the civil rights, faith, and veterans’ communities, revoking the fake lender rule is a step towards a national loan rate cap of no more than 36 percent.   Years ago, bipartisan enactment of the Military Lending Act awarded double-digit rate cap protections for men and women in uniform. It’s time for all of America to have the same financial protection.  

Charlene Crowell is a Senior Fellow with the Center for Responsible Lending. She can be reached A tCharlene.crowell@responsiblelending.org.

More than 25 organization file Amicus brief to release Wisconsin order halting $4 billion loan forgiveness for BIPOC farmers

MADISON, Wis. –– On behalf of the Rural Coalition, the Intertribal Agriculture Council, the North Carolina Association of Black Lawyers Land Loss Prevention Project and 23 additional farm, rural, environmental, health and civil rights groups, the Southern Poverty Law Center filed an amicus brief last week asking a federal court in Wisconsin to allow the distribution of $4 billion in loan forgiveness set aside by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to correct decades of injustice, systemic racism and admitted discriminatory behavior by the federal government.The assistance package was part of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) signed into law by President Joe Biden in March. On June 10, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) subverting the will of Congress and stopping relief to over 17,000 Black, Indigenous and other farmers of color who have suffered historic, systemic and ongoing discrimination in USDA lending programs. “Debt relief is something that minority farmers desperately need as they try to recover from the damage that COVID-19 has disproportionately inflicted on their businesses and families,” said Keisha Stokes-Hough, senior supervising attorney for the Economic Justice Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center. “Congress granted this relief because farmers of color have borne the brunt of the economic downturn due to systemic and current discrimination. As a result, farmers of color are at the greatest risk of failure. The American Rescue Plan is an important first step in addressing decades of lending and aid discrimination in the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the will of Congress must not be subverted.” The USDA has a decades-long track record of discriminating against Black, Indigenous and other farmers of color. For example, USDA distributed $9.2 billion in aid to farmers in 2020 under the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program. Less than 3% of that relief went to a category of producers defined by the USDA as being underserved by federal farm programs and which includes farmers of color. With this loan forgiveness plan, Congress directed the USDA to provide relief to socially disadvantaged farmers. The groups supporting the brief say delaying the distribution of these funds puts more BIPOC farmers in danger of going out of business or falling even further behind their white counterparts. The brief includes statements from BIPOC farmers who will experience irreparable harm from this delay in federal support. Recently, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida issued a preliminary injunction to further delay the relief to BIPOC provided by Congress in the ARPA. This decision and the additional lawsuits that are continuing to be filed only seek to further put our producers of color further in financial peril, take them off their lands, and inhibit their centuries long struggle for equity in agriculture. Our representative organizations will be exploring further action to protect our BIPOC producers’ rights, as well as their equity and inclusion to receive the relief they have long been denied.  More than 200 groups have signed a statement in support of immediately distributing the relief, saying that this landmark piece of legislation is desperately needed to correct ongoing systemic discrimination and to restore the rights of BIPOC farmers to pursue landownership and agriculture on an equal playing field. Organizations joining the Rural Coalition, the Intertribal Agriculture Council and the North Carolina Association of Black Lawyers Land Loss Prevention Project on the brief include: •NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) •Rural Advancement Fund of the National Sharecroppers Fund •National Latino Farmers and Ranchers Trade Association •American Indian Mothers, Inc. •Arkansas Land and Farm Development Corporation •Cottage House Incorporation •Family Farm Defenders •Kansas Black Farmers Association •Land Stewardship Project •National Young Farmers Coalition • Oklahoma Black Historical Research Project, Inc. •Operation Spring Plant, Inc. •Texas Coalition of Rural Landowners •World Farmers •Farm Aid •The Health, Environment, Agriculture, Labor (HEAL) Food Alliance •National Family Farm Coalition •The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition •The Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA •California Farm Link •Community Farm Alliance •Women, Food and Agriculture Network •Steward Holdings These groups will continue to work together to assist USDA in fighting these lawsuits now being filed in as many as ten states. “We plan to file this amicus brief or a stronger amended brief, as well as possibly intervening in the cases as they move along through the Federal court system,” said Lorette Picciano, Rural Coalition Executive Director. Cornelius Blanding, Executive Director of the Federation of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund said, “We support this amicus brief effort but we wanted to hold the option to intervene in the case to represent our members.” The USDA is continuing to send letters about the loan forgiveness program to farmers and encouraging farmers to respond so that when the injunction is lifted the government will proceed with the payments to end the indebtedness. Persons who need more information on the brief may contact the http://www.ruralco.org website for more information.

Voting rights coalition meets in Shelby County on 8th anniversary of Shelby vs Holder decision to call for an end to voter suppression

A coalition of Alabama voting rights advocates held a press conference in front of the Shelby County Courthouse in Columbiana,  Alabama to decry the lack of progress on voting rights on the eighth anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Shelby County vs. Holder case. The Supreme Court’s decision gutted Sections 4 and 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which provided for pre-clearance by the U. S. Department of Justice of changes in voting laws, rules and regulations by state and local jurisdictions in the Southern statesThis decision unleashed a torrent of laws and regulations which made it more difficult for Black, Brown, poor and young people to vote around our nation. Benard Simelton, State President of the NAACP said, “We are here today in Shelby County on the 8th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s putting a knife in the back of the VRA, to call for unfettered access to the polls for all people and an end to voter suppression which is designed to depress the votes of Black, Brown and other disadvantaged people. We are not sitting back. We are actively working to fight voter suppression in all of its ways. “Laws like the one passed in Georgia to prohibit people from giving snacks and water to people on line to vote. The curbs on drop-boxes and curbside voting must be changed. The changes that affect how votes are counted. The purging of voters must all be changed,” said Simelton. Jessica Barker, Coordinator of Lift Our Vote from Huntsville, said, “We are demanding a change to end voter suppression and support our voting rights. We are here today to support the national efforts to support voting rights by passing HR 1 and S1 – The For the People Act and HR-4 The John Lewis Voter Advancement Act, in the United States Congress.” Pastor McMillan of Shelby County, said, “We are here today to try to rescue democracy for all people in Alabama and the nation. Access to the vote is not just reserved for the rich and powerful but for all of us.” Dr. Adia Winfrey of Transform Alabama spoke on her efforts to marshal the power of hip-hop culture to involve young people in the fight for voting rights and civil rights. John Zippert, SaveOurselves Coalition for Justice and Democracy linked the struggle for voting rights with other social change campaigns that SOS is working on including Medicaid Expansion, Criminal Justice Reform, Economic Justice and Worker’s Rights. Rachel Knowles, a white staff member of the Southern Poverty Law Center, said she was a native of Shelby County, grew up there and went to public schools, however, “Now I am ashamed and disappointed to be from a place that is opposed to voting rights for all people.” Rev. Carolyn Foster of the Alabama Poor People’s Campaign said, “Voting rights is a moral and systemic justice issue. We are concerned with restrictive voter ID laws, redistricting problems and the myth of voter fraud. The only way to change things and get what you want is to organize to take it.” After the Courthouse Rally, the groups moved to Orr Park in Montevalo, Alabama and held a ‘voting rights fair” with booths to register people, including the previously incarcerated, get vaccine for the coronavirus, music, food, and fellowship.