The state of Alabama – our state - has been in a perpetual “state of emergency” since Governor Kay Ivey issued the first State of Emergency on March 13, 2020.
In fact, Ivey issued 28 COVID-related supplemental emergency proclamations. In case you’ve forgotten, we’ve gone from “two weeks to flatten the curve” to two years in the blink of a bureaucratic eye.
Ivey kept this seemingly continual state of emergency going mainly due to the medical advice and recommendations of a completely unaccountable State Health Officer who is selected by the State Public Health Committee, which is appointed by the Medical Association of the State of Alabama, a lobbying group in Montgomery.
Even after the emergencies subsided, Ivey refused to intervene as some hospitals used the state reporting system to access their employees’ vaccination status. She refused to help as those hospitals demanded proof of COVID shots for their employees, students, volunteers, and vendors. She sat idly by as Alabama citizens were isolated, bullied, and terminated. Ivey instituted lockdowns, closed churches, shuttered schools, and put small businesses out of business. She and her staff flatly refused to help those pleading for their jobs because they couldn’t or didn’t want to comply; she ignored the plight of medical workers who spent the entire pandemic saving other people’s lives. She even blamed them for the rise in cases in the state. That is, until she could shift the blame to Biden.
Ivey is the Governor, and she holds the reigns of emergency powers, but where was Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth? Where was the state legislature? You know, those people we elect and pay to represent us?
They claimed that they were powerless to do anything to aid small business owners, schoolchildren, or medical professionals because they weren’t in session. That must have been a falsehood because they have now had a regular session and two special sessions and they have done nothing to right the wrongs. Zilch. Literally nothing at all. Not one bill has passed to restrict emergency powers or guarantee accountability at the Department of Public Health. No one has come to the rescue.
But take heart, Alabama! Ivey called the legislature into a special session within the regular session last week to spend the, ahem, no strings attached newest federal taxpayer-funded spending spree called ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act). The Alabama legislature will allocate at least $580,000,000 in the next two weeks (plus they still have at least $100,000,000 left over from the CARES Act - it’s hard to keep up with all the spending and all the zeros) and, supposedly, there is another billion on the way. Interestingly, legislators I have spoken to were told to expect little difference in what the Governor’s office negotiated with legislative leadership and what will be allowed to pass.
In other words, the people that represent us are being told to rubber-stamp what was handed to them. The spending recipients and amounts were set before it got to their desks.
So, drumroll please: who gets rescued first? Those exact same hospitals and nursing homes. Their lobbying groups get to spend $80 million of your money. You read that right. Taxpayer funds will be allocated by the Alabama Hospital Association and the Alabama Nursing Home Association.
Second on the list? State government. ADECA & ADEM will dole out hundreds of millions to do things that might be needed but are completely unrelated to COVID, like broadband, wastewater treatment, sewer upgrades, and whatever else they can think of to add up to the actual amount of federal money that ends up in our laps, plus $10 million on the top for extra administrative costs. It costs a lot of money to spend your money, you know.
But you want to know who didn’t make it onto the list? Us. Yet again, the citizens, schoolchildren, and small businesses that suffered the most will not be rescued by the rescue funds or by the people we elected and counted on to represent us. They’re content to keep the power with the lobbyists and the funding for themselves.
Stephanie Holden Smith is an experienced policy analyst, political commentator, and public speaker. Smith has worked and volunteered in Governmental Affairs in Alabama since 1997, including lobbying for a Fortune 500 company and serving as Deputy Director of Finance for the State of Alabama. She is currently the principal of Thatcher Coalition LLC. To contact Stephanie, please go to http://thatchercoalition.com.