Reviews | Health Justice for Alabama

This article was written by Bronwen Lichtenstein, PhD, with Stephanie McClure, PhD, MPH; Pamela Foster-Payne, MD; Kathryn Oths, PhD; and Levi Ross, PhD, MPH.

On October 1, 2021, Governor Kay Ivey announced that $ 400 million in federal COVID relief funds would be allocated to build new prisons in Alabama. This policy ignores the fact that the US Department of the Treasury said federal relief funds were specifically designed to respond to the COVID-19 emergency and to bring jobs back to the state.

Yes, Alabama is under federal order to fix the prison system. No, COVID-19 emergency funds cannot be used to build new prisons. The COVID-19 windfall is just the most recent example of how Alabama is using federal money for independent purposes at the expense of the well-being of people in our area.

Why did the change in funding go wrong for Alabama?

On the one hand, the state has one of the highest death rates in the United States, not only from COVID-19, but also from chronic diseases associated with poverty, failing health infrastructure. and lack of health care. Rural hospitals have closed (and many more are at risk of closing), working adults have been denied the extension of Medicaid, and health disparities have widened during the pandemic.

The allocated COVID money should have been used to alleviate a chronically underfunded health system and improve access to health care, especially in rural areas where health clinics are scarce and COVID-19 rates are high. students. Recovery demands a better response than supporting a prison system with federal bailout dollars meant to get people back on their feet after the worst pandemic in 100 years.

History repeats itself in the way the state inappropriately uses federal money.

Alabama currently receives $ 289 million from the United States Department of the Treasury through the 1998 Tobacco Regulations and state tobacco taxes, little of which is spent on prevention to combat rates. smoking rate above average in our state. The American Lung Association gives Alabama an “F” rating for its inability to fund anti-smoking programs and tackle vaping among youth.

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In 2010, the US Department of the Treasury gave Alabama $ 1.3 billion to offset damage from BP’s massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The payment was aimed at repairing environmental damage, improving conservation and protecting the ecosystem. Governor Robert Bentley had different ideas. He sought money for a conference center in Baldwin County and used part of the settlement to repair his beach mansion and a beach pavilion that had ceased to exist before the oil spill. None of this work involved conserving, repairing infrastructure, or protecting Alabama’s damaged coastline for the future.

Alabama’s disregard for the health and well-being of its citizens is long standing. From the mid to late 20th century, the infamous Tuskegee Syphilis Study took place in Macon County with the full support of the State Department of Public Health. African Americans were deeply touched by this deadly experience.

What has improved since then? Alabama continues to neglect promoting the health of citizens, with uneven results, especially among African Americans in rural areas of the state.

In the last example, the Civil Rights division of the US Department of Justice was forced to investigate an increase in hookworms and other parasites from raw sewage in Lowndes County. The county does not provide sewerage to unincorporated areas. COVID-19 is the most recent health crisis to reveal racial disadvantage among a population whose lagging indicators put them at a higher risk of illness and death.

As members of Communivax Alabama, we call on the state to restore full COVID-19 funding to where it belongs – the health needs of Alabamians. We’ve seen how citizens face barriers to getting tested and vaccinated in rural Alabama.

To meet this need, many local leaders have worked hard to promote testing and vaccination against COVID-19 and to improve access to health care in their areas. We have sought to facilitate these activities by bringing together local groups for a common purpose.

Some business leaders took up the challenge and offered vaccination clinics at their workplaces. Now is not the time to hijack our state government budget, but the time for a joint effort to stop the epidemic in its tracks. Federal money for COVID-19 has been designated to promote the health and well-being of our people. This is where it belongs.

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