Our most vulnerable neighbors in Alabama are suffering because of decisions made in Montgomery and Washington – and we can do something about it. Fortunately, there are groups working to make things better for Alabama and specifically for low income Alabamians. For 24 years, one such group, Alabama Arise, has been equipping folks to speak with a united voice against the structural causes of poverty in Alabama. My good friend Kimble Forrister, who is with Arise, says that, “when legislators hear from well-informed constituents who care about “the least of these,” things begin to change for the better. What Kimble didn’t say, however, is that somebody or some group has to take the lead and inform the public on important issues facing our state and our nation and then work real hard to being about the needed changes. Arise has been such a leader.
Such advocacy is literally a gift that keeps on giving. Consider the steady drumbeat of Arise’s long campaign to change Alabama’s worst-in-the-nation, $4,600 income tax threshold. After 18 years of hard work by Arise members, the Legislature raised the level at which a family of four owed taxes to $12,600.
As a result, in 2007 parents below the poverty line suddenly gained as much as $260 a year to support their children. It may not sound like much, but it might mean a tank of gas every two weeks to get a parent to work. And it’s a policy change that keeps on giving, year after year. Policy change also adds up when you multiply it across the state. The 2007 tax reform put $40 million into the pockets of parents who made less than $20,000 a year. Not a bad year’s work for the 150 congregations and organizations and the few hundred individuals who joined their efforts under the umbrella of Alabama Arise.
Today Arise continues to tackle challenging issues. When its members chose their 2013 policy priorities, their top concern was state implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Although Gov. Robert Bentley has announced that he will not expand Medicaid to 300,000 working adults, Arise draws hope from his assertion that he won’t expand it “under the current structure.” Arise policy analyst Jim Carnes, who holds the consumer seat on the governor’s Medicaid Advisory Commission, hopes that a successful restructuring will put patients first, save tax dollars by addressing health problems earlier and give the governor a good reason to change his mind about expansion of Medicaid.
Arise takes its message across the state. During 2012, Arise staff have led 73 ACA outreach meetings, explaining to 2,000 people how the ACA will benefit Alabama. The Medicaid expansion alone would bring a $10.3 billion boost to our health care economy over the first six years, but only if the state commits to provide a state match that works out to $1 for every $22 the feds provide over the time period.
For the current year, Arise members will work on other issues as well. Those include adequate revenue for the General Fund; restrictions on payday lending; ensuring a right to education in the constitutional revision; and a moratorium on the death penalty. Such topics are not for the faint of heart. Some of these goals may take years to achieve. But if you want to plug into some of the most effective advocacy on Alabama poverty issues, Arise is the place to start.
Just go to www.arisecitizens.org and look for two buttons: Through the “Donate Now” button you can make a tax-deductible contribution and become an individual member; then you’ll start getting their excellent materials and action alerts. And the “Subscribe to Daily News Digest” link will allow you to sign up for a daily email listing of news articles of interest to Arise members – and to any person who is working to make Alabama a better place for all of us. I believe that there are thousands of people across the state who agree with Arise on the issues. If they have been able to do this much with hundreds of members, imagine what ARISE could do with thousands!
Source: Arise Citizens’ Policy Project
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