In mid-April, the shutdowns from the coronavirus pandemic continued to drag on in Alabama. Many policymakers worried about the long-term consequences on the economy and civil liberties. To understand these consequences and better respond to the crisis, the Alabama Governor commissioned a special task force on reopening the economy safely.
Having already used the Alabama Policy Institute (API)’s research for earlier COVID-19 responses, the state Senate President Pro Tempore and the Lieutenant Governor—both members of this task force—asked API for research on the effects of the closures. API had anticipated many of the problems caused by the shutdown, so the Institute was prepared to offer the task force timely research: “Healthy Citizenry, Healthy Economy, Healthy Society.”
API’s report to the governor’s task force focused on two main topics. First, API considered the impacts of the shutdown on civil liberties. API sought to highlight the dangers of government overreach via the shutdown orders. Within their report, API detailed five areas where constitutional rights would be violated if emergency orders were to remain in place. Through API’s education efforts, Alabama residents became more aware of potential government infringements—and more cautious about handing over more emergency powers to the government.
Second, API evaluated the Alabama Department of Labor (ADOL)’s response to the economic downturn. The report addressed the unintended consequences of increased unemployment benefits and recommended that the ADOL do more to limit fraud and abuse of the new benefits. It also outlined how ADOL could ensure the new benefits would not prevent individuals from returning to work.
Two days after API released their report, the ADOL updated their website and issued a warning: Deciding to leave work or failing to return to work in order to collect increased unemployment benefits may qualify as fraud and be subject to prosecution. This approach positioned Alabama’s economy to recover from the crisis and protected unemployment benefits for the people who truly needed them.
Through this success, API emerged as one of the top authorities in the state on the government’s response to the coronavirus. The Institute was acknowledged as the go-to source for comprehensive, Alabama-based research and discussion on the crisis. In recognition of their efforts, Alabama Policy Institute was nominated for the Bob Williams Awards for Public Policy, and was named as a finalist in the Most Influential Research category.