Alabama Arise listening session

Debbie Smith with Alabama Arise visited Anniston Wednesday for a listening session on how to make life better for low-income people at the City Meeting Center in downtown Anniston. (Trent Penny/The Anniston Star)

Proposed changes to Medicaid were among the top concerns for Anniston residents at a local forum on Wednesday hosted by Arise, a  nonprofit that advocates for the poor in Alabama.

“I’m very much concerned about Medicaid,” said City Councilman Benjamin Little.

Proposed changes to Alabama’s Medicaid program would require some able-bodied parents to work between 20 and 35 hours a week, which could then make them ineligible for Medicaid because they would make higher than the income eligibility requirement. The new work requirement would not apply to those with a disability, someone who is taking care of a disabled person, those over 60 years old or pregnant women.

“When someone is sick and you’re trying to attack that, that’s a major problem,” Little said. He said he has many people in his church congregation who are on Medicaid.

“If someone is sick, they should be able to get some relief,” Little said.

Little said people in the state suffer because they’re unaware of how such policy changes could affect them.

At the listening session, Debbie Smith, north Alabama organizer for Arise, allowed for citizens to speak on issues they thought should be the nonprofit’s priorities next year.

Smith made note of each of the issues brought up in the meeting. She said she would create a report that will be given to the membership at Arise’s annual meeting in September. At the meeting, members will vote on the issues and determine what should be the focus next year.

Others in the room agreed with Little’s sentiment. Jim Williams, a Democratic candidate for Alabama Senate District 12, said Medicaid and education are his top concerns for the upcoming election.

Ultimately, however, he said whatever happens with the 2020 redistricting will determine what Alabama will be like for the next 10 years.

After every U.S. census, states redraw the congressional election map, a move that could affect politics for the next decade.

“This following election is tremendously important,” he said. “This is a once in a decade election in terms of consequences.”
Williams said the importance of the upcoming election was the main reason he decided to run for state senate.

“If we don’t make changes now, we can write them off for the next ten years,” Williams said.
Williams is running against State Senate President Pro Tempore Del Marsh, R-Anniston, who didn’t attend the meeting.

Doug McConatha, Anniston resident, also spoke on the importance of voting in the upcoming elections.

“All the issues we talk about are controlled by politicians that are elected by the voters,” he said. “Unless we vote, we have no control.”

Smith and Little both said the public must educate themselves about the issues before progress can be made in Alabama.

“A big topic today was civic engagement,” she said. “I think a lot of people need to be more involved with the policies that impact them.”

Smith wants people to know that what happens in Montgomery affects them in Anniston or Calhoun County.

“Policy really does impact people’s lives,” she said. “You need to be involved in the process and make sure your voice is heard.”

Smith hopes to have another meeting in Anniston soon, particularly focusing on Medicaid as nearly one million people in the state are enrolled in the program.

“With our collective voices, we can do something about it,” Smith said.

Staff Writer Allison Preslar: 256-600-8688. On Twitter: @APreslar_Star