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Power Pack: February 2016

Your Social Security Benefit Statement

It’s that time of year again: time to start preparing to file your taxes. If you receive Social Security benefits, one of the documents you will need when filing your federal income tax return is your Social Security Benefit Statement (Form SSA-1099).

Your Social Security benefits may be taxable. This includes monthly retirement, survivor and disability benefits. About one-third of people receiving Social Security benefits must pay taxes on some of these benefits, depending on the amount of their taxable income. This usually happens only if you have other substantial income — such as wages, self-employment, interest, dividends, and other taxable income that must be reported on your tax return — in addition to your Social Security benefits. You will never have to pay taxes on more than 85 percent of your Social Security benefits, based on Internal Revenue Service (IRS) rules.

To find out if you must pay taxes on your benefits, you will need your Social Security Benefit Statement (Form SSA-1099). You should automatically receive your 1099 form each January. It shows the total amount of benefits you received from Social Security in the previous year so you know how much Social Security income to report to the IRS on your tax return. The 1099 form is not available for people who receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI), as SSI payments are not taxable.

Whether you file your taxes early or wait until the deadline, Social Security makes it easy to obtain a replacement 1099 form if you didn’t receive one or misplaced yours. You can get an instant replacement quickly and easily by using your secure online my Social Security account. If you don’t already have an account, you can create one in minutes. Follow the link to the my Social Security page, and go to “Sign In” or “Create an Account.” Once you are logged in, select the “Replacement Documents” tab to obtain your replacement 1099 form. If you create a my Social Security account, you can also use it to keep track of your earnings each year, manage your benefits, and more.

You can also obtain a replacement 1099 form by calling us at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778), Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., or by contacting your local Social Security office. If you live outside of the United States, please contact your nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

With a my Social Security account, gathering your Social Security information for tax season has never been easier. Open your own personal my Social Security account today at www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount.

Kylle’ McKinney, SSA Public Affairs Specialist, can be reached by e-mail at kylle.mckinney@ssa.gov.


Grants will enhance Alabama’s parks and trails

  • Buck’s Pocket State Park may soon become a destination for enthusiasts of all-terrain vehicles, thanks to a $526,996 grant awarded by Gov. Robert Bentley.
  • Funds will be used to construct a 15- to 25-mile-long trail for off-highway vehicles at the park located along a section of Sand Mountain that straddles the borders of Jackson, DeKalb and Marshall counties. The grant was part of $1.6 million in Recreation Trail grants awarded by Bentley for 15 projects in Alabama.
  • Of the total appropriation provided to the state by the Federal Highway Administration, $856,996 will benefit the state’s parks, which suffered budget cuts this year. Another $100,000 was awarded for recreational improvement of public trust land and the remaining funds went to seven municipalities to improve their parks.
  • Below is a description of the other grants geographically from north to south:
  • Monte Sano State Park in Huntsville was awarded $80,000 to build a trail shelter and do major trail restoration.
  • The Land Trust of North Alabama will use a $100,000 grant to acquire 80 additional acres at the Wade Mountain Preserve in north Huntsville.
  • Fort Payne was awarded $80,000 to build Citadel Rock Mountain Trail, a multi-use trail.
  • Scottsboro was awarded $100,000 to build a 5,000-foot-long extension along Lake Guntersville of its Goose Pond Colony Resort trail.
  • Gadsden was awarded $100,000 to build a 6 to 7-mile trail for hikers and bicyclists from Noccalula Falls Park to Black Creek Road and Tuscaloosa Avenue.
  • Rickwood Caverns State Park near Warrior was awarded $35,000 to improve lighting along the .9-mile cavern trail.
  • Alabama State Parks was awarded $65,000 to purchase equipment to build and maintain trails for the northeast Alabama region.
  • The Central Alabama Chapter of the Backcountry Horsemen of America will use a $20,000 grant to construct a metal roof on a trail barn at Oak Mountain State Park.
  • The Lakeshore Foundation in Birmingham was awarded a $30,000 grant and in cooperation with the Alabama Trail Commission will conduct a pilot program at Oak Mountain State Park to determine trail accessibility for people with physical disabilities and chronic health conditions.
  • The Auburn-Opelika Tourism Bureau will use a $100,000 grant to build three miles of new trail at Chewacla State Park.
  • Troy will use a $100,000 grant to extend a multi-purpose trail at the Troy Sportsplex.
  • Coffeeville in Clarke County will use its $100,000 grant to build a 3,500-foot-long multi-use trail.
  • The city of Geneva was awarded a $100,000 grant to improve Robert Fowler Memorial Park.
  • Gulf Shores was awarded a $100,000 grant to widen the Fort Morgan Road Trail.

Music to cruise by

HJ_RANDY

Music to cruise by, thanks to WLAC and Randy

The other day I met this guy, and in the small talk that followed I asked him where he was from.

“Gallatin, Tennessee. Near Nashville. You probably never heard of it.”

Of course I had. As had just about everybody of my generation who grew up a teenager in the Lower South.

“Gallatin, Tennessee,” I replied. “WLAC and Randy’s Record Shop.”

The name recalled the era.

Back in the 1950s, down deep in Dixie, teenagers riding around in cars at night, listening to the radio, had a problem. Most small town stations shut down at sunset. And the few that stayed on the air played music for the grownups – big band, Dixieland, or “smooth” country. Spinning the dial to find something else, teenagers discovered WLAC.

Rock n’ roll was abroad on the land, but small town, daytime stations didn’t play much of it. An occasional Elvis, maybe the Everly Brothers, more rockabilly than rock, and precious little of that.

WLAC sent out music that set our parents’ teeth on edge.

In the evenings, when my friends and I were out and about and listening, WLAC not only gave us R&R, it introduced us to R&B, rhythm-n-blues, and to black artists like “Fats” Domino, Little Willie John, LaVern Baker, Howlin’ Wolf and Little Richard. Better still, we could purchase those recordings by mail from Randy’s Record Shop, which was on its way to becoming the largest mail order record store in the nation.

Parents and mainstream record producers tried to turn back the tide. They had Pat Boone “cover” Little Richard’s “Tutti Frutti,” a misguided effort that produced one of the worst recordings in recording history. Thanks to WLAC and Randy’s Record Shop, I would have none of it.

HJ_SHOPSIGN

Later Little Richard told a reporter from the Washington Post that “the white kids would have Pat Boone on the dresser and me in the drawer ‘cause they liked my version better.”

Yes, we did.

I can see my father standing in my bedroom door with an expression that said “you paid good money for that?” as “a-wop-bom-a-loo-mop-a-lop-boom-boom” came blasting out of my record player.

Well, yes I did.

Paid it to Randy.

Now it would be stretching things to claim that one radio station and one record store singlehandedly popularized music that bridged a racial gap and sent a lot of white teenagers into the world better able to appreciate the contribution African Americans made and were making to our national culture.

There were other stations in other regions.

But on Dixie’s dark dirt roads, where guys drove with their left hand on the steering wheel and their right arm around their steady girl, WLAC and Randy provided the background wherever they went and whatever they did.

And during those times, all that mattered was each other, and the music.


 

JACKSON, HARVEY

Harvey H. (Hardy) Jackson is Professor Emeritus of History at Jacksonville State University. He can be reached at hjackson@cableone.net.


 

ALABAMA BOOKSHELF: February 2016

In this feature, we highlight recent books either about Alabama people or written by Alabama authors. Summaries are not reviews or endorsements. We also occasionally highlight book-related events. Email submissions and events to bookshelf@alabamaliving.coop


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A Slice of Life: Life Stories, by Thom Gossom Jr., Aquarius Press/Willow Books, November 2015, $19.95 (fiction) Actor/producer and author Gossom was born in Birmingham and became the first black athlete to graduate from Auburn University in 1975. His first book, Walk On: My Reluctant Journey to Integration at Auburn University, tells the story of his undergraduate days at Auburn and is now in its third printing. Gossom was recently featured in the HBO special Breaking the Huddle, about the integration of Southern college football, and in the documentary Quiet Courage: The James Owens Story, also about college football’s racial barriers in the Deep South. He’s appeared in several movies and TV shows and speaks to universities, corporations and civic organizations. This new book is a collection of short stories that depict a recently desegregated Alabama after the civil rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s. A Slice of Life is the first in a trilogy that will tell the life stories of average people who face their own extraordinary circumstances.


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‘Echoes’ of Robert E. Lee High School: The First Decade, 1955-65, by Clinton Carter, Kerry Palmer, Roger Stifflemire and Jim Vickrey, editors. NewSouth Books, July 2015, $20 paperback (education) An anthology about the first decade of Lee High School in Montgomery. The book is written and compiled by those who supplemented their unique personal experiences at the school – as students or educators – with research into the history of what was at one time the largest three-grade high school in the state.


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The Legacy of Whitley Place, by Deborah Sutton, Outskirts Press Publishing, February 2015, $13.95 paperback (fiction) What is the aura that surrounds Whitley Place? Old man Whitley purchases the property with the intention of providing a home for his family, but a cloak of unhappiness and darkness surrounds anyone who dares to live there. The author is a lifelong resident of Brundidge.


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Clemenceau’s Daughters, by Rocky Porch Moore, Southern Yellow Pine Publishing, December 2015, $14.95 paperback (fiction/Southern gothic) Folks tend to die around Little Debbie Ballard. She struggles to make sense of a world where an unspoken past and prejudice collide, where truth is no longer as simple as Daddy’s word, and cruel intentions transcend generations. The author grew up atop July Mountain, the North Alabama setting of her novel.


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2nd Platoon: Journey of the Pack, by Billy Smith, August 2014, $12.50 plus shipping (military history) A first-person account of an infantry platoon’s actions in Vietnam. The author kept a journal from mid-1968 through the spring of 1970 to document the hardships, horrors, sacrifices and everyday life of the combat infantryman on the battlefields and jungles of Vietnam. Book available only through the author, 629 County Road 409, Elba, AL 36323; email firstwolf48@gmail.com

Alabama Outdoors: Pickwick Lake

Hot bass action in cold waters at Pickwick Lake

By John N. Felsher

Jimmy Mason, a bass pro from Rogersville, Ala., shows off a smallmouth bass he caught on a jerkbait while fishing at Pickwick Lake near Florence, Ala. Photo by John N. Felsher
Jimmy Mason, a bass pro from Rogersville, Ala., shows off a smallmouth bass he caught on a jerkbait while fishing at Pickwick Lake near Florence, Ala.
Photo by John N. Felsher

Although anglers fishing Pickwick Lake in northwest Alabama might catch more than a dozen species on the same day, many people believe the reservoir could produce the next world record smallmouth bass.

The current world record smallmouth weighed 11 pounds, 15 ounces, a fish caught in Dale Hollow Reservoir on the Kentucky/Tennessee line in 1955. But Pickwick Lake produces smallmouth exceeding 10 pounds. In Wilson Lake, just on the other side of the Wilson Dam in Florence, Owen Smith set the Alabama smallmouth record with a 10.5-pounder. Both lakes also produce giant largemouth bass.

“Pickwick has really become one of the best bass lakes, not only in Alabama, but in the entire South for both largemouth and smallmouth,” says Tim Horton, a professional bass angler from Muscle Shoals.

Pickwick Lake spreads through 47,500 acres on the Tennessee River and touches Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee. Dating back to 1938, the lake begins at the Wilson Dam and ends 53 miles downriver where the Pickwick Dam crosses the Tennessee River at Counce, Tenn.

Near Wilson Dam, the lake still resembles the old river channel. The Tennessee Valley Authority maintains the channel for commercial traffic so it averages 10 to 12 feet deep, but some holes drop to more than 50 feet deep. The lake spreads out as it flows toward the Mississippi-Tennessee line.

“Pickwick is both a river and a lake,” says Jimmy Mason, a bass pro and guide from Rogersville. “At the upper part, from the Natchez Trace Bridge to Wilson Dam, it’s a river. From the bridge toward Mississippi, it turns into more of a typical reservoir. The lower lake has a phenomenal amount of ledges, grassy flats and structure.”


Before spring spawn is time to catch biggest bass

Anglers often catch the biggest bass all year during the winter before the spring spawn. Although anglers frequently catch smallmouth and largemouth bass in the same spots on the same lures, smallies generally prefer cooler water, more current, deeper water and rocky bottoms.

Fishing on the reservoir generally improves when water flows through Wilson Dam. The currents flush baitfish and other forage downstream, kicking off a feeding frenzy. Even far downstream, current still positions fish.

“Typically, smallmouth go a little deeper and get in the eddies,” Mason says. “In the winter, I like to fish close to the flow, but still outside of it. I look for anything that breaks the current, like a rock pile, sand and gravel bars or islands. I look for current seams where fish can get behind something and don’t have to fight that current.”

From the Wilson Dam downstream to the Natchez Trace Parkway Bridge near Barton, the river flows around several islands, rocky shoals, sandbars and other obstructions. Like trout in mountain streams, bass wait in calm water behind current breaks watching for prey to flow toward their lairs. When bass see something they like, they swoop out into the current, snatch it and then return to their eddy.

“Those old rock rows are dynamite areas to catch smallmouth in the winter,” Mason says. “They create great areas where fish can get out of the main flow. When the river is flowing heavy, I like to fish those rock rows by drifting backwards with the current. I use the trolling motor to slow the boat drift and cast upstream. Then, I use the current to sweep my bait into the eddies.”

Since smallmouth often key on abundant threadfin shad, lures that mimic baitfish typically work best. Lure colors depend upon water clarity and sunshine intensity. In stained water on a sunny day, throw natural colors like pearl, blue glimmer or other shad colors. On a cloudy day with dirty water, throw brighter baits, such as chartreuse, white or something with a little orange in it.

Although anglers can catch smallmouth bass from dam to dam, the area from the Natchez Trace downstream towards Mississippi typically holds more largemouth. For largemouth, concentrate on weedy areas and woody shoreline cover. Some good places to fish include Yellow Creek, the birthplace of the Tenn.-Tom Waterway, Bear Creek and Coffee Slough.


JOHN FELSHER 2014

John N. Felsher is a freelance writer and photographer who lives in Semmes, Ala. He co-hosts a weekly outdoors show that is syndicated to stations in Alabama. For more on the show, see www.gdomag.com. Contact him through his website at www.JohnNFelsher.com

Alabama Gardens: Crepe Myrtles

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Love your crepe myrtle – don’t murder it!

Love shouldn’t hurt, but sometimes we gardeners kill our plants with too much attention. Take “crepe murder,” for example.

Crepe murder, a term reportedly coined a couple of decades ago by Southern Living magazine, refers to the practice of severely cutting back crepe myrtles during the late fall and winter, a perhaps unwitting but nonetheless senseless attack on the beauty of these lovely plants.

Crepe myrtles (usually Lagerstroemia indica or Lagerstroemia x fauriei hybrids) are native to Asia, but they’ve been in this country for centuries, first introduced here in the 1700s. They are especially popular in the South because they thrive in our hot climate, require only minimal maintenance, produce prolific blooms from summer into fall, often exhibit dramatic color when their leaves turn in autumn and, on top of it all, usually have gorgeous mottled bark that is especially stunning when their leaves are off in the winter.

Through the centuries, a huge selection of crepe myrtle options have been developed to offer a wide range of sizes, from shrubs to trees (18 inches to 25 feet or more in height, depending on the cultivar or variety) and bloom colors (white to many hues of red, pink and purple).

The practice of cutting these plants back to the nub each year came about because it was originally believed that heavy pruning promoted more blooms, and because severe pruning was a way to control their size, which is understandable because many of these plants can rapidly outgrow their allotted space. Regardless of the motive, experts have determined that crepe murder is totally unnecessary and can actually be detrimental to the plants, perhaps not killing them outright, but certainly maiming their natural beauty.

CREPE MYRTLE 3

Heavy pruning removes strong, viable limbs and encourages the growth of weak and flimsy shoots that may not be strong enough to support blooms come summer. It can also cause them to sprout small, random shoots along their trunks and limbs that then have to be pruned to keep the plants from becoming too bushy and ruining their inherently graceful silhouettes.

Certainly it’s fine and appropriate to do some judicious crepe myrtle pruning, but it should be done in late winter and early spring and it’s best to only cut random shoots or clip a few internal branches to open up the canopy. It’s also fine to cut back any crossed or dead branches and to trim side branches from the trunk to develop a more tree-like shape.

If you simply must reduce their height, carefully snip off no more than 2 to 3 feet of the topmost branches. And if you want to promote a longer flowering season, snip off dead blooms as the season progresses.

If your crepe myrtles are victims of past crepe murder attacks, they can be rescued and healed. Just stop cutting them back this year and let them regrow while selectively pruning weaker shoots as they emerge from the trunk and larger branches. If past pruning is truly severe, try cutting them back to within a couple of inches of the ground and let them regrow, snipping off all the shoots except for the straightest, strongest ones to establish a new structure for the plant.

If those rescue attempts fail, it may be time to replace wounded crepe myrtles with new ones, which provide the perfect chance to pick ones that truly fit your landscape needs and tastes. However, make sure to check out all the options before you buy. A great resource for learning more about crepe myrtles is the U.S. National Arboretum website (www.usna.usda.gov/Research/Herbarium/Lagerstroemia/) where you can also find information on managing existing plants.

Another Alabama-specific source of information is the Alabama Cooperative Extension System’s publication,Common Crapemyrtle, at www.aces.edu/pubs/docs/A/ANR-1083/ANR-1083.pdf.

As luck would have it, February is a good time to plant new crepe myrtles — and since legend has it that the myrtle was a favored flower of the goddess of love, Aphrodite, this month may be a good time to buy your Valentine a crepe myrtle. It will be a long-lasting symbol of love that you and your sweetheart can protect and enjoy together for years to come.


FEBRUARY Garden Tips

  • Plant roses and other shrubs and hardy perennials.
  • Plant dormant fruit, nut and ornamental trees.
  • Start seeds for warm-season vegetables, such as tomatoes, peppers and summer bedding plants, in cold frames or in a protected area.
  • Begin planting summer-blooming bulbs.
  • Prune summer-flowering shrubs now, but delay pruning spring-flowering shrubs until after they bloom.
  • Order seeds for the spring and summer garden.
  • Clean out moldy or sprouting seeds before refilling bird feeders.
  • Attend gardening workshops and classes or get involved with your local gardening groups.
  • Shop for off-season garden supplies that may be on sale this time of year.

JACKSON, KATIE Gardening 2013

Katie Jackson is a freelance writer and editor based in Opelika, Alabama. Contact her at katielamarjackson@gmail.com.

 

Feeding the hungry

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Communities inspired by couple’s desire to feed the hungry

By Carolyn Tomlin

Jim and Linda Jones have always worked to make a difference, both in the U.S. and abroad. But their effort now is concentrated on their northeast Alabama community.

Serving on 23 short-term mission trips around the world — in the U.S., Honduras, the Dominican Republic, Kenya and Brazil — opened their eyes to hunger. But it was after a mission trip to Africa that Jim saw hunger within one mile of his home — in his own neighborhood.

Jim and Linda Jones lead a team of volunteers to feed nearly 3,000 children with a backpack of food 49 weeks a year.
Jim and Linda Jones lead a team of volunteers to feed nearly 3,000 children with a backpack of food 49 weeks a year.

After much prayer and research, Jim and Linda decided to focus on the needs of Alabama’s children, making sure that families receive the food they need.

The members of Coosa Valley Electric Cooperative began Alabama Childhood Food Solutions (ACFS) in 2011, feeding 42 children from the trunk of their car. Now, they feed almost 3,000 children, giving them a backpack of food 49 weeks a year.

And numerous churches and organizations in central Alabama counties participate. Corporations across America support this 501c3 non-profit that has grown into a $350,000-plus per year organization.

Marble City Baptist in Sylacauga is just one of the churches committed to supporting ACFS. The church provides a 7,000-square-foot warehouse, volunteers and monetary support. “People more than ever want to see where their mission efforts are working and be able to be the hands and feet of God in our own neighborhood,” says Steven Smith, youth pastor.

The churches that support ACFS are active participants in the procurement and distribution of food. Governed by a board of nine people from the area, ACFS is an all-volunteer organization with no paid staff. All funds are used to purchase, transport and store food for the hungry. Donations may come in time, work, or money.

ACFS Volunteers
ACFS Volunteers

Initially, Jim and Linda were challenged to identify the families and children who are “food insecure,” which is defined by the USDA as having a limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods, or a limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways. Chronic food insecurity can lead to hunger.

“Food insecurity is more than an empty stomach,” Linda says. “It’s not knowing if or when there will be another meal.”

Jim and Linda started by reaching out to educators and school support staff, who saw these food insecure families every day. Adding more weekend bags each week, they are now sharing food with 38 schools and Boys and Girls Clubs.

With each weekly backpack, a small note is included. Each note reflects a life situation and how kids should react. “Character building comes in many forms,” says Jim.

The organization encourages families to get involved in schools and become active in the community. Even one person can make a difference, Jim says. “But imagine the difference a caring community can make in the lives of Alabama’s hungry children. Yes, it takes a village.”

As a member of the ACFS board, Shirley Mitchell recalls a day when Jim talked to a group about volunteering. “I’ll take whatever you can give,” he told them. “One day a month — or one hour.”

Mitchell has seen the long hours both Jim and Linda donate to ACFS. “When they started, they often put in 80 hours per week. Today, volunteers carry some of the load, but they continue to work 40-plus hours weekly. They never ask volunteers to do something they wouldn’t do themselves.”

Senior citizens and the homeless are also part of this food distribution. Each month ACFS feeds nearly 1,500 people in 400 families who are food insecure. Using a market-style distribution, parents can choose fresh and nutritious food their families will eat, which reduces food waste.

“Why give families something they will never eat?” Linda says. “Instead, have a center and encourage them to shop for nutritious items that will be used for meals.”

The couple has identified 14,000 food insecure children in three counties and will work to feed as many as possible. “We would like to see this program replicated across Alabama — even across America,” Jim says.

For more information about the group, visit www.alabamachildhoodfoodsolutions.com, or send an email to ChildhoodFood@gmail.com.


Learning to find funds

Part of the success of ACFS has come from grants and donations. For anyone who wants to start a feeding program in their community, Jim Jones offers some suggestions:

  • Use online grant sources to identify foundations and corporations in Alabama that supply grant monies. Learn how to make a proposal to such groups and how to form a grant-writing committee from volunteers.
  • Look around your community and identify local businesses that are part of a national chain or franchise. These businesses have foundations. Work with the CEO or manager to locate funding for hunger projects. Are there grants that provide for children, low-income families, or education that can be connected to food insecurity? Find creative ways to recognize these businesses through contact with social media, mail-outs, and appreciation dinners.
  • When Jim and Linda receive funding for a project, they continue to communicate with this organization for other needs. Recently, a $35,000 van was donated to ACFS to deliver weekend backpacks to schoolchildren. A recent project was “Sock-it-to-Hunger” where 11,040 large socks were distributed to schools and churches across the state. Groups and individuals participated by filling the socks with $5.

EDUCATION: Loans

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Low-interest and no-interest federal loans help finance college

| Click HERE for a list of Alabama Colleges and Universities |

By Minnie Lamberth

If you are a college-bound student or the parent of a college-bound student, you’re likely looking for financing options for educational expenses — and at federal student loans, in particular.

The direct loan program funded by the U.S. Department of Education generally offers borrowers lower interest rates and more flexible repayment options than loans from banks or other sources. In addition, loans are in some cases “subsidized” based on financial need — meaning, qualified borrowers would repay the loan but would not have to pay interest on the loan until after graduation.

Loans that are “unsubsidized” are also available from the federal government. Borrowers don’t have to demonstrate financial need to receive an unsubsidized loan, but they do have to pay interest on the loan while in college.

Four types of direct loans include:

  1.  Direct Subsidized Loans – Made to eligible undergraduate students who demonstrate financial need to help cover the costs of higher education at a college or career school.
  2.  Direct Unsubsidized Loans – Made to eligible undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. It is not necessary to demonstrate financial need.
  3.  Direct PLUS Loans – Made to graduate or professional students and parents of dependent undergraduate students to help pay for education expenses not covered by other financial aid.
  4.  Direct Consolidation Loans – A method for combining multiple federal student loans into a single loan with a single loan servicer.

EDU_PHILIP

Combined aid sources

Financial aid offices work with students to combine multiple sources of educational funding to create a financial aid package. It’s common to include both subsidized and unsubsidized loans within this package, as well as work-study eligibility, grants or scholarship assistance.

Whether the loan is subsidized or unsubsidized, there are caps on the amount that can be borrowed. “The different grade classifications have different loan limits,” says Tommy Dismukes, a financial aid administrator with Huntingdon College in Montgomery. “They increase each year as you progress in college.”

Dismukes explains that the most a freshman can get in federally subsidized loans is $3,500, while the most a freshman can get in unsubsidized loans is $2,000, for a total of $5,500. For sophomores, those combined amounts increase to $6,500, and for juniors and seniors, the combined amounts increase to $7,500.

Prior to the passage of the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010, banks and private lenders made student loans that were guaranteed by the federal government. Now that the federal government is the lender, banks have shifted to private loans.

“A lot of families look to these private loans to provide additional funds,” Dismukes says. Because interest rates and repayment terms aren’t as favorable as federal direct loans, private loans don’t have as much appeal but are still part of the equation.

Completing the FAFSA

Completing the “Free Application for Federal Student Aid” is the first step for determining eligibility for federal aid. The FAFSA can be completed and submitted after January 1 for high school seniors and after selecting the school of choice, applying and getting accepted. “Schools have a mechanism to notify students that they need to do the FAFSA,” Dismukes says. The document has to be completed each year of college attendance and is based on the previous year’s income and certain assets.

This financial picture provides a guide for financial aid offices to work with students and families to determine eligibility and availability of  federal loans and other funding to support their education. “It’s not a ‘one size fits all,’” Dismukes says. “It’s based on a review of the FAFSA.”

For more information, visit studentaid.ed.gov/

Alabama Recipes: Easy Does It

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Some days, even if you like to cook, it’s hard to get motivated to get in the kitchen and make something. Sometimes, I truly enjoy shopping and measuring and stirring and sautéing. But there are other days that just take it out of me, and I don’t even want to think about cooking. But since I always think about eating (and eating out all the time isn’t a good idea for the aforementioned reasons), it’s kinda necessary.

That’s why we are devoting this month’s food pages to “quick and easy” recipes as well as some tips and shortcuts that will make many of them – and lots of others already in your repertoire – even quicker and easier. Thanks to these reader-submitted recipes, if you can find about 30 minutes (sometimes less!) and muster up just a bit of energy, you can put a delicious homemade dish on the table.

Cooking your meals and eating at home is almost always better for your health and your budget.

– Jennifer Kornegay


Cook of the Month

Pat H. St. John, Cherokee EC

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Pat has been making her Easy Chicken Pot Pie for years and came up with the idea when she realized while she liked eating chicken pot pie, she didn’t always want to make pie crust. “I really cook from scratch, but I sometimes use frozen biscuits, so I thought they might work in place of a homemade pie crust and make enjoying pot pie much easier,” she says. “I don’t know how I came up with using the Alfredo sauce though. I always make pasta sauces myself, so this recipe is actually the only time I use jarred sauce.”

No matter how the idea arrived, you’ll be glad it did. This recipe is one of the simplest you’ll find that’s also extremely satisfying. You don’t even have to dirty more than one dish! “And it’s great the next day warmed over,” Pat says.

Easy Chicken Pot Pie

  • 2 cups cooked, chopped chicken
  • 1 16-ounce jar Alfredo sauce
  • 1 small can sliced mushrooms, drained
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 6 frozen biscuits, thawed

In a casserole dish, stir together all ingredients except biscuits. Place biscuits on top. Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes or until biscuits are done.

Recipe Tip

Pat often adds additional veggies when she makes her pot pie. When we made the recipe, we included ½ cup steam-in-bag peas and 1/3 cup frozen chopped onions. We steamed the peas and defrosted the onions before we put them in. We also used Mary B’s Thin & Crispy biscuits on the top per Pat’s suggestion. She’s found that thinner biscuits work better.

 


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Tilapia Tacos

  • 2 pounds tilapia fillets, thawed
  • 1 packet Casa Mexicana Fish Taco Seasoning
  • ¼ cup oil
  • ¼ cup water
  • Corn tortillas
  • 1 avocado, sliced
  • 4 Roma tomatoes, sliced
  • Mayonnaise
  • Cilantro (remove leaves, discard stems)
  • Fresh limes, wedged

In a large Ziploc bag, place oil, water, and seasoning. Mix completely. Add tilapia and let marinate for 15 minutes. Place marinated tilapia on a hot, non-stick skillet and cook on medium for 5-10 minutes or until flaky. Slice into 1-inch slices. Warm corn tortillas and place 4 tilapia slices, 2 avocado slices, 2 tomato slices, squirt of mayo, a sprinkle of cilantro, and squeeze lime wedge over it all. Delicious!

Esther Briddick, Joe Wheeler EMC


8-Can Soup

  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 small diced onion
  • 1 can Rotel tomatoes
  • 1 can whole kernel corn
  • 1 can mixed vegetables
  • 1 can chili with beans
  • 1 can chili without beans
  • 1 can petite diced tomatoes
  • 1 can tomato soup
  • 1 can vegetable soup
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • ½ cup ketchup
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Brown the beef with onion and drain. Put meat mixture into a large crockpot and add all other ingredients; do not drain the canned goods. May simmer all day if desired.

Mrs. Harold Batchelor, Covington EC


Easy Meat and Veggie Casserole

  • 1 link Polish sausage
  • 2 cans black-eyed peas, drained
  • Onion and green pepper, optional, or to taste
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 1 package Jiffy cornbread mix

Slice and cook Polish sausage. Saute onion and green pepper, if desired. Add to sausage with peas and tomatoes. Pour into a 9-inch by 13-inch casserole dish. Mix cornbread as directed and pour on top. Bake at 350 degrees till cornbread is done, about 20 minutes. Other options: Use ground beef instead of sausage (brown and drain); add shoepeg corn or Rotel. Pinto beans can be used instead of peas.

Beverly Bentley, Joe Wheeler EMC


Quick and Easy Orange Rolls

  • 1 tube crescent rounds
  • 1/3 cup orange marmalade
  • Glaze:
  • ½ cup confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 teaspoon corn syrup or honey
  • 1 teaspoon water

Unroll crescent rounds. Spread marmalade over all. Separate rolls and re-roll into individual rolls. Put into a greased baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes. Make glaze and drizzle over rolls. If glaze is too stiff, add a drop or two more water. The corn syrup or honey can be omitted, but it makes a glossy appearance. Fig or fruit jam also works.

Linda Ryan, Joe Wheeler EMC


Hesta’s Dream Dessert

  • 2 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ¾ cup melted butter or margarine
  • 1 large carton of non dairy whipped topping
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk
  • 8 ounces cream cheese
  • ¼ cup lemon juice
  • 1 12-ounce bag frozen raspberries
  • 1 cup flake coconut

Make a crust from first 3 ingredients. Press in the bottom of a 9-inch by 13-inch dish. Bake for 8 minutes at 350 degrees. Mix whipped topping, condensed milk, cream cheese and lemon juice. Add raspberries and pour into crust. Lightly toast coconut in the warm oven where you baked the crust. Sprinkle over the top of dessert. Cover and chill or this can be frozen for later. Cut into squares to serve.

Hesta A. Gurney, Joe Wheeler EMC


Onion Casserole

  • 1 tube of 10 biscuits (any brand works)
  • 5-6 sliced, cooked onions, drained and cooled
  • 1 small carton (8 ounces) sour cream
  • 3/4-1 stick butter (not margarine)
  • Sprinkle of red pepper flakes

In a 9-inch by 13-inch Pyrex dish, press the biscuit dough on the bottom and slightly up the sides. Layer on the cooked onions. With a spoon, add the sour cream in small dollops; do not try to mix these in. Pour the melted butter over all and sprinkle with red pepper flakes for taste and color. Cook at 350 degrees for 16-18 minutes. Optional: Bisquick can be substituted for biscuits in the tube.

Tina Robertson, Baldwin EMC


Crescent Bars

  • 1 can refrigerated crescent rolls
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 can ready-to-use coconut/pecan frosting
  • ½ stick butter, melted

Spray a 9-inch by 11-inch pan with non-stick cooking spray. Spread crescent rolls out in pan, sealing perforations to form a “crust.” In a bowl, combine the sweetened condensed milk and frosting. Spread this mixture on top of the crust. Drizzle the melted butter on top. Bake at 350 degrees approximately 30 minutes until lightly browned. Cool and cut into bars.

Dolores Childree, Baldwin EMC


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Super Easy Chocolate and Peanut Butter Cookies

|Click here to view a video how-to for this recipe|
  • 1 cup smooth peanut butter
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 bag Hershey’s kisses

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix peanut butter, sugar and egg together well, and chill for one hour. Roll small amounts of the mixture (about the size of a walnut) by hand and drop onto a cookie sheet. Press a chocolate kiss into each roll. Bake cookies for 8-10 minutes; let cool on a wire rack. Makes a dozen.

Melissa Cames, Cullman EC


Upcoming recipe themes and deadlines:

  • April Greens February 8
  • May Chicken Salad March 8
  • June Picnic Meals April 8  

Submit:

Online: alabamaliving.coop
Email: recipes@alabamaliving.coop
Mail: Recipes, P.O. Box 244014
Montgomery, AL 36124

We welcome your recipes!

Please send us your original recipes, developed by you or family members, and not ones copied from a book or magazine. You may adapt a recipe from another source by changing as little as the amount of one ingredient. Cook of the Month winners will receive $50, and may win “Cook of the Month” only once per calendar year.

Share a story about your recipe! Whether it’s your grandmother’s best cake or your uncle’s camp stew, every recipe has a story behind it. We’ll pay $50 for the best recipe-related story each month.

Worth the Drive: Amsterdam Café

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Photo by Michael Cornelison

|View Video Here|

A new type of college hangout

By Lori Quiller

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If dining in a college town brings to mind burgers, fries and hot wings, then think again. Nestled among the fast food joints and greasy spoons are the hidden gems of quaint cafés serving culinary delights. All you have to do is know where to look.

In Auburn, the place to look is The Amsterdam Café on South Gay Street, just a stone’s throw from the Auburn University campus. It opened in the early 1990s when the college scene consisted of bars featuring great music, some table games and some light bar food. Back then, the Amsterdam Café featured handmade Shulbok game tables and was a cool place to hang out for the college crowd.

When the Cleveland family bought the café in 1998, it was time to shake things up. But a few items from the previous owners simply had to stay.

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The walls of the quirky eatery are adorned with paintings in the style of Dutch post-Impressionist master Vincent van Gogh – variations of “Self Portrait” and “Starry Night” – with distinctive twists.

“I love these!” restaurant manager Nick Ciza says, laughing. “Our current owners traveled a lot in Europe, and they have a love of art. They commissioned art students from the university and local artists to make these pieces special, and we get a lot of great comments on them. The van Gogh ‘Self Portrait’ as an Auburn football player is a favorite, but mine is ‘Starry Night’ with Samford Hall. If you aren’t paying attention, though, you’ll miss them.”

Changing the décor was only the beginning. The Amsterdam Café is an eclectic mix of casual hangout by day, upscale dining by night. Once the new décor was in place, which included a renovation of additional space downstairs for special events and a revitalized outdoor patio, the decision was made to renovate the menu and include Sunday brunch.

According to Ciza, loyal patrons had been asking for Sunday brunch for quite some time, and it has turned out to be very popular. With standard brunch offerings such as shrimp and grits, quiches and omelets, Chef Walter Brown makes sure “standard” doesn’t mean “boring.”

One signature brunch item is the smoked brisket hash with diced potatoes, peppers and onions, served with a fried egg and sourdough toast. Brunch is only served on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and the menu is a perfect complement to the eclectic atmosphere of the café.

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Photo by Michael Cornelison

Ciza, who began his career with the café in May 2009 as a server and worked his way up to manager, said the family-friendly atmosphere is perhaps one thing that has allowed the café to thrive all these years.

“This is a great place to come, hang out for lunch and even to bring your special someone out for a date,” Ciza says. “And, our food is great. We have a wonderful chef who truly loves what he does, and it shows on every plate that comes out of the kitchen.”

Here’s a tip: Try the lobster egg rolls – chunk lobster with smoked Gouda, zucchini and carrots served with a Sriracha and orange-horseradish dipping sauce. Follow The Amsterdam Café on Facebook for the day’s specials.


Amsterdam Café
410 S. Gay St. Auburn, AL 36830
334-826-8181
Hours: Sunday brunch,
10 a.m.-3 p.m.;
Sunday dinner, 5-8 p.m.;
Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.;
Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
www.amsterdamcafeauburn.com

Budgeting battle

Budgeting battle for state agencies begins again

By Minnie Lamberth

Alabama legislators will have serious work ahead as they iron out financial details for the General Fund, the budget that supports the state’s non-education agencies. Last year around this time, they were facing a projected $256 million deficit for these services, and their laborious efforts to pass the budget extended past the regular session and into two special sessions before receiving the governor’s signature on a funding bill for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1.

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In the process, legislators came up with some additional funding and a number of reductions. “We ended up passing about $165 million in recurring revenues,” says Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, chair of the House Ways and Means General Fund Committee. These revenues included a 25-cent increase in the cigarette tax and an increase in pharmacy and nursing home provider fees. Legislators also moved about $80 million in use tax from the Education Trust Fund to the General Fund. “We still ended up cutting $82 million from the previous year,” Clouse says.

In the final budget that’s in place for the current fiscal year, some of the larger agencies, such as the Medicaid agency, prison system and mental health department, were level funded, though others saw a range of cuts. “Most agencies were cut in excess of 5%,” says Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, chair of the Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee.

Now, as legislators convene on Feb. 2 for the 2016 Regular Session, they’re back to the same task.

“Preliminarily it looks like it’s going to be another difficult year for the General Fund,” Orr says. “The revenues are flat. The demands are greater.”

The state’s Medicaid Agency and the Department of Corrections in particular both need additional funding. Orr says Medicaid alone needs more than a $100 million increase. The state’s transition to a risk-bearing model where regional care organizations deliver Medicaid services for a fixed amount is responsible for much of this need.

“Then you’ve got the correctional system. They’ve got to receive an increase,” Orr says. “Facilities are outdated and in dire shape for the Department of Corrections.” According to Orr, the prisons are currently at 190% capacity, which is one of the highest levels in the nation.

Medicaid and Corrections “are the two largest agencies as far as receiving discretionary dollars,” Orr says. Those discretionary dollars make up a fairly small part of the pie.

Earmarked taxes limit the Legislature’s ability to move funds from one need to another. Though the General Fund budget could total $10-$12 billion overall, Orr says, “We only have discretion over $1.8 billion, give or take.”

For example, gasoline taxes are earmarked for the Department of Transportation; liquor taxes are earmarked for the Department of Mental Health. “There’s not legislative discretion over where that money goes,” Orr says. “It’s already been preassigned what agency will receive those funds.”

Legislators take another factor into account. Orr points out that some agencies have a designated revenue stream, which makes them less dependent on appropriations from the General Fund. The Alabama Department of Environmental Management is an example. “They can raise their fees,” Orr says.

ADEM had previously received around $1 million of General Fund appropriation. “That was cut. Then they were getting regular permit fees. An additional $1 million of that money was transferred out,” Orr says.

For ADEM’s director, Lance LeFleur, these actions have caused concern. “Our department has been under the scrutiny of the EPA for lack of funding for some time,” LeFleur says. His agency’s state appropriation is now approximately zero. “We’ve just gone up on fees to industries to compensate for 2016 cuts,” he adds.

Given the department’s requirement to transfer out dedicated cleanup fees to the General Fund, he says, “We are a revenue source to the General Fund, which is a very sad state of affairs.”

Agency efficiency is another area where legislators will give attention. “Legislators are going to want to deep dive into these agencies,” Clouse says. “They’re going to have to justify all their expenses.” He already sees progress on that front. “We’re down 5,000 state employees than we were six years ago.”

Another issue will be to look at federal funding and what the state is required to provide to receive those funds. “We want to see how much federal money each agency gets and what state money is required to draw those dollars down,” Clouse says.

New taxes are unlikely. “As many fights as we had over raising revenue (last year), I think it’s pretty evident that there’s not going to be new revenue,” he says.