What S.C. families need from the next COVID relief bill

Just last week, over 800,000 new unemployment claims were filed in the United States, a staggering statistic that reflects the toll of the coronavirus on our economy. South Carolina has especially been hit hard by the pandemic:

Over 118,000 confirmed cases. Over 2,600 deaths. Our state has the seventh most cases per capita, and 20 percent of tests are coming back positive. My hometown hospital in Orangeburg got so full that the National Guard had to build a medical tent outside of it. And the number one cause of death for police officers this year is the coronavirus.

As our state grows sicker, our economy grows weaker. Over 730,000 claims for unemployment have been filed in our state. South Carolina ranks 50th — last in the entire country — for PPP funds received per worker. Between 417,000 and 628,000 South Carolinians could face eviction over the next couple months, and one in four children are expected to experience food insecurity.

Too many families here are living in fear of joblessness, homelessness and hunger — struggles that I’ve faced myself. Too many small business owners aren’t getting the support they need. And Lindsey Graham has done little to alleviate these hardships.

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Instead of finding bipartisan solutions, he and the rest of the Senate decided to take a five week recess — without passing a new coronavirus relief bill. Our leaders cannot and should not give up when compromise seems out of reach, especially when the economic security of South Carolinians is at stake.

As Congress gavels back in this week, here’s what the next relief bill needs to include for South Carolinians devastated by the economic impact of coronavirus:

Renew Unemployment Relief

Without key provisions in previous relief packages, 205,000 South Carolinians would have fallen into poverty and as a result would not have been able to purchase goods and services from local small businesses.

Unemployment relief from The CARES Act — a popular and bipartisan solution — was a key lifeline not just for our families but also for small businesses. The program infused almost $120 million per week into our state’s economy, keeping families and small businesses afloat during this difficult time.

But this relief expired a month ago, and Sen. Lindsey Graham is a key reason why. Just a few days after this crucial relief was passed into law, our senior senator started his crusade to cut this provision from future relief bills. He even said “over our dead bodies” will he allow its extension and accused nurses on the frontlines of this pandemic of quitting their jobs to access this program.

Lindsey Graham got his wish, and now 150,000 South Carolinians face deeper uncertainty about their futures. We must renew this relief, now.

Ensure PPP Funds End Up in the Right Hands

The Paycheck Protection Program was designed to help small businesses keep employees on payrolls during this economic downturn. But during the crisis, we have seen story after story about publicly traded companies and big corporations accessing these vital funds.

Lindsey Graham has done little to hold these corporations accountable — and has done even less to support South Carolina’s small business owners. The end result: South Carolina ranks 50th — worst in the country — for PPP loans granted per worker.

The implementation of the program has also hurt people of color. According to the experts, 95 percent of Black-owned businesses were shut out from PPP loans, a catastrophe for our state’s economy.

First, we must renew this program before its expiration triggers an even bigger wave of business closures throughout the country. But we must also reform it by putting funds aside for businesses with few employees, making this relief accessible to mom-and-pop businesses throughout South Carolina that cannot afford expensive accountants and lawyers to secure these loans.

Extend Eviction Protections

North Charleston, has the highest eviction rate in the country, and Columbia is not far behind. It’s an epidemic in communities across South Carolina: 52 percent of rental households are at risk of eviction.

This is personal for me. My family, like many families here in South Carolina, have faced difficult financial situations. I grew up in constant fear of eviction. And right now, as the coronavirus pandemic wreaks havoc, our state is refusing to stop evictions. That’s why I called on our governor to follow other Republican and Democratic governors to pause eviction proceedings during this difficult time.

We must extend the federal eviction protections in The CARES Act to make sure every South Carolinian can keep a roof over their head during this public health crisis.

Lend a Helping Hand to Local Governments

Right now, our towns and municipalities are saddled with the burden of containing the virus, on top of their pre-existing budget obligations.

In anticipation of this problem, The CARES Act provided aid to state and local governments during the coronavirus. This funding helps our communities hire more personnel and pay our first responders and sanitation workers.

Lindsey Graham has fought tooth and nail against this provision. Our leaders must prioritize South Carolina’s small towns and remote cities to make sure they have the resources to combat the coronavirus.

Support Rural Economies

For too long, our rural communities have suffered the devastating impact of underinvestment. And COVID-19 has only exacerbated these pre-existing issues, with shuttered hospitals and higher uninsurance rates making it even harder to access the testing and treatment that families need.

That’s why last week I announced my Rural Hope Agenda in Rowesville, S.C. My plan will grow rural economies by spurring entrepreneurship, protecting farmers, and rebuilding crumbling infrastructure. As we craft this upcoming relief bill, we must not forget our small towns and agricultural communities.

We Rise and Fall Together

South Carolinians want to work for a living. Every day on the campaign trail, I hear stories from people using this time to build a better future for themselves and their families.

We need to implement the practical, bipartisan and compassionate policies I laid out here — because we rise and fall together.

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