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Jaime Harrison: Virus-stricken SC can't get caught flat-footed during hurricane season

Jaime Harrison (copy) (copy)

Jaime Harrison

We are no strangers to hurricanes in South Carolina. These storms are part of life, especially in the Lowcountry and all along our coast.

I was in middle school when Hurricane Hugo hit in 1989. I still remember the sounds from that night and the challenges of recovering. We are less than two weeks away from what likely will not be a normal hurricane season. A storm bearing down on our shores would hit a coronavirus-stricken state in a vulnerable position, financially and logistically, to handle a severe weather event.

The coronavirus has made our state tax revenues plummet, as we are expected to lose out on more than $1 billion of income. This puts crucial government agencies in a precarious position to respond to disasters, including making sure we have basic services like paramedics and firefighters to protect lives and property.

People need expendable income to make preparations. Coastal South Carolinians know the list well: boarding up homes, buying sandbags for storefronts, stocking up on canned food and filling your tank with gas. But right now, too many don’t have the cash to spare. More than 450,000 South Carolinians filed for unemployment relief in recent months. The $1,200 checks from the CARES Act were helpful starts for those who received them — many still haven’t — but are simply not enough for those living paycheck to paycheck as we stare down more pain ahead. Unfortunately, our senior senator thinks that families are actually getting too much relief.

Sheltering presents another problem. Crowding in gyms, community centers and schools would put far too many at risk during a pandemic. As the federal government works with local officials to protect at-risk families, they must develop plans to allocate people and resources in a way that does not further spread the virus.

But it is hard to make plans without having data. Embarrassingly, until recently our state was ranked dead last in COVID-19 testing per capita. We must do better, and that is why I have repeatedly called for a stronger use of the Defense Production Act to ensure families have widespread access to free testing. As it stands, we lack the full picture of how the coronavirus is impacting us.

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Meanwhile, this hurricane season is projected to be busier than usual, with the Weather Channel predicting 18 named storms, four of which would be major hurricanes of at least Category 3 strength. A tropical storm has already formed in the Atlantic, making 2020 the sixth consecutive year that a storm has been named before hurricane season.

We cannot discuss hurricanes without mentioning climate change, the primary force behind these stronger, more frequent storms. This is the same problem that is driving sea level rise here, making flooding more frequent and threatening coastal property values. Caring about the long-term vibrancy of our coasts means transitioning ambitiously to cleaner energy, which would spur job growth in high-paying industries and cut air pollution.

Right now, it is hard to think of another threat. But our leaders in Washington should make sure now that federal attention, resources and capabilities are ready. Yet Sen. Lindsey Graham is standing idly by as Mitch McConnell and others in Washington play political games, even while they suggest the federal government should let resource-depleted states and municipalities go bankrupt. This is shortsighted, feckless leadership.

Leaders must lead. We cannot wait until the storm turns toward us. Getting caught flat-footed is not an option. Not this year. And not for the hundreds of thousands of South Carolinians out of work, infected with coronavirus or in an otherwise difficult position to protect themselves and their homes from a serious hurricane.

Jaime Harrison is a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate.

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