South Carolina is used to hurricanes. We’re also used to our federal elected representatives doing their jobs and delivering disaster relief when our communities are devastated by those hurricanes. Why do we send our tax dollars out of state to Washington. D.C., if we can’t even rely on the federal government in an emergency?
But 2019 is a strange time to be alive. This is the year that our leaders decided to start playing politics with disaster recovery. This year, the White House decided to go to war with the people of Puerto Rico, United States citizens like you and me. And South Carolina is caught in the middle.
President Donald Trump thinks that the people of Puerto Rico don’t deserve federal disaster aid like every other U.S. citizen. He feels so strongly about it that he has asked Senate Republicans to hold back all disaster aid for the entire country until the Democrats agree to cut funding for Puerto Rico. This is a dangerous precedent to set. We shouldn’t allow disaster relief to be politicized.
Today President Trump’s vendetta is against Puerto Rico; one day it could be another president who has a personal problem with the people of South Carolina. We are all in this together.
Delaying disaster relief for all affected states and territories means South Carolina farmers who are in danger of losing their land won’t get the federal aid they need and deserve. Instead, the state has had to step in to fill the gap, investing over $25 million to replace missing federal aid funds. It also means Air Force bases across the South have not received the funds they need to rebuild after Hurricane Michael.
And those are just the problems we read about in the newspaper. Hurricane Florence did at least $600 million worth of damage in South Carolina and displaced over 11,000 people. Thousands of working-class South Carolinans are still suffering in silence. As reverend of Kingdom Living Temple in Florence, I hear every day from parishioners who are struggling to get their lives back.
Folks are living in houses full of mold because they can’t afford to rebuild without federal assistance. Small-scale farmers aren’t sure whether they can afford to plant this season. Business owners are still waiting on compensation. Everyone’s life is on hold until Congress can get its act together and pass a disaster aid bill.
The farmers and working families of South Carolina are crying out for help. But we’re not asking for special treatment. We just want the same access to federal disaster aid that every American is entitled to. Just like the people of Puerto Rico.
The Rev. Leo Woodberry is pastor of Kingdom Living Temple in Florence and executive director of the nonprofit New Alpha Community Development Corporation.