The COVID-19 pandemic has seen popular restaurants in Charleston shuttered, Lowcountry residents evicted and major businesses trying to hold on while facing one of the worst economic periods in American history.
The two candidates in South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District race — Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham and Republican challenger state Rep. Nancy Mace of Daniel Island — have different views when it comes to how the federal government should get involved in helping struggling South Carolinians and businesses.
Both candidates have spoken out against an additional $600 in monthly unemployment insurance. Cunningham believes the government can tailor a more personal plan. Mace believes relying on Washington isn't the answer and the best economic stimulus is fully reopening businesses.
Cunningham blames the Trump administration and the GOP-controlled Senate for relief delays. Mace points the finger at Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for holding up a coronavirus aid bill.
This is the third installment in a four-part series leading up to the Nov. 3 election that lays out candidate policy views on issues that matter most to South Carolina voters.
Their responses have been edited and condensed for space and clarity.
President Donald Trump wanted to halt passing additional COVID-19 relief until after the election. But he's altered course. Do you believe more federal aid is the best solution to help people in the district struggling in this economy?
Cunningham: South Carolinians, families and small businesses are struggling right now and cannot afford more delays. We cannot turn our backs on them, especially when we know a deal is possible. President Trump and Republicans in the Senate have spoken favorably about the bipartisan framework for COVID-19 relief legislation that I helped introduce with the Problem Solvers Caucus. It is incredibly important that leaders from both parties, including the president, return to the table and agree on a package that provides immediate relief for American families, small businesses, out-of-work Americans, and state and local governments. Inaction is not an option.
Mace: We absolutely need to get help to the people who need it. The Senate has a trillion-dollar relief package including loans to small businesses and more money to those without jobs, but Nancy Pelosi is playing political games with it, adding in totally unrelated legislation. Also, small businesses are suffering because they cannot get the PPP loans they were promised because the request portal has been shut down for weeks — with $130 billion left in the program. Any stimulus bill coming out of Congress should only focus on what businesses need, not partisan wish-lists. Of course, the best economic remedy is to reopen, so businesses can bring their employees back to work and regain revenue. They shouldn’t rely on Washington to save them. Washington is too partisan and is out of money.
Are you in favor of increased and additional unemployment assistance and stimulus checks for the American people during the pandemic? When should the aid stop?
Cunningham: Congress must pass legislation that extends enhanced unemployment benefits and includes direct economic relief for American families. So many South Carolinians are still out of work and major companies have begun to layoff and furlough hard-working Americans through no fault of their own. We must provide them relief with commonsense guardrails in place so we are not incentivizing folks to remain unemployed. I’ve called on House leadership to consider a more localized approach that takes into account average wages and cost of living, as well as the current trend in new COVID-19 cases in each state and locality, as opposed to a flat rate.
Mace: We do need a new round of stimulus, but we should not rely on Washington to get it done. South Carolina’s unemployment rate is much lower than the national average, I believe this is because of our pro-growth policies and low taxes. The best way to reduce the unemployment rate and stimulate our economy is by safely opening back up. We should also ensure unemployment assistance incentivizes people to get back to work.
What would you do to bring more businesses and jobs to the 1st District? What do you see as the future of the Lowcountry's workforce?
Cunningham: The Lowcountry’s economy was thriving with record low levels of unemployment before we took a hit from COVID-19, and I know that we can bounce back stronger than ever before. But first, we need to get this deadly virus under control. Once we get through this pandemic, we should begin to invest heavily in clean energy manufacturing and build upon the strong manufacturing base we have in the Lowcountry, particularly in Berkeley and Dorchester counties. I was also proud to work with the entire South Carolina delegation to secure full funding for the Charleston Harbor Deepening Project and we should continue to invest in cutting edge infrastructure projects, like the Ashley River Crossing pedestrian bridge project for which I was proud to bring home $18.1 million in funding last year.
Mace: I support incentivizing businesses with tax credits and cuts. The Trump Administration’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act worked wonders on our struggling economy and gave business owners more revenue to hire new employees, offer raises to current staff and expand their operations. It allowed entrepreneurs to start their own businesses.
Researchers found that South Carolina had the second-highest rate of serial evictions in the country. In Charleston County, researchers found that in 2016 alone there was roughly one eviction filing for every five renters. What do you believe is the solution to sustainable housing in SC's 1st District and what would you do to combat the rising cost of living?
Cunningham: Congress put in place a federal eviction moratorium in March because no one should be forced out of their homes in the middle of a pandemic. But now that those protections have been allowed to expire and Congress has failed to pass another COVID-19 relief package, thousands of South Carolina families are on the edge of a financial cliff. In June, I was proud to help pass the Emergency Housing Protections and Relief Act to continue COVID-19 protections for renters and owners. This includes measures to help communities address the needs of low-income renters, homeowners and people experiencing homelessness, and establishes a national, uniform moratorium on evictions and foreclosures. It’s now up to the Senate to pass this bill and ensure that millions of Americans will continue to have a place to live.
Mace: In the wake of COVID-19, more and more people are losing their homes because they can’t afford to pay the mortgages or rent. I disagree with South Carolina’s decision to resume foreclosures and evictions in May when COVID-19 was still running rampant. If we are going to insist people pay their rent and mortgages with no leeway, then we should be opening our businesses back up to the fullest extent in the safest way possible.
Alternatively, I support relief for our housing sector by driving incentives for banks, lenders and landlords who suspend or defer mortgage and rent payments. By offering a 1 percent tax credit to these banks and employers, they would be able to lower their tax rate while giving their tenants and clients a reprieve.
South Carolina is increasingly becoming a hub for major corporations. Do you believe in increased taxes on major businesses or government bailouts? Do you support labor unions?
Cunningham: I do not support increased taxes on South Carolina businesses. I wholeheartedly supported last week’s news that Boeing would be moving all production of the 787 Dreamliner to South Carolina. We are fortunate to be home to so many major corporations because they recognize that South Carolina is a hospitable place to grow and expand their businesses. South Carolinians have made it clear that they want the freedom to choose whether union membership is right for them. That is why I voted against the PRO Act, legislation that would undermine our state’s right-to-work legislation, strip workers of that hard-fought choice and jeopardize our economy.
Mace: Increasing taxes on business will only drive them out of South Carolina, as evident from the dearth of businesses taking their headquarters out of California. These major companies are a bigger asset to us here, creating billions in revenue and thousands of jobs. But that does not mean I support bailing them out with taxpayer dollars when they fail.
Labor unions, like socialism, do more harm than good. They make it difficult for non-members to find work. They take away the ability of the individual to negotiate his or her own contract. They use union dues to support political candidates that perhaps not all members agree with.