April 6, 2020 by David Silverberg.
While in-person political campaigning is suspended, vigorous discussion of the issues is still essential. With that aim in mind, The Paradise Progressive asked the two Democratic congressional candidates in Florida’s 19th Congressional District the question:
If you were in Congress right now, what actions would you take to serve SWFL regarding the Coronavirus pandemic?
The answers are presented below. Regrettably, our format does not permit side-by-side layouts so the answers are presented sequentially, in alphabetical order by last name. The length of the answers was left up to the candidates.
The answers are in full with very minor editing for grammar and to fix any typographic errors.
I support the components of the CARES Act and the previous two COVID19-related bills. I think it was particularly important for that bill to include provisions around the basic care and support of individuals, as well for small businesses and students. I would have voted for the bill and advocated for provisions related to the areas above to keep people moving through the necessary suppression actions to stem the outbreak and to keep our healthcare system from collapse.
In a fourth emergency bill, I would like to see an extension of direct cash support to individuals, as well as an expansion of unemployment benefits and community and food support. We will also need more funds to healthcare providers for equipment and a strategy and funding for more widespread testing and research to accelerate progress toward a vaccine and treatment. There also needs to be a strategy and coordination around getting healthcare workers to the hardest hit areas to prevent further American lives lost to the disease. Investments into transitioning state election processes to accommodate social distancing and maintain our democracy will need to be included. I would advocate for these items, as well as push for this bill to be crafted and voted on as soon as possible. This next bill should be designed to get us through the suppression of the pandemic in the US.
Following the suppression of the pandemic, Representative Cindy Banyai would work to craft a bipartisan stimulus bill to recover the economy and help struggling families. This bill will need to include fiscal stimulus policies, such as infrastructure investments, to get people back to work and get money flowing in the economy, and tax breaks for working class people. There should also be mandates related to investments in public health and pandemic readiness. We will need education supports to help students get their careers back on track and to help retool displaced workers into new and growing areas of the economy. There will need to be policies and supports to help individuals maintain their housing and fix credit issues. SBA [Small Business Administration] funding policies will need to be designed to provide funding to start or re-start small businesses and to help them explore innovative endeavors to take our economy into the future.
In terms of the procedures of Congress, I would also be advocating for telecommuting options for members, including remote voting, to ensure our government can continue to operate in emergencies like this.
SWFL is at an especially precarious position during this pandemic: a large swath of our population is in the most at-risk category, and our coastline community is based around seasonal tourism. Our economically vulnerable hospitality industry is already stretched thin during off months. I fear this crisis has caused the industry to snap, and hard-working small business owners and their employees are now vying for limited government relief loans. Our health system will be next to fold if we don’t take dramatic action on a federal level to aid hospitals and healthcare workers. There were periods of time where Collier didn’t even have testing facilities (and its current facility can only test 50 patients a day). We’re underprepared, but we don’t have to be.
We need a follow-up bill to the CARES Act that’s similarly robust. Because of the inaction of our Republican representatives at the federal and state level, this pandemic and its associated economic injuries will persist longer than was ever necessary. This extended shutdown will cripple large and small businesses who will lay off employees at an increased rate since they are not incentivized properly (yes they don’t have to repay loans if they retain staff, but more needs to be done) to keep employees on the payroll. We need $300 billion more to go to small businesses. On the individual level, more than a one-time injection of $1,200 needs to go to working people. We need a system more akin to Canada’s, who will pay households $2,000 every month the crisis persists. More has to be done to protect our students, a significant portion of whom won’t receive that $1,200, including forgiving swaths of student loan debt. We must reopen the health insurance marketplace with affordable, quality plans. We also need another cash injection into hospitals and healthcare centers. If America can spend $400 billion on a fighter jet that can’t fly, we can spend the same on saving our healthcare workers.
Finally, we must put a stop to the damage this administration is allowing to happen while we’re all distracted with the dire issues at hand. States around the country, like Texas, are essentially barring abortions from taking place. This is unconstitutional and just another GOP grab to control women’s bodies in a crisis. Access to all healthcare needs to be built into federal guidelines. In addition, this administration is rolling back several environmental protections, like car emission standards and limiting the scope of the Environmental Protection Agency, the latter of which severely impacts a coastal community like SWFL. Imagine an especially heinous red tide coupled with even sludgier blue-green algal blooms attacking our lungs and waterways at the same time as COVID-19, all to protect corporate polluters during a pandemic. People first, always.
All of the above is to say the issues we’re seeing are simply an illumination of the cracks chiseled into our social bedrock for over 40 years by hard-right, Republican extremists. The job of a congressional representative is to bring America back to trusting experts, respecting human life, crafting policy for working people not corporations, working towards single-payer healthcare, progress on civil rights, protecting our precious environment—the list is truly never-ending for a public servant. I vow to create the space necessary for real change not only in our district but throughout America.
Liberty lives in light
© 2020 by David Silverberg