April 17, 2020 by David Silverberg.
With the US economy in deep difficulty, The Paradise Progressive asked the two Democratic congressional candidates in Florida’s 19th Congressional District the question:
When the 117th Congress takes office in January 2021, the United States is likely to be in the midst of a deep economic downturn, even a depression. As the member of Congress from the 19th Congressional District, what would you specifically do at the federal level to support, sustain and improve the economy of Southwest Florida?
The answers are presented in full below, without editing. In our last debate question, we went in alphabetical order. This time we’re reversing that.
SWFL faces several unique challenges to its economy that will undoubtedly be exacerbated by this crisis. Many of our talented young people leave year after year, creating a dearth of youth-lead politics, energetic new businesses, and cultural innovations enjoyed by other parts of Florida with the population density CD 19 boasts. While we may have the likes of billionaires like Rick Scott reveling in Medicare money on our beaches, we also have one of the largest gaps in income inequality in the entire nation. We have local governments more interested in satiating developers than cleaning up literal toxic waste dumps in portions of Ft Myers. All the while, committing to a denial of climate change and a dedication for polluting the same waters that keep our economy afloat. And though engineered factors like these have slowed the speed of progress drastically, it is still inevitable. We can fix this.
First, we must address the ongoing challenges to good policy-making precipitated by the 1994 Republican takeover of the House. Lawmakers have been too complacent about the stripping away of staff and expertise. To address that I will urge my Democratic colleagues to restore staffing levels and funding for House operations to 1993 levels, adjusted for inflation.
Bolstering our economy in SWFL, retaining talent, and shoring up our shrinking middle class will take several steps to address. I will introduce legislation mandating direct income support for working Americans though what may be a prolonged economic crisis. The measures taken by Canada and Great Britain make clear that one-time checks, no matter how welcome, simply aren’t enough to sustain our workers. What will allow our nation to recover economically is increased demand for goods and services, that only happens when folks have money to spend. In addition, we must fight for a living wage. I will co-sponsor a bill for the fight for $15, but those numbers need to be adjusted and we must legislate raises in the minimum wage that take into account inflation, increases in productivity, and buying power.
People in SWFL are dying because of the COVID crisis, but every year our populace falls prey to toxic algal blooms and poisonous red tides. We must allocate federal funds for research on connections between algal blooms, red tide, and human health. I will support immediate efforts to mend the tattered fabric of the American healthcare system. First strengthening the Affordable Care Act, then moving briskly to a single-payer system that provides every American with quality healthcare. Our district has families going bankrupt over medical bills which is flatly unacceptable anywhere, let alone in the richest country in the world.
Additionally, our national infrastructure is a disgrace. We have sucked resources out of public goods for decades in a never-ending obsession with providing tax cuts and bailouts for the wealthiest Americans and corporations. We need to build a new American Dream and we can begin by rebuilding our roads, bridges, mass transit systems, and hospitals. We must craft legislation to protect the USPS—a service we all rely on—and provide funding to transit in SWFL instead of toll roads to nowhere.
Finally, the rolling disaster of global warming is critical to all of us alive, especially in a Congressional District running entirely along a rising Gulf of Mexico. We must connect the dots between the pandemic, our environment, and broad-based economic prosperity. We must create a national mitigation and adaptation strategic plan addressing impacts of environmental challenges, pandemic response, and economic vitality. Jay Inslee’s 2019 “Climate Mission Agenda” has a fresh new iteration called “Evergreen” that he’s hoping Joe Biden and congressional hopefuls will adopt. There are new policies, like a new White House Office of Climate Mobilization and revising tax credits for carbon, that will be integral to addressing this existential threat. I will work tirelessly to institute these policies. I urge everyone to read Inslee’s plan–SWFL depends on bold change in how we address our environment.
These questions, though prudent, rest on America’s ability to vote in this upcoming election, and Congress’s ability to serve in a Democracy. Candidates now must inform themselves on mail-in ballots and early voting to ensure we have a safe, secure election that is not undermined by dubious threats by our current administration. We must do all we can now to ensure the institutions our democracy depends upon do not falter under crisis. And most importantly, we must preserve human life in the process. I pray that we follow Governor Andrew Cuomo’s advice on how to “reopen” America: “We must make decisions based on the science and the data. Human lives are at stake.”
Today we are sitting on 22 million new unemployment claims and by the time the 117th Congress gets to Washington we will be living in a much different world from where we were at the beginning of the 2020 campaign cycle. Millions of Americans will likely still be displaced with jobless rates of a least 10% leading into 2021 (Reuters) and an annual global economic contraction of up to 28% (CBO). This situation will leave development and tourist dependent economies like Southwest Florida mired in economic crisis.
The future Representative Dr. Cindy Banyai will continue to work, as she always has, for the people of Southwest Florida. Prioritizing individual and family safety nets over corporate welfare. I will advocate for a continuation of the individual household supports we are seeing now so people can have food in their belly and a roof over their heads. I would work to extend unemployment benefits and streamline processes to access these support payments, holding state governments accountable when they fail to meet the needs of the people.
I will work to pass a fiscal stimulus package that will provide employment opportunities and improve our country and its infrastructure overall, much like we saw after the Great Recession. I would prioritize improvements to our bridges and complete streets, drinking water systems, climate change mitigation and adaptation projects, and energy transformation projects. We will also need to provide support opportunities to revive small businesses, which make up 91% of the businesses in Southwest Florida. In such a stimulus package, I will advocate for the creation of locally administered block grants to revitalize main streets and support the return of small businesses (new or re-opened), encourage existing small businesses to make technology upgrades to improve their overall consumption rates and environmental impact, and support innovative new businesses. These grants also serve as an opportunity to diversify our local economy, instead of relying so heavily on tourism, building up more innovative small businesses, leaving people in Southwest Florida less vulnerable to economic shocks overall.
I will also advocate for education and training to help move displaced workers into needed areas in our economy, locally this includes healthcare, management, entrepreneurship, and digital technologies. I will work to ensure that any stimulus package prioritizes people’s lives and not corporations, as well as work to reduce inequalities. This means advocating for incentive funding family-friendly workplace policies, such as childcare support, remote-working, flexible scheduling, and job sharing. This will keep more women in Southwest Florida engaged in the workforce and enable more companies to build the necessary administrative capacity to be adaptive to social distancing protocols.
On top of these priorities, I would support the “green stimulus” proposed by economists and professors that includes a $2 Trillion commitment to living-wage jobs, public health, affordable housing, and moving away from fossil fuels. I would support continued efforts in oversight and accountability in the disbursement of stimulus funds and would require proof of concept for programs and demonstrable outcomes.
The IMF predicts there will be an addition half a billion people worldwide that will fall below the global poverty rate of $1.90 a day. This will exacerbate many problems around the world, including political instability and capacity for countries to continue the pandemic control strategies. It will be important for the US to regain its status as a global leader and fund international work on poverty alleviation and international public health to prevent the resurgence of the coronavirus and continued economic disruption.
We have a long road ahead, but the people of Southwest Florida can take comfort in knowing that they have someone representing them that is just as vulnerable to economic crisis as they are, truly understanding their everyday struggles, and has the knowledge and background to make policy that serves them.
Liberty lives in light
©2020 by David Silverberg