Rep. Joe Cunningham (SC-01) today called on Congressional leadership to take immediate action to protect the enhanced unemployment benefits that are set to expire on Saturday. In March, Cunningham helped pass bipartisan legislation that provided enhanced unemployment benefits to the millions of hardworking Americans who have been laid off due to the coronavirus pandemic. These expanded unemployment benefits, including a $600-a-week increase and a 13-week extension for workers who have exhausted their state benefits, have helped South Carolina families keep a roof over their heads and food on the table throughout this public health and economic crisis.
In a letter to Congressional leadership, Cunningham called attention to the fact that diagnosed COVID-19 cases in South Carolina continue to grow at an alarming rate at the exact same time that many South Carolinians will see their benefits reduced. The Lowcountry’s economy, which is particularly dependent on the tourism, service, and hospitality industry, remains especially vulnerable to the harmful effects of the pandemic.
“While I am glad to see that our national economy is recovering in some respects, in South Carolina, our unemployment rate is still a staggering 8.7 percent—with more people relying on unemployment benefits than at any point during the Great Recession,” Cunningham wrote. “Absent this additional $600 per week, the maximum weekly state UI payment in South Carolina is $326, which is plainly not enough for a family to live at any time, but especially in the midst of a global pandemic.”
Cunningham also acknowledged the concern of Lowcountry small business owners who are facing difficulties rehiring staff as they reopen. He encouraged Congress to expedite full reemployment as soon as businesses are able to safely and responsibly reopen without abandoning those workers for whom it is not yet in their best interest to return to work. Cunningham called for Congress to empower workers to make the best decision for themselves and their families by establishing a “return to work” bonus, in which newly reemployed workers would receive a temporary $450-a-week bonus on top of their regular wages. This is similar to an effort proposed by U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH).
A copy of this letter can be found online.