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  • Sen. Mia McLeod

Lawmakers push Governor to implement stay-at-home order, want to consider increase to unemployment

A bipartisan group of South Carolina lawmakers are urging the Governor to order people to stay-at-home

Author: Jacob Reynolds Published: 6:10 PM EDT March 25, 2020

COLUMBIA, S.C. — House Representatives and Pickens County Republicans Gary Clary and Neal Collins wrote a letter to McMaster, urging him to implement a stay-at-home mandate. Rep. Clary, reached over video-call, said the time to act is now. “We're living in some very, very interesting times and I think when you live in times such as these, you have to do some extraordinary things and this is something else that's extra ordinary. You know, it's much like Dr. Fauci said, he would rather be overly aggressive and apologize for it later, rather than not do what you really should,” Clary said.

His colleague, Rep. Collins agreed, saying the order would allow the state to prepare.

“The whole idea is just to buy us time. Buy us time so that our locals can prepare more, our hospitals can prepare more, first responders can prepare and train more. Ultimately, so we can buy some time for more supplies, more personnel, more bed space,” Collins said over the phone on Wednesday. Both men said they understood the gravity of the Governor’s decision but urged him to consider it quickly. “I understand the economic impact of it. Having been a small businessman most of my life, I understand these difficult decisions. But, this is something if we are not ahead of the curve, the economic impact on down the line is going to be even more severe,” Clary continued. Collins also mentioned the potential economic sacrifice, but said it could be much worse if more and more people continue to get sick.

Their recommended order would include the following, according to the letter:

  • Close all businesses except essential stores and services

  • Include non-profits, gyms, daycare facilities, and churches

  • Close K-12, colleges, universities, and technical schools for the rest of the school year

  • Emergency daycare sites for essential employees

  • Discourage interaction outside immediate family

  • Encourage solo recreation

  • Delay June state primaries and all elections till August

  • Encourage General Assembly to use surplus funds for public health and basic needs

  • Remove any obstacles to remote business

Democratic Richland County Senator Mia McLeod said she also supports the idea. “We have a real opportunity to take a more proactive approach, although I wouldn't necessarily characterize it as proactive at this point. I just think that those measures are necessary considering the numbers we're seeing daily,” McLeod said on a phone call Wednesday. McLeod said she’s been pushing various measures to the Governor. Including an order for non-essential state workers work from home, or go on paid furlough to avoid contact, closing the schools, and now a stay-at-home order. Governor McMaster has already announced school closures through the end of April and has mandated many state workers work remotely. Collins, Clary, and McLeod said they have been in contact with the Governor and or his staff and hope he implements the order soon. At a press conference Monday and in some tweets, Governor McMaster has said he’s hoping to avoid a stay-at-home mandate.

McLeod and Clary also said they would consider an increase to South Carolina’s unemployment benefits. “I would be supportive of broadening that infrastructure to make sure everybody has access to it, and upping those numbers cause I think both are desperately needed,” McLeod said on the same phone call. McLeod said originally the state’s priority was making sure the website kept from crashing, but now she said they need to consider potential increases to the benefits. She was not the only one who said it was worth consideration. “Yes, I think South Carolina needs to step up and do more. Because, people are hurting and they're going to continue to hurt and it's going to exist for a while, probably a long while. But, we have to do everything that we can to make things as palatable for our citizens as we possibly can,” Clary said.

He added it was important to study what the impact of the federal aid package would be on unemployment benefits. Unemployment benefits in the state are determined by a person's one-year base period of insured wages, according to the South Carolina Department of Employment and Workforce. The Governor's office said the unemployment trust fund is solvent and could withstand a recession similar to the average of the last three recessions. When asked, Collins said he’d need to study it further. “I would need to see the numbers and how much that would affect and what our capabilities are. I know we have a trust fund for unemployment, I don't know what kind of grace that gives us. On that issue, I would like to see what the economics are behind it,” Collins said. An increase to unemployment benefits this year would very likely require legislation from the General Assembly. Earlier this month, lawmakers gathered quickly to pass $45 million in emergency funding for DHEC. Currently, both the House and Senate are not meeting as the spread of the virus continues. However, leaders in both chambers said they would call back their members immediately if emergency action is required.

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