In the spring of 2020, Mississippians transitioned to staying home to ward off the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s been a difficult change for my family, and I know it is for many of you as well.
I am thankful for our frontline heroes: The Mississippians who work diligently to care for us, in our hospitals and health clinics, in our grocery stores, and on our streets. Throughout this crisis, I am reminded that we are one community, interconnected and willing to support each other in times of need.
Our federal leaders’ reluctance to act resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans that could have been avoided. My opponent even suggested this pandemic would be over in a couple of weeks. Now almost three months into this devastating crisis, our state leaders have been left without swift and decisive federal guidance and have been forced to develop testing strategies and gather medical supplies on their own.
COVID-19 has required us to adopt new policies to meet the needs of our state and our country. Here are the priorities I will fight for during this difficult time and as we begin to rebuild and reconnect.
Testing and Safety: Mississippians rightfully have questions and concerns about heading back to work, school, and our daily lives. There is no easy answer. Our state and national leaders need to rapidly ramp up testing and develop a robust contract tracing program. Essential workers must be prioritized for near-daily testing, and those who want a test are able to easily get one — for free. As we get closer to a vaccine, we must prioritize those in our communities who are high-risk and have chronic health issues.
Essential Workers: This crisis has highlighted who our essential workers truly are: Janitors, nurses, residential staff, farmworkers, security officers, grocery store workers, meat packing workers, laundry workers, manufacturing workers, journalists, and many more. They have put their health and well-being on the line every day to keep our communities safe, security and healthy. America’s essential workers disproportionately work more hours, are paid less, and have not traditionally been recognized to the degree to which they deserve. I will be a voice for our workers in Washington. I will ensure their workplaces have health and safety protections in place and that they are prioritized for personal protective equipment, testing, and paid family and medical leave.
Small Businesses: Mississippi’s small businesses are a huge part of our state’s economy, and small businesses have felt this crisis acutely. As we begin to open up, our leaders need to do more to support our small businesses. I will continue to support innovative credit and grant opportunities for our small business owners to get back on their feet.
Supporting Those Out of Work: Our unemployed aren’t just numbers on a spreadsheet — these are families, businesses, and workers who are hurting from this pandemic. Many Mississippians are struggling to apply for unemployment and receive their benefits. Mississippi must immediately create a new normal by updating its unemployment system and putting in place system-wide reform to better help those in need.
Health Care and Medicaid Expansion: Black Americans — and Black Mississippians in particular — are bearing the brunt of this pandemic. COVID-19 has exacerbated health disparities resulting from years of institutional discrimination such as higher rates of chronic health conditions, lower health insurance rates, and limited access to health care. Additionally, COVID-19 is hitting rural Mississippi communities hard. In the last decade, five rural hospitals have closed and hundreds of beds have been lost, making it more difficult to find care during this tough time.
It is more urgent than ever to expand Medicaid, which would make health care affordable for hundreds of thousands of Mississippians. That’s why I am calling on our federal leaders to ensure future funding requires Medicaid expansion in states like ours.
Support for Local Governments: As we begin to return to normality, our local governments will face revenue shortfalls. Local governments were obligated to follow mandates such as paid emergency family and medical (FMLA) leave and paid sick leave as a result of the CARES Act, which was passed by Congress in March. As a result, they have incurred unforeseen costs without reimbursement. Congress must compensate our local governments for these costs and do more to ease the financial strain our municipalities are under. During a time when we need local governments the most, our federal representatives should be doing all they can to provide our local leaders with the resources they need to support our communities — not playing partisan political games.
Voting Rights: As the election approaches, we should make it easier for qualified voters to vote. No-excuse absentee and early voting should be the law in Mississippi. No one should be forced to risk their health to exercise their right to vote.