ISSUE

Rural Hope Agenda

Friends, 

South Carolina is a special place, blessed with incredible people with a passion for helping others. We truly live up to our state motto, “While I breathe, I hope.” My life is a testament that South Carolina is a place where if you work hard and live by good values, you can do anything. 

But our current  U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham has very different priorities. For far too long, Sen. Graham focused on playing political games in Washington while leaving millions of South Carolinians suffering – especially residents of rural communities.

I believe every South Carolinian deserves leadership that will put them first. South Carolina is a better state when every one of our state’s 46 counties receives the resources to improve their communities.

Across South Carolina, hundreds of miles of roads are crumbling, bridges need urgent repairs, high-speed broadband internet skips over our rural areas, and sea-level rise threatens our ports. Together, the failure to invest in infrastructure harms our quality of life and raises the cost of doing business.

My Rural Hope Agenda is focused on revitalizing rural infrastructure, fighting for better healthcare statewide, and creating good-paying jobs that spark economic growth. 

As Senator, I will push for aggressive investments in our infrastructure to ensure that the government fulfills its most basic duties. I will help build a state that supports the needs of its residents and businesses, and ensures our economic viability now and into the future.

Please take a look at this Rural Hope Agenda, because it is your plan. Let me know if you have some ideas that I should know about. You can email me at [email protected]  

Thanks for your interest and your support,

Jaime Harrison

 
 

Executive Summary: As rural America sees static wages, declining health outcomes, and struggling schools, South Carolina’s Senators have been absent. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the Palmetto State that working people are at constant risk of losing everything they have. Residents of South Carolina’s rural communities are not looking for handouts. They just need a fair shot. From conversations with locals, experts, and leaders, Jaime Harrison has created a plan that will restore hope to rural communities and address the inequities that are holding them back today. His plan is not tethered to one party or ideology—it’s based on good ideas that put South Carolina first regardless of which side of the aisle they come from, like Sen. Chuck Grassley’s REACH Act and the bipartisan push for infrastructure investment.

To level the playing field in South Carolina, Jaime’s plan focuses on four areas:

Jaime will fight for rural health care by protecting rural hospitals, ensuring access to quality health care, combating the opioid crisis, and pushing to expand Medicaid. Even before this terrible pandemic, Jaime has heard from South Carolinians across this state that health care is one of the most important issues on the ballot this November. Since 2010, 131 rural hospitals have closed across the nation. South Carolina’s rural communities are no stranger to the problem. In South Carolina, four rural hospitals have closed since 2012, and eight counties lack a general hospital entirely. With so few medical facilities, South Carolina’s rural counties have far worse health outcomes than the rest of the state. In fact, while only one-quarter of the state’s population live in rural communities, half of all the excess deaths in the state occur there. These disparities are even more stark for maternal health care. In 2018, eleven counties lacked OBGYNs, resulting in “persistently high” rates of infant and maternal mortality in rural counties.

To combat deficiencies in rural health, Jaime will take a comprehensive approach. He will support the bipartisan Rural Emergency Acute Care Hospital Act — which would expand services by providing support for cost-efficient rural hospitals and allow medical facilities that are not hospitals to provide emergency care, all funded by Medicare. To increase access to remote health care, he will invest in research in TeleHealth and create large-scale pilot programs to establish best practices and fund mobile clinic programs, under the model of Tennessee’s Remote Area Medical (RAM), which provides high-quality pop-up services. In response to the devastating opioid epidemic, Jaime will also continue to expand access and training for Naloxone usage, which can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose in an emergency. Preliminary Naloxone training and deployment programs for law enforcement officers have already saved nearly 600 lives across the state over three years.

Most importantly, we must expand Medicaid. Expert analysis suggests that Lindsey Graham’s own proposed health care bill would have cut billions in funding for Medicaid, stripped over 500,000 South Carolinians of their insurance by 2027, and weakened protections for pre-existing conditions. South Carolina is missing out on $15.8 billion in federal funding by not expanding Medicaid, and it is wrong for politicians to deny their citizens the Medicaid benefits that their tax dollars have already paid for. If Jaime is elected Senator, he will work with state legislators to expand Medicaid, and stand up for the 10% of all South Carolina residents who lack health insurance. In Congress, he will support the SAME Act, which would offer states a new set of incentives and a second chance to expand Medicaid. Estimates suggest that expanding Medicaid would extend health insurance to 214,000 South Carolinians, and help save rural hospitals from closure. 

Jaime will grow South Carolina’s rural economy through a combination of strategic tax incentives, innovation accelerators, antitrust protections, and a new proposal to create “Rural Centers of Excellence” at the Palmetto State’s HBCUs and state colleges and universities. Rural communities face stagnant wages and low levels of entrepreneurship because of rampant underinvestment. The tax code can help if policymakers have the will to make it work for everyone, not just big corporations. As Senator, Jaime would champion tax policies that specifically incentivize investments in rural communities. An important first step is modifying regulations to further incentivize investment in rural communities within the current federal Opportunity Zones program. Though 40% of designated opportunity zones are rural, they often suffer from underinvestment because of a lack of indigenous building capacity or risks inherent to the investments. Jaime will therefore supplement existing federal legislation with further incentives for rural investments, including loan support or guarantee programs to de-risk investments.

In the United States, half of all new firms come from five major metro areas alone. In the aftermath of the Great Recession, business growth in rural areas was virtually zero. The problem facing rural communities is not a lack of ideas, it’s a lack of capital. Through programs geared towards catalyzing investment in small businesses and access to capital, like a reformed version of the State Small Business Credit Initiative and a series of rural Startup Accelerators, South Carolina can close the resource gaps that render rural businesses less competitive than their urban counterparts. 

Beyond access to capital, another persistent challenge for rural small businesses is finding employees with specialized skill sets. When urban businesses require advanced computer science, graphic design, or marketing skills, they can either contract these functions out, or hire from a diverse pool of workers in surrounding areas. But rural enterprises face more difficulties. In fact, one in four rural small businesses reports a desire to hire more employees but an inability to find candidates with the needed qualifications or skills. As such, students at South Carolina’s colleges and universities—many of whom are studying fields and skills that are underrepresented in the rural workforce—offer a vast untapped resource. 

Eligible rural small businesses—particularly ones in underserved sectors like health and child care—and governments will gain complimentary access to the expertise and resources of colleges and universities, thus unlocking economic growth and employment in their home communities. Students, on the other hand, will receive credit against student loan burdens for their work. In addition, Rural Centers of Excellence will expand government capacity in areas where it is lacking. In urban areas, when governments require specific expertise in planning or implementing projects, they turn to a bevy of think tanks, academics, and consultants who can offer temporary assistance. However, rural governments often lack the funding and networks to tap into this same well of expertise. As part of these Rural Centers of Excellence, rural governments will be able to contract teams of qualified undergraduate and graduate students supervised by professors to fill these knowledge gaps. This model will ensure that the federal government does not adopt one-size-fits-all solutions to empowering rural communities, but rather tailors responses to local concerns and expertise.

Jaime will revive rural infrastructure by increasing broadband access and affordability, modernizing the state’s sanitation and transportation systems, supporting Congressman Clyburn’s 10-20-30 policy for equitable spending to eliminate persistent poverty, and ending the lead crisis, all while using technology that creates jobs and is safe for the environment.

In 2020, ensuring access to broadband is as critical as access to electricity was a generation earlier. But the United States trails other developed countries in terms of broadband speed and connectivity, despite often bearing higher costs. Within the United States, South Carolina lags behind other states on these metrics. Leaders often say that America’s kids need to compete with the rest of the world. But they cannot compete with the rest of the world if they cannot connect with the rest of the world. According to the FCC, 31% of rural households in South Carolina lack adequate access to broadband at home. That means that more than 500,000 South Carolinians are unable to meaningfully participate in the digital economy. Academic studies have shown that rural areas that increase access to broadband see higher wages and lower levels of unemployment over time. From education to health care to public safety, broadband touches every part of South Carolinians’ lives.

The global pandemic has only exacerbated the importance of an internet connection. Without reliable broadband access, rural South Carolinians’ abilities to work from home, continue schoolwork, access telemedicine and rural hospitals, and capture online sales during COVID-19 have been impeded. Broome High School teacher of the year Kandace Tucker shared stories with local news about how a lack of quality broadband has rendered her classroom “unable to get anything done.” As a result, the Palmetto State’s public schools have been unable to guarantee all of the state’s children an equal and adequate education during this pandemic, and have only exacerbated existing divides. By implementing programs that enable universal broadband access and affordability, leaders have the opportunity to usher in unprecedented economic growth for rural communities and enable them to compete with any other. Jaime’s agenda will build on Congressman Jim Clyburn’s visionary leadership to ensure broadband access and affordability for every family in the state.

In addition to broadband, Jaime understands the need to strengthen our water and transportation infrastructure. Across the state, rural families are suffering from failing sewer systems and dangerous septic tanks. Experts estimate that 10-20% of the over one million septic systems in the state are unsafe. Even for residents who are covered by an existing sewer system, connecting to that system can prove prohibitively expensive. Inadequate sewer systems and unsafe septic tanks have harmful downstream consequences for impacted communities as well: they can lead to pollution in drinking water, limit job creation and business expansion, and worsen health outcomes for residents. In the case of drinking water, 800,000 residents in South Carolina—particularly in rural areas—get water from small water systems, which face high risks for water contamination due to faulty pipes. More than 40 small utilities within the state have failed to meet federal standards since 2011.

South Carolina’s roads and bridges are also reaching a point of crisis. For example, 9.9% of South Carolina bridges have been deemed “structurally deficient” by experts. In addition to these public safety concerns, failing infrastructure also creates economic costs: driving on broken roads and bridges costs the average South Carolina driver $557 a year. Moreover, in the long-term, proposals like high-speed rail and greater options for public transportation offer a chance to turn South Carolina’s infrastructure crisis into an opportunity. As such, modernizing our transportation infrastructure will create jobs and reduce costs for taxpayers, all while increasing the safety of the state’s transportation system.

Jaime also understands that modern infrastructure must also be environmentally resilient. South Carolina’s communities are facing an increase in flooding and natural disasters. And studies show that the state’s rural and minority communities will be among the hardest hit by climate change. These disasters, and the corresponding failure of government to support the impacted communities, threaten the lives and livelihoods of rural residents. South Carolinians have seen time and again how years of government neglect have led to fragile and faulty infrastructure in rural areas, resulting in the destruction of countless homes and businesses. And many institutionalized barriers make it more difficult for rural and minority communities to access government assistance. For example, after Hurricane Florence, the property of the Gullah/Geechee nation was threatened not only by the hurricane’s destructive toll, but also by outmoded laws that proved difficult to challenge. To prevent these harms,  leaders must make targeted investments into the resiliency of rural and minority communities. This investment not only protects health and human safety; it also makes good economic sense. For each dollar spent on disaster preparedness today, the government saves an estimated $15 in future relief spending.

Jaime will fight back, and work to pass the “Farmer’s Bill of Rights,” introduced in the Senate by Sen. Cory Booker.

The Farmer’s Bill of rights will protect:

  • “The Right to Fair, Open Markets,” and level the playing field against unfair corporate consolidation that strips small farms of their ability to compete.
  • “The Right to Feed their Community,” which will encourage investment and flexibility in local food systems.
  • “The Right to Fair Credit,” which will facilitate easier access to capital for small farms.
  • “The Right to Protect Natural Resources,” which will stem the worst effects of agricultural pollution and promote accessibility to water sources and irrigation.
  • “The Right to Food Security, which regulates foreign ownership of domestic farmland.
  • “The Right to Repair,” which does away with cumbersome regulations and permits farmers to repair their own equipment as they see fit. Currently, companies like John Deere restrict access to materials and tools that enable non-suppliers to repair farm equipment. In turn, some farmers have resorted to purchasing 40-year old models, because they prove more easily repairable.
  • “The Right to Transparent Labeling,” which enforces accurate country of origin labeling, so that foreign goods cannot advertise based on false claims.
  • “The Right to Rural Opportunity,” which recommits the government to provide public services for rural communities.
  • “The Right to Preserve a Diverse Community of Farmers and Farming Practices,” which ensures fairness and non-discrimination in the agricultural marketplace. 

Jaime will bolster rural education by recruiting and retaining high-quality teachers. Every child in South Carolina deserves an education that far outpaces the “minimally adequate” standard the state has adopted. But a recent report from the Rural School and Community Trust finds that South Carolina’s rural schools do not even live up to that promise. The study found that math and reading scores for rural students in the state “were among the lowest in the U.S.”, while gaps between rural and non-rural students “were among the nation’s highest.” 

South Carolina is facing a statewide teacher recruitment and training crisis. This means that rural communities face a double challenge: competing in a shrinking overall market and overcoming their own distinct disadvantages. Last school year, about 621 full-time equivalent teaching spots remained vacant in South Carolina. Moreover, approximately 25% of first-year school teachers left South Carolina public schools after their first year. Fortunately, there are signs of hope. The majority of school districts in the Rural Recruitment Initiative faced fewer teaching shortages than previously in the last school year, and the University of South Carolina launched a $5 million new initiative called “Transition to Teaching.” In the Senate, Jaime will work to expand funding for similar programs that recruit and retain promising teachers for rural areas. In the same vein, he will also fight for expanded loan forgiveness for rural school teachers and improve the classroom environment to ensure the profession remains competitive with other industries, and matches the importance of teachers’ profound role in shaping South Carolina’s future.

Growing up in rural South Carolina, Jaime has experienced first-hand the problems facing the state’s rural communities. He has heard a lot of talk but has seen little action from many politicians. Throughout the course of this campaign, he has  made it a priority to listen to and lift up rural voices, as they describe the challenges they face in an already-challenging world. Jaime has talked with people from all walks of life, from all across the state. And now is the time for action. 

In 1969—the dawn of a new era for the nation—Senator Fritz Hollings embarked on a series of “Hunger Tours” to document the realities of life under crippling poverty. His subsequent book, The Case Against Hunger: A Demand for a National Policy, forced Congress to deal with important issues they had long neglected. As Senator, Jaime will continue the mission of the late Senator Fritz Hollings to shed light on the issues politicians ignore today. With that spirit, Jaime is introducing his plan to restore hope to rural South Carolina and ensure that every family gets a chance at the American Dream.

Lindsey Graham Has Left South Carolina Behind

Jaime knows what it’s like for a family to have to choose between paying the electric bill and putting food on the table; he remembers eating cereal with water, because they couldn’t afford milk.

When Jaime was campaigning in rural South Carolina years ago, he knocked on the door of a man completely disenchanted with politics. He lived on a dirt road and he had been waiting for that road to be paved through five presidential administrations. He was tired of waiting and had completely lost faith that his government would help him. 

Across South Carolina, thousands of South Carolinians do not have access to quality healthcare,  hundreds of miles of roads are crumbling, bridges need urgent repairs, high-speed broadband internet skips over rural areas, and sea-level rise threatens sea ports. Together, the failure to invest in infrastructure harms  quality of life and raises the cost of doing business.

Right now, during the COVID-19 pandemic, South Carolinians are feeling the impacts of lackluster leadership—and that’s wrong. The state needs leaders in Washington that will stand up for every single resident of the Palmetto State. 

Even before this pandemic, Senator Lindsey Graham has been playing political games in Washington while South Carolinians continue to suffer from poor infrastructure that has limited rural communities’ ability to fully participate in the economy and hinder health and wellness:

  • Lindsey Graham for too long has stood silent and watched South Carolina’s access to healthcare become especially challenging for rural areas — which have been hardest hit by hospital closures, the opioid crisis, and lack of insurance. 
  • He did not support expanding Medicaid in South Carolina, even though the state’s rural hospitals were hurt by the decision. 
  • His inaction has hurt rural communities that lack the access to capital, structural incentives, and other resources that will drive the needed economic growth to ensure a prosperous recovery.
  • Lindsey Graham introduced a bill that would have been devastating for rural hospitals while failing to address marketplace problems in rural health care — like the higher premiums. 
  • His own bill would raise health insurance deductibles in South Carolina. 

Jaime Harrison’s vision is different. The son of a single teenage mom, and raised by his grandparents in Orangeburg, South Carolina, Jaime overcame the challenges of grinding poverty with the help of teachers and mentors who believed in him. From a mobile home to Yale University and Georgetown Law, Jaime has never forgotten who he is or where he comes from.

As Senator, Jaime will fight for affordable and accessible healthcare, because it is not only the job of a U.S. Senator — it is personal to Jaime.

Jaime with his grandfather after he lost his leg to diabetes.

His grandfather worked for decades paving roads in and around Orangeburg. To this day, if you travel to Orangeburg, there’s a good chance you’re driving on roads made by his grandfather’s hands. But for years Jaime’s grandfather didn’t have healthcare, so he didn’t know the pain in his legs was diabetes until it was too late; Jaime saw his grandfather go to the hospital to have his leg amputated.

That is why Jaime is running for the U.S. Senate — to fight for opportunity for all South Carolinians. And, he’s willing to work with anyone to do it, because when a rural hospital closes, or coverage for pre-existing conditions is threatened, the health of all South Carolinians is put at risk.