Cal Cunningham: COVID-19 crisis sends urgent call to action

Published 12:10 am Friday, July 10, 2020

By Cal Cunningham

Growing up across the river in Lexington, I learned at a young age that when neighbors talk to neighbors, we can figure out solutions and get things done in our communities. It’s part of the small town ethic that means we don’t check voter registrations before we take care of each other.

In the Army, I learned that during a crisis we must assess the greatest threats, pull people together to form a plan, marshal the resources to carry it out and communicate to make sure everyone understands and is aligned with clear objectives.

And from my Aunt Sis, I learned that a good listener is a good learner — and I think you can say the same about leaders. So I’ve been talking to folks all across the state via Zoom town halls and listening to our fellow North Carolinians’ stories.

These lessons will guide me as the next U.S. senator for our state, and it’s the type of leadership that the coronavirus pandemic, or any public health threat, demands.

One of the things I am hearing is that we need to increase access to health care and bring down costs for our families. In many ways, this pandemic has made that need even more urgent.  Moreover, the pandemic has exacerbated existing health disparities, especially for North Carolinians of color. This crisis has laid bare long-standing inequities in our society, but the fact is it shouldn’t have taken a global health pandemic to take action on the many challenges North Carolina families face in our daily lives.

Cal Cunningham

Here in North Carolina, this crisis has underscored our state’s continued need to expand Medicaid, close the growing coverage gap, and support our rural hospitals — a critical tool in the Affordable Care Act toolbox that has not been put to work, in part because Thom Tillis blocked it.

For far too long, the Washington GOP has crusaded against access to quality, affordable care and cut funding for key public health programs, including pandemic response, while instead prioritizing a tax bill that will actually lead to 80% of North Carolinians paying more in taxes. Even as the number of cases continues to rise, in the last several weeks, these same Washington GOP leaders have filed legal briefs to repeal the Affordable Care Act, putting more than 600,000 North Carolinians at risk of losing their insurance, and threatening to take away protections for 1.7 million North Carolinians living with pre-existing conditions.

It’s clear that the occupant of this Senate seat has not served the people of North Carolina when we’ve needed it the most. I’m ready to put this seat back to work.

That’s why I’ve called for a Medicaid expansion incentive to be included in the next COVID-19 relief package that would give states that have not expanded Medicaid a 100 percent federal match regardless of when they expand. In North Carolina, that would expand coverage to 634,000 people. And, North Carolina taxpayers have already paid the bill for this coverage — we just haven’t received the benefit back from Washington.

It’s also critical that support and relief reaches every community, including small towns across North Carolina who are facing budget shortfalls that threaten teaching and public safety jobs, as well as critical local services. These communities need direct aid from the federal government to ensure that our teachers, health care and public safety workers are able to continue serving their communities. There is no excuse for delaying this critical funding that puts these services in jeopardy. We simply cannot afford to let our communities struggle.

Growing up in Lexington, I learned that serving our fellow citizens is one of our highest callings, especially when times are hard. I’ve always believed in stepping up – running towards the fight.  Across North Carolina, we’ve seen some of the best in folks, as we have come together to help our neighbors, raise our voices against injustice, and work together to combat this generation-defining pandemic.

In the Senate, count on me to listen first, to take on the biggest challenges, and never waiver in my commitment to serve the people of our state.

Cal Cunningham is a Democrat who is challenging Sen. Thom Tillis, a Republican, for one of North Carolina’s two U.S. Senate seats in November.