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Cunningham responds to Tillis attacks

Ever since my days in Scouts, I’ve loved hiking, backpacking, and traveling in Western North Carolina. As adults, my wife Elizabeth and I have brought our kids west of Asheville time and again. We’ve been rained on hiking with our dogs in Pisgah, rafted the Nantahala, and learned about native history on the Qualla Boundary, among many other adventures. 

I love North Carolina. It’s made me who I am, and I am proud to call it “home.” That’s why I am deeply driven to serve the people of our great state as your next United States Senator. 

Throughout this campaign, I’ve embarked on a “Carolina Conversations” tour, where I travel to areas across North Carolina, including to communities that Democrats don’t always go. This has included events in the counties of Western North Carolina to invite fellow North Carolinians to the table for discussions on the most pressing issues facing our state and country. These events and conversations continue virtually as we navigate COVID-19.

What I’ve been hearing from folks is almost hard to believe -- from unprecedented unemployment, to loss of health care to anxiety about how we’re going to educate our kids this fall. It’s these conversations that will shape my priorities as a United States Senator. 

But in the push and pull of Washington politics, Thom Tillis has forgotten who he’s there for – and who he’s supposed to be fighting for. I have conversations every day with folks across North Carolina who say in six years as our Senator, they have never heard from Thom Tillis, that he doesn’t show up, return their calls or care what they have to say. 

But being a senator for our State is about listening to North Carolinians, lifting up the voices of the people we serve, putting their interests first, and using the tools of government to improve their lives. 

Tillis’ failure to deliver on these most fundamental responsibilities of the office is made crystal clear in his recent “plan” to combat coronavirus – a plan that not only comes nearly six months after he received his first COVID-19 briefing, but also fails to address many of the critical needs being expressed by the people of North Carolina right now. He fails to address the extension of  now-expired federal unemployment benefits, and he fails to offer a health care solution at a time when North Carolinians need it most.

But this is not new. Look no further than his time as North Carolina’s Speaker of the House, where Tillis slashed state unemployment benefits for those out of work through no fault of their own, leading us to be  “one of the stingiest” states in the country.  Now, without federal benefits, out of work North Carolinians may see their incomes slashed by nearly 80 percent. 

And for many, losing a job also means losing health coverage and access to care, during this public health emergency. We have the opportunity to extend quality and affordable care to the hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians who fall in the coverage gap today – and bring down premium costs for private plans – by expanding Medicaid. A recent report found that in states like North Carolina that didn’t expand Medicaid, the percentage of laid-off workers that became uninsured nearly doubled compared to states that had expanded Medicaid.  

In the midst of this pandemic, North Carolina taxpayers are paying for expanded benefits that we aren’t receiving. Why? My opponent proudly passed the law making it “illegal” for Governor Cooper to expand Medicaid.  And since going to Washington, he has voted time and again to repeal the option.

By putting partisan and special interests ahead of North Carolina’s interests, Senator Tillis has tipped the scales in America  far away from fairness.  Consequently, many North Carolinians are being left behind and are more vulnerable to this pandemic. As we navigate this generation-shaping crisis, the people of our state deserve a leader who actually listens to peoples’ needs. 

In May, I released my priorities for coronavirus relief, drawn from my conversations with North Carolinians. These priorities include an extension of unemployment benefits for those out of work because of this pandemic and an expansion of Medicaid for those in the coverage gap. To help health providers and give our legislators a final incentive to repeal the Tillis ban, I've called on Congress to reinstate the 100 percent federal Medicaid cost share for the duration of this crisis.  These acts are among the swiftest and strongest steps we can take to minimize the economic damage and health vulnerabilities of North Carolinians hardest hit by COVID-19.. 

From growing up in the small of Lexington to wearing our country’s uniform overseas, I’ve always believed in the Biblical creed that we are our brother’s and our sister’s keepers, and that in our short time here on earth, we are called to serve each other. I’ll take this deeply held belief with me to Washington as your Senator.  

In the months and years ahead, in facing the current crisis and in taking on the challenges to come, my North Star will always be the people of North Carolina. I’ll always work to put our State’s interests first. And, no matter how big the issues are, I won’t back up but  always run towards the fight. In the election this fall, I’m asking North Carolina to put me into this fight – as the next Senator for this wonderful State we call home. 

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