Thousands of South Carolinians at risk of mountains of debt without COVID relief bill

Updated: Dec. 27, 2020 at 10:32 AM EST
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CHAPIN, S.C. (WIS) - 130,000 thousand South Carolinians are at risk of losing unemployment benefits if the latest COVID-19 relief bill isn’t signed, according to University of South Carolina economist Joey Von Nessen.

It’s still unclear if the President will veto or sign the bill sitting on his desk and the confusion surrounding it is hurting those thousands. Former small business owner, Ray Lewis, though he was at his lowest point over the summer when he had to shut down his business due to the pandemic.

The day after Christmas, he wishes he was back where he was then. ”Then it really took a nosedive…we went through a lot for our company,” he said. “I see others just like me…business owners going down just as fast as I am,” he added.

Lewis said the Paycheck Protection Program loans from the CARES Act went directly to his employees. However, when that ran out it wasn’t enough to keep the business afloat, so he filed for unemployment himself.

But he said he wasn’t about to get any assistance. Despite calling every week for months, he says he was told he qualifies for unemployment but there were technical issues with his account.

Now, he said he is working to support his family as best as he can and is relying on food stamps after pulling himself out from poverty earlier in his life.

“I wish I had some time of unemployment that would at least help my household,” he said.

He said the COVID relief bill passed by Congress before Christmas was a small, bright light for his family.

“If it did get signed today, I’d have some type of hope. Right now, we are hurting like everyone else,” Lewis said.

Around Thanksgiving, Lewis’ gas was shut off after bills from Dominion Energy started to pile up. Lewis doesn’t know how he will be able to pay the $15,000 the company is asking from him to turn his heat back on this winter.

It’s a hard reality for a man who wants to pride himself on being able to help others.

A year ago, over the summer, Lewis helped provide AC units to people who couldn’t afford to cool down their homes. He asked to stay anonymous at the time so that he wouldn’t become the story.

At this point, Lewis said he doesn’t care how much he gets indirect stimulus, he said $600 or $2,000 extra is just that, extra cash he can use to start paying off his bills.

“Any little bit from anywhere will be used to pay our bills and do what we van for our families. At least it’s something. It’s better than nothing,” Lewis said.

His message to lawmakers is to just think about the people who are in need right now.

“Your families are fine. You are not being hit like the rest of us. Hurry it up,” he said.

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