I traveled to Bluffton, South Carolina yesterday to participate in a contractors round table with U.S. Congressman Mark Sanford (SC-1). Rep. Sanford joined approximately 25 contractors immediately after completing his eighth town hall in his district. The group of contractors employs between 2,500-3,000 people, with 62-63% being Hispanic.
Rep. Sanford opened the meeting by sharing seven major areas that will be addressed this year, though immigration dominated the discussion following his opening thoughts:
1. Healthcare (possible new bill within the next month)
2. Tax policy
3. Continuing resolution/budget
4. Debt ceiling (The plan appears to be to set financial limits instead of a just a cutoff date. He used the analogy of giving a credit card to someone and telling them they have a $10,000 limit instead of saying they could use the credit card until October).
5. Transportation – The money will probably be around $1 trillion
6. Border wall construction and work permits
7. Flood insurance reform
Rep. Sanford felt that a rushed timetable led to the demise of the GOP’s first attempt at healthcare reform this year. He stated that AHCA and Medicare Part D were discussed 10 times longer than the recent bill. He said there was just not enough time for people to buy into the bill and to offer up meaningful amendments.
A new bill would keep the pre-existing conditions provision and allow children to remain on their parent’s insurance until age 26.
One change being sought is to move the cost ratio between the oldest participants and youngest participants. The current structure of the healthcare law sets a maximum premium difference between the oldest and youngest participants at 3-1. Rep. Sanford sees a possible change closer to 5-1. The idea is to get more young people enrolled at lower premiums, not to increase the premiums of older citizens.
Another likely change is to allow states to decide whether to keep all, some, or none of the Title 1 provisions. Title I, among other provisions, imposes penalties for not having health insurance and penalizes businesses that are above certain employee thresholds and don’t provide health insurance. States could decide whether to have a single payer system, a government run marketplace, allow more open competition, or some other combination thereof.
Immigration Reform Desperately Needed
There is currently more demand for construction than available workers in coastal Georgia and South Carolina, which means a fix is needed soon to prevent the price of construction, including governmental work, from continuing to increase. The consensus among the contractors was a need to legally tap into the immigrant labor force.
Some ideas shared by the contractors included:
- Allowing contractors to identify and sponsor immigrant workers that would be protected from deportation and allowed to work in the United States. They would be required to pay taxes.
- A pathway to citizenship by charging illegal immigrants a certain fee to begin the process towards becoming a citizen. A person would be given a national ID number that would allow them to work and pay taxes, get a driver’s license, and the ability to purchase insurance for themselves and their vehicles. They would be placed on probation for a specified period of time and if they committed any felonies or repeated misdemeanors they would be deported. Once the probation period was over, they could enter the queue for citizenship.
While Rep. Sanford agreed that these were good ideas, he does not see any chance of a comprehensive immigration plan being proposed within the next 3 years, much less being passed into law. He stated that too many Republicans feel that Hispanics would lean democratic in voting and that Trump was very clear during his Presidential campaign of doing something drastic about illegal immigrants.
Rep. Sanford believes that work permits and visas are the most likely compromises for filling contracting vacancies. Approximately 1 million people enter the United States on visas each year. However, H-2B visas are the only classification available for the type of contracting workers needed. This classification is capped at 66,000 per year for the entire nation, which is just a drop in the bucket for the actual need in the coastal areas of Georgia and South Carolina.
There was a sense of frustration from the contractors that they are playing by the rules by using e-verify, while other contractors are not being punished for not participating. No fines have been issued to employers in South Carolina for not participating in the e-verify program.
The lack of enforcement and the shortage of workers has led to a surge in illegal workers being paid in cash and paying no income or FICA taxes. One roofing contractor shared the story that six of his workers were arrested for improperly filling out I-9 paperwork. The workers each paid a $600 fine and are still working on roofs with a different contractor for cash.
My Final Thoughts
The solutions to these two issues and the others listed by Rep. Sanford are definitely not going to be easy, but I am glad that they are being discussed. They are real problems that are impacting all Americans. Rep. Sanford stated the importance of being prudent in not creating more problems while trying to fix the problems we already have.
I applaud Rep. Sanford for holding town halls across his District. He stated that there is a lot of yelling, especially in the first 15 minutes, but he continues to hold them to listen to his constituents from different political persuasions. It is time for all of our Georgia Republican Congressmen to do the same.