Republican House District 13 candidates all back more COVID relief, but differ on the details

The candidates all said they support another relief bill of some sort, but had different views on direct payments and unemployment benefits.
The Republican candidates for Florida’s 13th Congressional District include (from top left) Sheila Griffin, Anna Paulina Luna, George Buck and Amanda Makki. (Sharon Barry Newby, who's also running, is not pictured.)
The Republican candidates for Florida’s 13th Congressional District include (from top left) Sheila Griffin, Anna Paulina Luna, George Buck and Amanda Makki. (Sharon Barry Newby, who's also running, is not pictured.) [ handout ]
Published Aug. 4, 2020

As lawmakers in Washington continue to squabble about how best to provide ongoing relief to Americans during the coronavirus pandemic, the Republican candidates vying to take on U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist all agree that Congress should pass some sort of relief bill.

But first, Anna Paulina Luna and George Buck said the priority should be to “reopen” the economy.

“I think the American entrepreneur is the best relief package we could give,” said Buck, a retired firefighter. “Let’s just get back to normal. You have to remember this is a 98 percent curable virus.”

The candidates offered their views on a potential second relief bill against the backdrop of a stalled Washington. Debate between Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill intensified last week as federal enhanced unemployment benefits ran out at the end of July, yet neither side seems optimistic about the prospects of a solution soon. House Democrats passed their opening salvo, a $3 trillion package, in May, while Senate Republicans last week unveiled a $1 trillion plan. The White House is pushing for a more stopgap approach and President Donald Trump is weighing executive action.

Buck and Luna, both veterans, acknowledged that most of the economy in Florida is already open, but Luna said other areas of the country are still under lockdown orders that restrict business activity. Neither candidate suggested scrapping distancing measures outright that currently limit capacity in businesses like bars and restaurants.

“We have to think of ways to get people into the economy so they’re spending money,” said Luna, a conservative commentator.

Luna said she supported another round of direct payments to individuals, a measure that appeared in both Republican and Democratic proposals. The parties’ payment schemes are slightly different, with the Republican plan offering individuals $1,200 payments, plus $500 per dependent. That schedule matches the first coronavirus relief bill, the CARES Act, that became law in March. Democrats want $1,200 payments, plus another $1,200 per dependent. Luna supports the Republican proposal.

Buck said he didn’t have much of an opinion on individual payments, but that he’s “not totally against it.”

“I’m a Republican, but I believe we sometimes have to help people out,” Buck said. “It’s a social responsibility.”

Lobbyist Amanda Makki, who did not make herself available for an interview, offered her views in a statement that did not touch on individual payments. Instead, she focused on relief for businesses and the enhanced unemployment payments that came from the CARES Act.

The payments, at $600 per week and meant to supplement state unemployment relief, expired last week, and they have become a major point of contention between the two parties. Democrats want the aid extended, while Republicans say the relief is more than some made at work. They want it reduced to $200 per week, with an eventual transition to a formula that pays out 70 percent of a worker’s would-be wages.

“I support targeted relief for businesses that helps keep people employed, like what the Paycheck Protection Program was intended to do,” Makki wrote in the statement. “I believe that type of assistance generally works, although as we saw with the first package, there were still major abuses and funding didn’t reach all who needed it. Congress should not be disincentivizing people from returning to work by paying them more to be unemployed than what they would otherwise be earning — that makes no sense.”

Buck said he agrees with the reduction of federal jobless benefits to $200, and a provision immunizing small businesses from virus-related lawsuits.

Luna, too, agrees with passing business liability protections. She said she agrees with the $200, but said it’s not “a blanket solution.”

“If I was in Congress today, and I was to propose a bill, I would say that it should be done on geopolitical location based on economies,” she said of the unemployment assistance.

Retired lawyer Sheila Griffin and business owner Sharon Newby also said they support another relief package. Griffin strongly backs the reduced unemployment benefits and decried direct payments, saying she doesn’t want to see that type of relief “again, ever.”

Newby, too, said she does not support another round of direct $1,200 payments to individuals, but said people with dependents should be able to receive the $500 payment. She said she supports reducing the federal unemployment enhancement to $300 per week, but only until the end of the year.

District 13 includes all of St. Petersburg and much of Pinellas County. The primary election is Aug. 18.