Vice President Kamala Harris wrapped up week two of the “Help Is Here” tour with a trip to Connecticut, where she and secretary of education Dr. Miguel Cardona met with state lawmakers to discuss how the American Rescue Plan will benefit teachers and students.
Connecticut is Dr. Cardona’s home state, where he led the top education department for several years until he was tapped to join Biden’s Cabinet. Before that, he was an assistant superintendent in Meriden, Connecticut, the school district that he attended as a child and where he later worked as an elementary school teacher.
The group first traveled to the Boys and Girls Club in New Haven, where Dr. Cardona said the American Rescue Plan will help get children back to in-person learning as quickly and safely as possible.
“We know that education can really lift up children out of poverty,” Dr. Cardona said, adding that the country is at a “critical point” in tackling the issue.
The American Rescue Plan aims to pull millions of children out of poverty, in part by increasing the current child tax credit from $2,000 to $3,600 for children under age 6, and $3,000 for other children under age 18, among other changes.
“... One of the components of (the American Rescue Plan) that we are most excited about and will have a generational impact is lifting half of America’s children out of poverty,” Harris said in part. “We are particularly also excited about what we are doing in terms of the substantial investment in child care, understanding that is an issue that is, yes, about our children, but also about their parents.”
As ambitious and expensive as it is, the plan stands to go only so far in reducing income and wealth inequality.
Its boldest measures, including a massive tax cut for the poorest families, are only temporary. To make a lasting difference, these provisions would have to be extended, probably in the face of stiff resistance from Republicans.
Harris’ senior advisor, Symone Sanders, told reporters on Friday the changes to the child tax credit should be permanent, adding: “We look forward to Congress making moves on that.”
Harris is expected to visit the West Haven Child Development Center with Dr. Cardona and Democratic U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, where she is scheduled to deliver remarks.
President Joe Biden’s press conference – his first since taking office – took center stage on Thursday, and he used the opportunity to tout the benefits of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, while also fielding tough questions from reporters about key issues, including migration at the U.S.-Mexico border and the fate of the filibuster.
Biden’s first major announcement was to double his administration’s goal for shots-in-arms given out by his 100th day in office. In early December, Biden said his goal would be to administer 100 million coronavirus vaccine doses within his first 100 days in office.
The administration reached that goal last week, on Biden’s 58th day in office.
On Thursday, the president announced that he is doubling that goal, now aiming to administer 200 million vaccines by his 100th day in office.
“I know it’s ambitious, it’s twice our original goal, but no other country in the world has come close to what we're doing,” Biden said of the new objective.
Biden’s new vaccination milestone came on the heels of an announcement from the White House pledging a $10 billion investment to expand COVID-19 vaccine access to the highest-risk and hardest-hit communities in the United States, as well as an effort to expand vaccine confidence nationwide.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will invest $6 billion in funds – largely from the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill – to expand vaccine access in underserved communities, including, according to the White House:
Expanding COVID-19 vaccinations, treatment, and testing for vulnerable populations
Delivering preventive and primary health care services to higher-risk individuals
Expanding the operational capacity health centers – which includes fixing physical infrastructure and adding mobile units – for the pandemic and beyond.
The administration will also devote $3 billion to outreach and education programs in an attempt to strengthen vaccine confidence. The funding will go to states, territories, and some large cities to distribute, which will allow them to "support local health departments and community-based organizations in launching new programs and initiatives intended to increase vaccine access, acceptance, and uptake."
HHS will also give $300 for community health worker services to support COVID-19 control and prevention, as well as an additional $32 million for training, technical assistance, and evaluation, according to the White House.
Soccer stars Megan Rapinoe and Margaret Purce joined the Bidens at the White House on Wednesday in honor of Equal Pay Day, a day meant to signify when an average woman's pay catches up to that of their male counterparts from the year prior.
The president used the opportunity to sign a proclamation declaring National Equal Pay Day 2021, as well as explain how the American Rescue Plan will promote gender equity in the workplace.
“We should not be satisfied until Equal Pay Day is no longer necessary or celebrated at all,” Biden said before signing the proclamation, a symbolic one that represents the administration’s commitment to promoting equal pay. “Doesn't matter if you're an electrician, an accountant, or part of the best damn soccer team in the world, the pay gap is real.”
While acknowledging that the fight for gender equality is ongoing, Biden highlighted the components of the American Rescue Plan that will help women — primarily those in minority groups — play financial catch-up in the short term.
Women in minority communities have been especially hard-hit by the economic downturn. Over 60% of frontline workers are women, despite women making up only half of the domestic workforce; women of color make up over half of the workers in fields like housekeeping and nursing assistance.
“The American Rescue Plan is designed to address this core challenge: it puts money directly into the pockets of people who need it the most,” Biden said Wednesday. In addition to providing direct stimulus checks to Americans and expanding the child tax credit, the president said the $39 billion allocated to child care services will go a long way in helping a sector of the economy that is primarily run by women.
Biden also thanked the two soccer stars for their support, telling Rapinoe: “It matters that you lent your voice to the issue of fair pay ... for so many years.”
Rapinoe has long been at the forefront of the fight for women’s pay equity in sports. In March 2019, Rapinoe and the rest of the U.S. Women's National Team filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation alleging unequal pay and unequal working conditions compared to U.S. men.
Part of that suit was settled in December, but the dispute over unequal pay remains open for additional litigation.
"I've been devalued, I've been disrespected and dismissed because I am a woman. I've been told that I don't deserve any more than less because I am a woman,” Rapinoe said from the White House. “Despite all the wins, I'm still paid less than men who do the same job that I do."
The U.S. women’s soccer team has been markedly more successful than the men: The women have won four World Cup titles and have been the world’s top team for much of the last decade, while the men have yet to win a FIFA world cup.
Hours before appearing at the White House, Rapinoe testified in front of the House Oversight Committee, telling lawmakers that women should not have to "continue to be patient" to be paid fairly.
"Equal pay and equality in general is a deep and personal passion of mine and what we've learned and what we continue to learn is there's no level of status, accomplishments, or power that will protect you from the clutches of inequity,” Rapinoe told the committee. “One cannot simply outperform inequality or be excellent enough to escape discrimination of any kind.”
Rapinoe and Purce also stopped by the White House press briefing ahead of their event with the president and first lady, touring the briefing room and standing behind the infamous podium.
"It's really amazing," Rapinoe said when asked how it feels to be at the White House on Equal Pay Day. "Both of us feel honored to even be invited and continue the fight that we've had for a long time."
Vice president Kamala Harris similarly celebrated Equal Pay Day on Wednesday, hosting a roundtable discussion with various female leaders of advocacy organizations. She was joined by Cecilia Rouse, chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, and Heather Boushey, a member of the Council of Economic Advisers.
Harris spoke to the direct connection between gender, race, and pay equity, saying: "We have to hold employers accountable. We have to hold corporations accountable."
The pay gap impacts the entire economy in ways that exacerbate other issues such as racial inequality. The National Women’s Law Center found that Black women earn just 63 cents for a dollar paid to a non-Hispanic white man, while Hispanic women make only 55 cents. That difference translates into a loss of roughly $1 million in income over a lifetime.
“These aren’t simply women’s issues,” Rouse said at Wednesday’s press briefing. “They affect all families, the ability of our economy to recover, and our nation’s competitiveness.”
Second gentleman Doug Emhoff headed to Missouri on Wednesday for the sixth stop of the administration’s tour, hosting a roundtable of his own to hear how the pandemic has impacted St. Louis-area women and their families.
While the disparity between men and women’s pay continues to narrow, the onset of the coronavirus pandemic impacted women in the workforce at a much higher rate than their male counterparts.
A recent study by consulting firm McKinsey & Company suggests that women account for nearly 56% of workforce exits since the start of the pandemic, despite only making up approximately 48% of the overall workforce. A separate study conducted by Pew Research between February and August of last year found that mothers of children 12 years old and younger were three times as likely to lose work than fathers of children the same age.
Emhoff arrived Wednesday morning at the headquarters of construction and development firm Clayco Inc., outside of St. Louis. A number of local leaders joined the event, including St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson; Clayco project manager April Austin; director of the Women's Bureau at the U.S. Department of Labor, Wendy Chun Hoon; and board chair of the Metro Trans Umbrella Group in St. Louis, Elaine Brune, among others.
Austin spoke of feeling "extremely outnumbered” in her field; Paralee Gladney-Stewart, who works in the healthcare industry, said she and her colleagues feel "totally overworked" as the pandemic rages on. Mayor Krewson said this year’s Equal Pay Day is a stark reminder of the need to "take action to end the gender wage gap once and for all."
Emhoff told the assembled women that his wife, vice president Kamala Harris, has referred to the massive workforce of women as "a national emergency,” saying funds from the American Rescue Plan “will help all Americans in a very transformational way."
"When I see her tonight, we're certainly going to talk about all of this," Emhoff said of Harris.
President Joe Biden and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff both marked the anniversary of the Affordable Care Act with separate tour stops highlighting how the American Rescue Plan is helping families with their health care costs.
The separate visits came on week two of the Biden administration's "Help Is Here" tour, which is meant to publicize the benefits of Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill to the American people.
Tuesday's tour visits coincided with the 11th anniversary of the Affordable Care Act — legislation that Biden helped champion during his time as vice president — which was signed into law on March 23, 2010.
Biden was greeted by Ohio Governor Mike DeWine and his wife, Fran DeWine, upon touching down in Columbus. The three traveled to the Ohio State University’s Department of Radiology and Oncology, which officials said received a $100 million grant from the Affordable Care Act.
Biden was given a tour of the new-and-improved department, which used the ACA grant to refurbish its radiation care facility and to invest in new, highly targeted forms of therapy.
The president spoke briefly about his late son, Beau Biden, who passed away in 2015 after a battle with brain cancer. Biden said the advancements in cancer treatments make him feel “mostly hopeful,” adding that he doesn’t “want to see anybody go through what my son went through.”
The main purpose of Biden’s trip was to talk up the tenets of the American Rescue Plan that will lower health care premiums for millions of Americans. One such provision pumps money into Affordable Care Act premium subsidies to address long standing problems of affordability, particularly for people with solid middle-class incomes.
Speaking from the James Cancer Hospital Solove Research Institute Tuesday afternoon, Biden announced that the ACA special enrollment period will be extended to Aug. 15, allowing Americans to enroll, or re-evaluate their health coverage needs "with increased tax credits available to reduce premiums.”
“When I ran for president, I promised I would build on the foundation of the Affordable Care Act,” Biden said, encouraging Americans to visit Healthcare.gov or call the 1-800 hotline number to see if they are eligible for increased payments, adding: “A few clicks and a short conversation and that’s all it takes to start seeing those benefits.”
“With the American Rescue Plan and the Affordable Care Act, millions of families will be able to sleep a little more soundly at night because they don't have to worry about losing everything if they get sick,” Biden added.
The COVID-19 legislation cuts premiums paid by a hypothetical 64-year-old making $58,000 from $1,075 a month to about $413, based on Congressional Budget Office estimates. A 45-year-old making $19,300 would pay zero in premiums as compared with about $67 on average before the law. People who have even a brief spell of unemployment this year can get a standard plan for zero premium and reduced copays and deductibles.
New and existing customers will be able to take advantage of the savings starting April 1 by going to HealthCare.gov. States that run their own health insurance markets will offer the same enhanced assistance, although timetables for implementation may vary.
The COVID-19 relief bill follows Biden’s strategy of building on the Obama-era health law to move the U.S. toward coverage for all.
“We’re going to keep building until every American has that peace of mind, and to show that our government can fulfill its most essential purpose: to care for and protect the American people,” Biden said Tuesday. “When we work together, we can do big things, important things, necessary things.
“We saw it eleven years ago with the Affordable Care Act. We saw it eleven days ago when we marked the signing of the American Rescue Plan,” he continued. “But we’re not done yet.”
Biden’s speech Tuesday in Columbus, the capital of a political battleground state, is part of a mini-blitz by the White House. Newly minted Health Secretary Xavier Becerra will echo Biden’s comments Tuesday in Carson City, Nevada, and join a Florida-themed Zoom event.
Second gentleman Doug Emhoff was also pitching the relief bill in Nebraska on Tuesday, sitting down with representatives of a rural hospital to touch on the plan’s provisions for hard-to-reach areas.
Under the American Rescue Plan, rural health programs will receive additional funding and support as the pandemic continues. The package includes $8.5 billion in reimbursements for rural health care providers, with another $500 million allocated to the Department of Agriculture for emergency grants to assist with administering vaccines, and helping clinics implement telehealth services.
Emhoff touted the reduced premiums under the legislation, and encouraged Nebraskans to see if they are eligible for the expanded subsidies under the American Rescue Plan.
“It’s worked so well,” Emhoff said of the Affordable Care Act. “And now with President Biden’s American Rescue Plan, it’s even better.”
Vice President Kamala Harris traveled to Florida on Monday, a trip that coincided with an influx of people hoping to celebrate the warm weather in one of the few states fully open during the pandemic. Officials made upwards of 1,000 arrests at the state’s famed Miami Beach during the Spring Break season, over half of which were of non-Florida residents.
After days of partying, including several confrontations with police, Miami Beach officials enacted a highly unorthodox curfew Saturday from 8 p.m. until 6 a.m., forcing restaurants to stop outdoor seating entirely during the three-day emergency period, and encouraging local businesses to voluntarily shut down.
Upon touching down in Florida, Harris was asked if she had a message for local officials supporting the re-opening efforts. Harris responded that her visit aims to “emphasize the importance of vaccinations and getting the vaccine” when available.
“One thing is for sure, if you get vaccinated when it's your turn, you are much more likely to avoid contracting COVID,” she added.
After disembarking in Jacksonville, Harris first headed to the County Community Vaccination Center, one of the local federally-supported COVID-19 vaccination centers giving out thousands of jabs to Floridians. Hundreds of U.S. Navy troops were at the center upon the vice president’s arrival, all administering or preparing COVID vaccinations inside a large tented building.
“Thank you on behalf of the president and myself,” Harris told those working on the vaccine.
Harris watched as Shagara Bradshaw, a local high school English teacher, received her second dose of the Pfizer vaccine.
Harris then traveled to a food pantry, Feeding Northeast Florida, where she listened to local leaders discuss their ongoing efforts to provide healthy food to locals amid the pandemic. Nikki Fried, the commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services and moderator of Monday’s roundtable, told the vice president that Black and Hispanic families in the region are disproportionately impacted by chronic hunger.
Harris in turn said the American Rescue Plan was "designed with you in mind,” touting the package’s cumulative $12 billion in funding to help address food insecurity. Pointing to the expansion of WIC and SNAP benefits and increased funding for children on free and reduced lunches, Harris said food pantries and community centers are vital in ensuring Americans get their intended benefits from the plan.
“The work that we do in Washington will mean nothing without the work you do here on the ground,” Harris said, adding: “Which is to make sure that all of those resources get to the folks who need them, as immediately, as quickly as possible and with the spirit of recognizing the dignity that each of us have.”
Harris’ husband, second gentleman Doug Emhoff, also visited a food center on Monday — he headed to Des Moines, Iowa, alongside agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack and Democratic Rep. Cindy Axne (D-IA). The three were given a tour of the Food Bank of Iowa, including the football stadium-seized warehouse containing ceiling-high stacks of boxes packed with food.
They also met with a group of volunteers packing grocery bags with items including fruit, juice, cereal, microwaveable pasta, and more. Emhoff took the time to ask each volunteer why they decided to work with the food bank, per a pool report.
The officials then participated in a roundtable discussion with local community leaders, where Emhoff announced the administration will offer a 15% increase in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) through September 2021. The additional $3.5 billion in funding, available through the American Rescue Plan, will amount to about $100 more in benefits per month for a family of four, according to the White House.
Both Emhoff and Vilsack spoke to the announcement on Monday, with the second gentleman calling the funds “a massive victory for Americans all over the country.”
“We cannot sit by and watch food insecurity grow in the United States,” Vilsack said in a release. “The American Rescue Plan brings help to those hurting the most due to the pandemic. It increases SNAP benefits so households can afford to put food on the table. It invests in working people and small towns and small businesses to get the economy back on track. And it makes the most meaningful investments in generations to reduce poverty.”
Other administration officials are expected to join the tour later in the week.
Some funding from the package has already been released; as of March 17, over 90 million in direct payments had been sent to Americans as part of the plan’s installment of economic impact payments, according to the Treasury Department. The next batch of payments are being processed this week, with the official pay-out date scheduled for Wednesday, March 24, the department announced Monday.
The “Help Is Here” tour began in earnest last week, starting out first lady Dr. Jill Biden’s visit to New Jersey, where she was greeted by Gov. Phil Murphy for a tour of Samuel Smith Elementary School.
Biden’s first stop in the cross-country administration roadshow came last Tuesday with a visit to Smith Flooring Inc., a minority-owned flooring business in suburban Philadelphia that recently qualified for a federal Paycheck Protection Program loan during a two-week window in which the Biden administration focused the program exclusively on helping businesses with 20 or fewer employees.
Spectrum News' Lydia Taylor and Pete Grieve contributed to this report.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.