On Thursday, January 14, President-elect Biden, accompanied by Vice President-elect Harris, gave his first major policy speech since winning the presidential election, focusing on his administration’s planned response to the concurrent public health and economic crises brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Titled the “America Rescue Plan,” President-elect Biden highlighted proposals to fund vaccinations and provide immediate and direct relief to working families and communities.
President-elect Biden began his address by emphasizing the profound impacts of both the sheer loss of life and the loss of our way of life due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He noted the growing divide in the American economy, where the top 1% has grown their wealth by $1.5 trillion over the past year, which is four times the amount of wealth growth than the bottom 50% of wage earners. He noted that 400,000 small businesses have permanently closed their doors and there have been almost 400,000 deaths due to the virus. He highlighted that public health experts and economists are increasingly in consensus that action has to be taken now. President-elect Biden stated that deficit spending is more important now than ever before and the return on investment in stable jobs and racial equity will far outweigh the short-term costs.
To address the twin economic and public health crises, President-elect Biden unveiled the first of two policy proposals: the America Rescue Plan. President-elect Biden stated he will unveil his second proposal, the Build Back Better recovery plan, in one month, at his first address to the joint session of Congress. He stated that the Build Back Better plan will focus on investments in infrastructure, manufacturing, innovation, and clean energy, and highlighted a Moody’s analysis that found President-elect Biden’s plan would create 18 million good paying jobs.
President-elect Biden stated that the coronavirus vaccination distribution has so far been dismal and added that he will release his administration’s vaccine distribution plan tomorrow which will aim to distribute 100 million shots to patients within the first 100 days of his presidency. He thanked Democrats, Republicans, and Independents in Congress for working together to pass the December COVID-19 relief bill but stated that it was only a down payment and that much more was required.
President-elect Biden stated he will need $400 billion from Congress for his relief plan, noting the plan will mobilize more medical teams, increase vaccine supply, and get it out the doors as fast as possible. He emphasized his priority of keeping educators and students safe with a goal to safely reopen the majority of K-8 schools by the end of his first 100 days. He stated his administration will give schools, school districts, and states the clear guidance and the resources they need to open safely – which includes more testing, additional cleaning and disinfecting, providing protective equipment and proper ventilation in schools, and the financial ability for workers to quarantine if they become symptomatic or to stay home to care for a sick relative without losing their paycheck, which would reduce the spread of the virus while providing money to Americans who will spend it quickly. He noted that over 600,000 educators have lost their jobs since the pandemic began and stated his administration will provide emergency funding to help essential workers get back on the job.
President-elect Biden called for immediate relief in the form of a total of $2,000 in cash relief to those who need it most. He stated that the $600 checks provided in the December COVID-19 relief package were not enough and that this additional support will be beneficial for those who still have their jobs as well. His plan also would extend unemployment insurance beyond the end of March, which means stable support for the 18 million Americans currently relying on UI. The President-elect stated his plan would also include an addition $400 per week supplement for those on UI.
Notably, the President-elect did not elaborate if he was calling for a new wave of $2,000 checks or $1,400 checks to bring the total to $2,000 – an ongoing debate within the Democratic party on Capitol Hill.
President-elect Biden emphasized that not only will this help provide economic support to struggling Americans and infuse much needed cash into the American economy, it would also help tackle the growing hunger crisis. He noted that 1 in 7 households – and more than 1 in 5 Black and Latino households – do not have enough food to eat. His plan would extend emergency nutritional assistance to 43 million children and families enrolled in SNAP while also providing support to struggling restaurants by working with them to provide food to the hungry. He stated he would invest $3 billion to make sure mothers and their young children have the nutrition they need.
President-elect Biden highlighted the need to stem the growing housing crisis, noting that 14 million Americans have fallen behind on rent this year. He stated action has to be taken to prevent a wave of evictions and foreclosures, which would overwhelm shelters and increase rates of infections as people with nowhere to go can no longer socially distance or effectively quarantine. He stated that his administration would take action next week to extend nationwide restrictions on evictions and foreclosures – providing 25 million Americans more housing stability – and called on Congress to fund rental assistance to 14 million Americans while supporting mom-and-pop landlords.
President-elect Biden emphasized the support small businesses need, calling them the engines of American economic growth and the glue that holds communities together. He noted they account for almost half of the U.S. workforce and that they desperately need assistance. He stated his plan would provide flexible grants to help small businesses and provide low cost capital to help entrepreneurs. He emphasized that these grants would be different from the PPP in that they will be focused on Main Street small businesses, with an emphasis on supporting minority owned and women owned small businesses while ensuring accountability and oversight to prevent waste and fraud.
President-elect Biden noted that his America Rescue Plan would lift 12 million Americans out of poverty and would cut child poverty in half, lifting 5 million children out of poverty. His plan would reduce poverty in Black communities by a third and reduce poverty in Hispanic communities by almost 40%. President-elect Biden called for a national minimum wage of $15 per hour, noting that if a worker is paid less than $15 per hour and works 40 hours a week, they would be below the poverty line. He stated there is a national appetite for this increase, noting that even in the politically divided state of Florida, they recently increased their minimum wage to $15 per hour. He also called for easing the financial burden of caring for young children and the elderly, noting that often those jobs are taken by women, women of color, and immigrants and they should be earning a fair pay and be treated with dignity.
President-elect Biden stated that American manufacturing was the arsenal of democracy in World War II, and it will be again as under his yet-to-be-released Build Back Better recovery plan, there would be a renewed emphasis on buying American products, support for millions of manufacturing jobs, and increased investment in research and development in markets where global leadership is still up for grabs, like battery technology, artificial intelligence, and clean energy. He stated that it is time to stop talking about infrastructure and time to start building it and his plan would provide millions of well-paying jobs to rebuild ports, roads, and bridges to make them climate resilient, faster, cleaner, and more effective.
President-elect emphasized that under his presidency, while no one will be punished, everyone will pay their fair share. He called for the closing of tax loopholes and criticized the fact that some of the most wealthy and successful companies in the world were founded in and are headquartered in the U.S. yet pay no federal income tax. He stated that this needs to change and by doing so will provide the investments needed to rescue and rebuild America. President-elect Biden emphasized that the investments made by Congress will determine if American leadership is reasserted and America outcompetes its competitors in the global economy, or if those competitors catch up and pass us by.
President-elect Biden repeatedly stated his desire for unity, stating that a robust recovery from the dual public health and economic crises requires all Americans to work together. He mentioned at various times throughout his remarks his desire and willingness to work with Republicans in Congress to deliver needed relief. He recognized that the past year has tested everyone beyond measure, but emphasized that when Americans are united, there is nothing beyond their capacity to achieve. He promised to always be honest with the American people, both in recounting the success of his administration and their recovery plans, and in the challenges they still face. He closed by saying that next Wednesday, America begins a new chapter, and stated his confidence that, together, America can come through this crisis better off than when we came into it.