James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

 12:29 P.M. EDT
 
MS. PSAKI:  Hey.  Hi, everyone.  We were a little early today.  I apologize for that.  Okay, so good afternoon and happy “Jobs Day.”  Today I’m honored to have Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen join me here. 
 
Secretary Yellen has almost 50 years of experience in academia and public service.  She’s the first person in history to have led the White House Council of Economic Advisers, the Federal Reserve, and the Treasury Department. 
 
Her scholarship has focused on a range of issues pertaining to labor and macroeconomics.  And her work on efficiency wages with her husband, George Akerlof, showed that firms that offer better pay and working conditions tend to be rewarded with higher morale, reduce turnover, and greater productivity.  
 
In 1994, President Bill Clinton appointed Dr. Yellen to the Federal Reserve Board of Governors.  Three years later, he named her Chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers.
 
In 2004, Secretary Yellen began her third tenure at the Federal Reserve, this time as President of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.  From that post, she spotted a worrying economic trend: a bubble in home values — a bubble in home values.  When the housing bubble popped in 2008, Secretary Yellen helped manage the resulting financial crisis and recession. 
 
And in 2010, President Obama appointed her Vice Chair of the Federal Reserve before nominating her to succeed Fed Chair Ben Bernanke as the nation’s top central banker. 
 
She can take a couple of questions.  As always, I will be the bad cop.  And again, thank you, Secretary Yellen, for joining us.
 
SECRETARY YELLEN:  Thank you, Jen.  And hello, everyone. It’s a pleasure to join you this morning.  I’ll be pleased to take your questions, but first I thought I’d spend a few minutes on the state of our labor market.
 
When our administration took office, our economy was in a state of crisis.  Our most pressing concern was providing a lifeline for Americans suffering under the weight of the pandemic.  Our solution was the American Rescue Plan, which the President signed back in March.  It was designed to provide enough relief for Americans to make it to the other side of the pandemic with the foundations of their lives intact: providing nutrition for hungry families, rental assistance for those at risk of eviction, and a lifeline for businesses on the brink.
 
We knew it would be a long road back to recovery.  That’s why the legislation provided lasting support rather than just a few months of relief.  We knew this would not be a 100-day battle.  And today’s jobs report underscores the long-haul climb back to recovery. 
 
But let me be clear: The 266,000 jobs added in April represent continued progress.  We’ve added an average of over half a million jobs during the past three months.  And we saw a promising growth of 331,000 jobs in leisure and hospitality, which includes the restaurants and bars that have been so badly battered by this pandemic. 
 
We should also be encouraged by the ongoing expansion of the labor force.  It’s a promising sign of our economy winning out over the pandemic.  Last month, the labor market expanded as more people reported they are looking for work, hours are increasing, and the share of workers forced into part-time jobs is declining.
 
Indeed, we’ve made remarkable progress.  After all, one year ago, we learned we’d lost over 20 million jobs in one single month.  I believe we will reach full employment next year. 
 
But today’s numbers also show that we’re not yet finished.  As our economy continues to heal, it’s important to consider ways in which we can build back better, and one of those ways is removing barriers to higher labor market participation.  Even though we’re seeing sustained job growth now, more jobs ultimately will require more individuals to participate in the labor market.
 
As you know, the topline unemployment rate you see doesn’t include the many millions of Americans who were not seeking work, and progress here is critical. 
 
When I first came to Washington in the early ’90s, a higher percentage of American women worked than almost any other developed nation.  Out of the 22 wealthiest countries, we ranked sixth in the labor force participation.  By 2010, America fell to 17th.  By the eve of the pandemic, women’s labor force participation was hovering somewhere near where it had been in the late ’80s and early ’90s. 
 
Male labor force participation has fared even worse.  A smaller percentage of men are working now than at any point in the last 70 years. 
 
There are many drivers of these trends.  But as my colleagues at the Council of Economic Advisers have pointed out, an undeniable one is a lack of support for people as they raise children and care for older relatives.  Our policymaking has not accounted for the fact that people’s work lives and their personal lives are inextricably linked, and if one suffers, so does the other.  The pandemic has made this very clear. 
 
Between February and April of 2020, 4.2 million women dropped out of the labor force, in large part due to an unexpected caregiving burden.  Nearly 2 million have not yet returned. 
 
The challenge before us is to help these 2 million women to return to the labor market, but to help the millions of other workers who left prior to the pandemic to do the same.  It’s a core reason that, last week, President Biden proposed the American Families Plan.  The plan offers up to $8,000 to pay for childcare and make sure kids from lower-income families can attend for free.  It offers universal pre-K to three- and four-year-olds, and it provides up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave.
 
With today’s jobs numbers, I’m confident we will have a strong, prosperous economy this year and in 2022.  But what about the rest of the decade and the years beyond?  Our country’s long-term economic health depends on whether we invest in American families and workers, and I’m very hopeful we will.
 
Let me stop there.  And I think I have to take some questions.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Alex.
 
Q    So President Biden suggested that the increase in unemployment benefits has not affected the jobs report, but the Chamber of Commerce and some business leaders are arguing that it’s easier for people to stay home; they’re receiving more money than they would for them to go back to work. 
 
So what’s your response?  How do you explain the slowdown in hiring that we saw in this jobs report?  And is there talk about reducing that unemployment benefit in the future to get people back in the work — back to work?
 
SECRETARY YELLEN:  So, first of all, I’d note that the jobs report is a little bit stronger than the headline numbers might suggest on the hiring front. 
 
The number of people working part time for economic reasons, namely involuntary part-time work, that number declined by 600,000, and hours — average hours of work ticked up by a tenth.  So, that means that an extra margin in which — in which employers are able to boost their labor is by adding to hours of existing employees, and that those employees want that extra work.  They were involuntarily working part time.
 
You know, the labor market is volatile from month to month, and I think the best thing is to average through and say we’ve been creating over 500,000 jobs a month, on average, over the last three months. 
 
Look — but, you know, it’s clear that there are people who are not ready and able to go back into the labor force.  Many children are back in school — school, but not on a regular schedule.  It’s a challenge for parents to manage schedules where one child is in school a couple of days a week and another child is in school some different days during the week.
 
So caregiving responsibilities and absence of childcare are still important reasons why people are unable to return to work.  You know, concern about the pandemic and the health consequences, I think, remains a factor for many.
 
You know, I don’t think that the additional — the addition to unemployment compensation is really the factor that’s making a difference.  There’s no question that we’re hearing from businesses that they are having difficulty hiring workers.  Although over 300,000 workers, I’d point out, ha- — were added this last month in leisure and hospitality, which is the most badly affected sector.
 
But, you know, when we look across states or across sectors or across workers — and if it were really the extra benefits that were holding back hiring, you’d expect to see that in — either in states or for workers or in sectors where the replacement rate due to UI is very high, you’d expect to see lower job-finding rates.  And in fact, what you see is the exact opposite.
 
You know, we’ve had a very unusual hit to our economy, and the road back is going to be somewhat bumpy.  We have to expect that there are a variety of bottlenecks that are also relevant.  So we’ve just seen motor vehicle production shut down in some places because of a shortage of semiconductors.  There was a loss of jobs there this month.  There were setbacks in the lumber industry because of shortages there. 
 
So, you know, starting up an economy again, trying to get it back on track after a pandemic in which there are a lot of supply bottlenecks is going to be, I think, a bumpy process.  But I really don’t think the major factor is the extra unemployment.
 
Q    Madam Secretary —
 
MS. PSAKI:  Oh, go ahead, Kelly.
 
Q    Were you surprised, Madam Secretary, about the number? Because we’ve heard so much about a pent-up demand, a desire to get back; we’ve seen vaccinations rise; and we know that some of the funding in relief packages targeting businesses is in the bloodstream now.  So, were you surprised by the number?  And how much of a change would you anticipate as the summer season and the reemergence continues?
 
SECRETARY YELLEN:  Well, I believe that we’re going to — the recovery will remain on track, and it may be bumpy from month to month for a variety of factors.  You know, there are often quite large revisions to months as well.
 
There is data — two days before this, the ADP data that suggested over 700,000 jobs would be created, unemployment insurance claims had gone down.  So, if I had had to write down a number as my best guess, it would have been higher.  But I’ve watched data for a long time, and I know that it is extremely volatile.  There are often surprises and temporary factors, and one should never take one month’s data as an underlying trend.
 
Besides — remember I said the — the — actually what happened is stronger, I think, than the headline number looks.
 
Q    Madam Secretary —
 
Q    And do you see — do you see the relief money in the bloodstream of the economy now making a difference?
 
SECRETARY YELLEN:  Oh, absolutely.  I mean, we saw very robust spending — consumer spending — in the first quarter of the year.  The stimulus checks getting out there stimulated a surge in spending.  We’re seeing services begin to pick up from very low levels.
 
I think there’s absolutely no question in my mind that the money that the ARP has put out there and will continue to put out there in the coming months is going to boost spending. 
 
And as things open up with further success with vaccinations in the pandemic, people are going to go back to eating out and traveling and doing all the things that they did.  And I — I absolutely expect to see continued progress in the (inaudible) probably bumpy.  And there is —
 
You know, look, we’re still down net 8.2 million jobs from where we were in February of 2020.  That is a big hole, and we’re going to hit back, but, you know, it’s going to take a little while.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Steve.
 
Q    Thanks, Jen.  Madam Secretary, what’s your advice then to the employers who say they are having difficulty hiring workers?  One suggestion has been made to perhaps raise wages.  But if businesses have to compete with plussed-up unemployment benefits, won’t that result in an increase in consumer prices and touch off an inflationary cycle that so many experts have been worried about?
 
SECRETARY YELLEN:  Well, I really doubt that we’re going to see an inflationary cycle, although I will say that all the economists in the administration are watching that very closely.
 
As my colleagues have said — the CEA put out a blog post on this — we expect somewhat higher inflation over the next several months for a variety of, essentially, technical reasons because of something called “base effects” that, in year-over-year comparisons right now, the months in which prices fell the most are moving out of the average, and that leaves us with a number — with the months in which they were rebounding toward more normal levels.  But that’s — that’s a transitory thing, not something that’s associated with a buildup in wage — in wage pressures.
 
I mean, with respect to wages, the best data that we have suggests that wage growth has really not picked up meaningfully.  And in areas where you do see some pickup — for example, this month, in services, there was a pickup in wages — but still, that’s an area where wages actually fell at the beginning of the pandemic.  And, you know, we’re seeing a revival not back yet up to normal levels.
 
So, you know, in — in areas where wages are more flexible, they fell a fair amount.  As the economy revives, we expect to see a return to more normal levels. But I don’t think we’re seeing meaningful upward pressure through — throughout much of the economy, but we’ll watch that very carefully.
 
Q    Madam Secretary —
 
MS. PSAKI:  Sal- — I was going to call on you, Saleha.  Go ahead.
 
Q    Thank you.  Madam Sec- —
 
MS. PSAKI:  And then she’s going to have — sorry.  This is going to have to be the last one.  And she’s always welcome back any time — I think, it’s safe to speak for all of you. 
 
Go ahead.
 
Q    Madam Secretary, is there any more that you can share on how long Treasury’s extraordinary measures on the — extending the debt limit may last?  There were some comments yesterday from the agency, but if there’s anything more you can share on that.
 
SECRETARY YELLEN:  So all I can really tell you is that the debt ceiling comes back into effect on July 31st, and there are a series of so-called “extraordinary measures” that are ordinary in the sense that they’ve been used many times in the past. 
 
But it’s exceptionally challenging this time to try to figure out just how long those measures are going to last, in part because of higher and more volatile spending in revenue numbers associated with the state of the economy and the pandemic.
 
So we’ve evaluated a range of scenarios, and we are concerned that there are scenarios that would give a very limited amount of additional time through the use of extraordinary measures, but I can’t really be more precise than that.
 
Q    You don’t know if it’s into October or further?
 
SECRETARY YELLEN:  I — I’m just saying near — there are scenarios in which so- — you know, sometime during the summer, wi- — the extraordinary measures would run out.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Thank you, Secretary Yellen, for joining us.
 
SECRETARY YELLEN:  My pleasure.  Thank you, Jen.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Thank you.
 
Q    Thank you very much.
 
SECRETARY YELLEN:  Thanks.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Okay.  Thank you, everyone.  All right.  I have just a couple of other items for all of you at the top here.
 
As part of the American Rescue Plan, today, we announced an allocation of $21.6 billion in emergency rental assistance to respond to the COVID-19 crisis.  This much-needed funding will help prevent evictions and ensure basic housing security for millions of Americans, including middle-class landlords who rely on rental income to support their families.
 
In addition to the funding, the administration announced new updated guidance to make sure that these funds get out quickly to those most in need of assistance.
 
For the first time, the new guidance requires the program to offer assistance directly to renters if landlords choose not to participate.  The new guidance also cuts down wait time before renters can access assistance and makes clear that funds can be used for moving-related expenses, security deposits, and other costs if a family is displaced.
 
While the economy continues to recover, nearly 7 million Americans reported being behind on rent in the second half of April.  More than 40 percent of those renters worry that they could be evicted sometime in the next two months, and almost 12 million Americans lack confidence that they can meet next month’s rent.  So, this is clearly critical to a large swath of people across the country. 
 
I have a little bit of a week ahead for you here, I believe.  Well, we’ll get it you to immediately following the briefing afterwards.
 
Alex, you want to kick us off?  Or — okay, go ahead, Steve.  I like it. 
 
Q    Does the —
 
MS. PSAKI:  Secretary Yellen gave her more than she needs.  Go ahead.
 
Q    Does the April job report affect how you approach the negotiations over the infrastructure plan? 
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, Steve, let me say, first, that when we give you the week ahead, some of the components in there will include a leadership meeting that will be happening next Wednesday that we announced a couple — last week, I believe.  It feels like a long time ago.  That will certainly be an opportunity to discuss the American Jobs Plan, discuss ways we can work together on putting people back to work. 
 
But we’ve always felt, as you heard Secretary Yellen convey and as you heard the President say earlier today, that the road to recovery would be up and down, and that there would be — that was — it was going to be important for us to put in place — pass a package — the American Rescue Plan — that addressed the crisis that was meant to rescue the country and the economy, and that we needed to invest far more than that to get to the point of recovery. 
 
So, you know, certainly our focus will be on working with Democrats and Republicans — that hasn’t changed — to get that done as quickly as possible, hopefully in a bipartisan way. 
 
Q    And following up, is it time to reconsider encouraging people to stay home with unemployment benefits, given the rising vaccination rates, the CDC guidance, this — this April jobs report?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, I would say that we’re not encouraging — you mean in terms of CDC guidelines or in terms of supplying unemployment benefits? 
 
Q    Yes — 
 
MS. PSAKI:  Sorry? 
 
Q    Supplying unemployment benefits.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Unemployment benefits.  Well, let me — well, let me first say — because there’s been a little bit of confusion about this — that there are certain requirements.  In order to receive any kind of unemployment benefit, claimants must be able, available, and actively seeking work.  And workers are not permitted to refuse suitable work and continue to receive benefits. 
 
That all remains true, including under the pandemic UI program.  You’re only allowed to refuse work and continue to receive benefits if you’re sick with COVID, taking care of someone sick with COVID, or offered a job at an unsafe workplace. 
 
As the Secretary alluded to, there also continue to be challenges that are unique to this moment we’re living through, including childcare restraints, the fact that 2 million women are st- — left the workforce, and that has an impact, of course, on people rejoining the workforce. 
 
But, you know, our view is that these benefits continue to provide necessary assistance to families, to people who are out of work to address what remains a challenging point in our economy. 
 
Go ahead, Kelly. 
 
Q    Given the President’s frequent encouragement that people get vaccinated, where do things stand as far as the President deciding whether or not he will mandate that federal employees must be vaccinated or members of the military must be vaccinated?  Or would he work in conjunction with private sector employers who want to have those kinds of requirements for a return to work? 
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, I wouldn’t anticipate that we would be putting requirements on private sector companies.  And I would expect that we would allow the space for them to put those requirements in place themselves or decide what is best for their workforces. 
 
Obviously, I don’t have any update.  There’s no new information I can provide on — on any requirements as it relates to federal employees.  And certainly, as it relates to the military, we would rely on the advice and guidance of the Secretary of Defense.
 
Q    So that’s not something that’s kind of in the works to consider whether the President would have that kind of a requirement? 
 
MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have any update on that at this point in time.
 
Q    Does the President have a reaction to the indictments of four former police officers in Minnesota related to the George Floyd case and civil rights allegations against them? 
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, obviously, we have seen the reports, and we have — are watching any follow-up closely.  But we don’t have any specific reaction to the legal actions that were announced today. 
 
I will say that, again, it’s a reminder — as was the verdict in the Chauvin case just a few weeks ago — that there’s still more that needs to be done.  While that was a moment of justice, certainly, that it is just the beginning.  And it’s a reminder of the need to put police reform in place through our legislative process and put those reforms in place across the country. 
 
Go ahead, Weijia.
 
Q    Thank you, Jen.  Secretary Yellen said that the recovery would be “bumpy” and there would be “different factors” every month that contribute to it.  What factors do you think led to what happened last month and the numbers dropping from an average of 500,000 to just over half of that? 
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, as Secretary Yellen said — I like saying that, since she was just here — you know, we look at monthly averages.  We don’t — it’s — one of the reasons why we don’t celebrate and bring champagne and balloons in when the numbers are far above expectations is because we know that there — that we have to look across a span of time and not overanalyze one particular month. 
 
So we look at it as: Across the course of three months, there was an average of 500,000 jobs that were created.  The prior administration created an average of 60,000 jobs per month.  So that certainly is a positive trajectory.
 
In our view, as we look at this report, it’s just a reminder — and our biggest takeaway is that it’s going to take time and effort to heal the economy.  It emphasizes the steep climb out from this economic crisis and the fact that more is needed.  We need to do more, because recovery for some, even when there are very high jobs numbers, is not recovery for all.  And we will continue to advocate for moving forward with the American Jobs Plan as a result.
 
Q    Thank you.  President Biden just said that he was “confident” that he would be meeting with Putin in June, next month, and suggested that it was only a matter of logistics — where and when the meeting will take place.  Can you confirm that he will meet with Putin when he visits Europe next month? 
 
MS. PSAKI:  There’s not a meeting with the President locked in yet.  Obviously, the President — our President — invited him to participate in that meeting because he thinks it would be a good step forward in the relationship to deescalate, to ensure we have a more stable relationship moving forward.  But there’s no meeting to confirm at this point in time.
 
Q    So has the — have the Russians not accepted? 
 
MS. PSAKI:  There’s a —
 
Q    Well, have they — have they accepted?
 
MS. PSAKI:  There’s a — as we said when the President had the discussion with President Putin, it would then be at the point where it would be discussions at a staff level about what it might look like, where, the timing, the components of an agenda.  Those are still ongoing. 
 
Q    Got it.  And just one more on the voting laws that passed in Texas and Florida: Does the President have anything to say about these laws?  And do you — does he — will he ask the Justice Department — or does he believe the Justice Department should intervene in any way to try to prevent the implementation of these laws? 
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, on the second question, he will leave that up to his Attorney General and leaders at the Justice Department.  I will say the President’s view — the fact of the matter is that these laws make it harder to vote.  That’s not a good thing. 
 
And his view is that any law that passes across the country should make it easier to vote, should not place limitations on giving food or water to people in any capacity in the line, should not limit the number of mail ballots you can help others return, should not allow challenges to voters based on their address, even when they show up — show up with that address on a photo ID. 
 
You know, these are making it harder to vote, not easier.  And that’s a fundamental view for the President.  There’s obviously federal legislation — legislation at the federal level, I should say — that he strongly supports. 
 
And, you know, these are not the only states — as you well know, Weijia — where there are efforts to make it more and more difficult to vote.
 
So he will continue to redouble his efforts to move legislation forward with Congress.  And his overall view is there’s no good reason to make it more difficult for people to exercise their right to vote across the country. 
 
Q    Thanks, Jen.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Go ahead. 
 
Q    So on expanded unemployment, there was talk of making those benefits permanent; Democrats had been talking about that in Congress.  Has the latest jobs report impacted the way that the White House is looking at that possibility? 
 
And then, can the President do anything to try to help pick up the pace of hiring?  I mean, could you see a world in which he’d be talking to CEOs about raising their, you know, salaries, that kind of thing?  Has he been looking at options? 
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, I will say, first — one, the President supports an increase in the minimum wage.  The President also believes and would love to see action in moving forward the American Jobs Plan by this summer, because he is the first to tell you that we need to do more, the economy needs more, American workers need more — obviously for the short term, but also the long term. 
 
And we know that the combination of the American Rescue Plan and the American Jobs Plan would have a large, net-positive benefit in — on bringing our workforce back in.  And also, the American Families Plan would have a huge benefit in addressing some of the impacts of childcare, on educational needs — on covering that.  That is preventing women from rejoining the workforce.
 
In terms of UI benefits, I know that a number of Democrats have talked about that in the past.  And we’re, obviously, in the discussion phase at a staff level, in discussion with committees, from senior leadership here, with members and their staff. 
 
Next week, I expect we’ll have a range of conversations to the high — up at the highest level on down, where those discussions will continue, and we’ll see what they bring to the table as important priorities for them.
 
Q    And then, when it comes to the American Jobs Plan, how long do you see — or how quickly do you see that money, sort of, making an impact on an issue like childcare?  I mean it’s going to take a while for it to be implemented, that money to get out there.  We likely won’t see impacts until earliest next year.  Isn’t that right?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, I think, first, the American Families Plan, which has the biggest components of the five-year extension of the Child Tax Credit — obviously there are still components of that that are being exte- — that are being implemented now from the American Rescue Plan.  And other pieces ha- — they are meant to have a longer term-benefit.  You’re right. They’re not all meant to have an immediate benefit; they’re meant to address and build us out of recovery over the long term. 
 
But certainly, for the American Jobs Plan, there are efforts in there that we certainly would hope to be underway as quickly as possible and as quickly as they can be. 
 
I don’t know that we have an assessment at this moment in time on, kind of, when the first project could start.  It really depends on when a bill would pass.
 
Q    And then one quick one on Russia.  Secretary Blinken has warned Russia against, sort of, further aggression.  That seems to run a little bit counter to President Biden saying he’s still expecting a meeting with President Putin.  So how does the White House and President Biden square having a meeting with Putin despite this aggression?  And is there a point at which the meeting could be broken off if Russia doesn’t listen to U.S. warnings?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, first, I would say that it’s a relationship where, while we feel we want to move toward a more predictable and stable relationship over the long term, we also are going to reserve our option of putting in place consequences if their actions warrant. 
 
And that was certainly what Secretary of State Blinken was saying, and that is reflective of also of the President’s view that we will continue to defend our national interests, impose costs for Ru- — the Russian — for Russian government actions that seek to harm our sovereignty.  That has — was also the message around the call that the President had with President Putin just a few weeks ago. 
 
We want to move to a more stable and predictable place, but we also — when we announced our sanctions, we left in — in their maximum optionality to put in place additional actions should their actions warrant. No one wants to get to that point, but we reserve that right should we decide it’s warranted.
 
Go ahead.
 
Q    What’s your message to Republican lawmakers who see today’s jobs report as a reason not to pass this additional $4 trillion in spending?  And how are you going to continue those negotiations, given the report today?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, that’s hard to square if they are suggesting that it is not a report that meets expectations while also saying that they don’t think we should work together to do something to help put more people back to work.  So that’s kind of hard to understand.
 
Q    We have yet to see the effects of this $2 trillion get through the economy, and we’re losing jobs.  Why is that?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Of the American Rescue Plan?  I actually don’t think that’s what economists would convey or — nor is it what they have conveyed.  We’ve created about an average of 500,000 jobs a month over the last three months.  That’s in stark contrast to about 60,000 jobs a month during the final three months of President Trump’s administration. 
 
And there’s no question — by data, by economic standards, by economic experts’ standards — that the money that has been put into the economy — the $1,400 checks and the stimulus — has helped put people back to work. 
 
We also know we’re continuing to make progress, and we — this is going to be a long road, as we’ve always said.  So it just requires additional assistance, additional stimulus, additional work together to put more people back to work, which is why the President proposed the American Jobs Plan.
 
Q    On the FDA’s approval — expected to authorize the vaccine — the Pfizer vaccine — for 12- to 15-year-olds any day now.  What specific plans does the White House have in place to get the vaccine distributed to that age group?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, the President talked about this just a couple of days ago.  And if and when — we’ll see — the FDA approves the EUA for 12- to 15-year-olds, we will absolutely operationalize and ensure that we’re distributing that vaccine out into the country and in a way where we’re meeting people where they are — working with primary care physicians, working with pharmacies, community health centers — and ensuring that we get that vaccine and those doses out to meet a new group of Americans who might be eligible.
 
Go ahead.
 
Q    President Biden has a meeting next week with congressional leaders.  What is he hoping to accomplish?
 
MS. PSAKI:  He does have a — on Mar- — on May 12th — excuse me, March 12th? — May 12th, sorry — he has a meeting — bicameral, bipartisan meeting here in the White House.  He’s hoping to talk about ways that we can work together to put people back to work, to addre- — to ensure we are making our workforce more competitive to — competing with China. 
 
And, you know, he knows that the American people elected him to solve problems and to represent and govern for all people.  And he’s hoping that these leaders will come together and join him in the Oval Office to have a discussion about doing exactly that. 
 
Q    And just one more.  Is there a time that’s been set for the meeting with the President and Capito on infrastructure?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Not yet.  We are working with her and her team on — and a — and a group of Republican members of her choosing on identifying a time and day that will work.  Hopefully, we’ll have more on that later today.  We will see.  And as soon as we do have that locked in, we’ll share it with all of you. 
 
Oh, go ahead.
 
Q    Jen, we did notice the President meeting yesterday briefly with Senators Kennedy and Cassidy on the tarmac in New Orleans. 
 
MS. PSAKI:  Mm-hmm.
 
Q    Was that a substantive conversation?  Were any deals reached or was it just pleasantries?
 
MS. PSAKI:  (Laughs.)  It wa- — if — if deals were reached, that would’ve been very efficient of all of them. 
 
I would say that, you know, I haven’t talked to the President about his specific private conversation with them.  Certainly they could speak to what they discussed, but the pr- — the trip yesterday to — and where the President stood in front of a 70-year-old bridge, one that’s 20 years in the making of having upgrades done — should be seen and viewed as his effort to send a message to leaders in that state, but also to people across the country that bridges and rebuilding bridges is not a Democratic idea; it’s an American idea.  And the same with rebuilding roads.  And the same with ensuring that we have efficient ways to travel, that kids have access to clean drinking water.
 
And the fact that they joined him on that trip is an example of how the President is reaching across the aisle.  He wants to do work together.  He’s committed to doing that.  And I know he enjoyed his trip yesterday.
 
Q    Quick question to drill down on something you were asked a couple of days ago.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Okay.
 
Q    It was about the debt ceiling. 
 
MS. PSAKI:  Yep.
 
Q    Just to nail it down, because every — for the last 10 years or so, every time this issue comes up, there’s been a robust debate in legal circles about whether the debt ceiling itself violates the 14th Amendment and the clause that says the debt of the national government should not be questioned.  What’s this administration’s position on that question?
 
MS. PSAKI:  I will — here’s what I know, Steve — and I will talk with our legal experts on that because I don’t want to speak out of turn: The President obviously has voted to increase the debt ceiling in the past and advocated for it as Vice President.  And he believes that it should be a process that Democrats and Republicans move forward on, just as they did three times during the Trump administration — including the same year, where they passed — where Congress passed $2 trillion in tax cuts for the highest income.  That’s his view. But I will see if there’s any legal — legal response to that particular question. 
 
I remember this debate, so you’re bringing me back. 
 
Go ahead, please.
 
Q    Thanks, Jen.  Two questions.  Several states, including South Carolina and Montana, are already looking at trimming unemployment benefits, saying that the labor shortage is created by the federal government’s supplemental employment programs.  Is the administration worried about a domino effect or that other states would do this?  Is there any outreach plan to stop states from doing this?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, we have, of course, seen that.  I will say that though some individual employers may be experiencing increased difficulty finding workers, we haven’t seen — widespread labor shortages are not yet evident in the data. 
 
And obviously, there’s always going to be look — a look at the data by our economic experts.  And we are seeing little evidence that enhanced unemployment benefits are currently impacting or affecting Americans’ willingness to work. 
 
We do recognize, as Secretary Yellen talked about a bit, that labor supply has been affected by the pandemic for a range of reasons, including childcare and schools fortunately beginning to reopen more than 50 percent, five days a week — just to note the data that came out just a few days ago. 
 
But there are lingering challenges that are unique to this moment, and we’re certainly hopeful — as schools reopen, as employers are better positioned — that we will be able to move to a different place.  But we’re not seeing that as a — an impact — as labor shortages as a mass widespread impact a- — in the data.
 
Q    One more question.  Last month, you said that you’d provide an update on the President’s medical records.  I was trying to get a sense of when do you think there’s going to be an update, seeing as he hasn’t released them since — in December 2019?
 
MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have an update at this moment.  But certainly, when he has his next medical appointment, we will be transparent about that and provide that information to all of you. 
 
Q    Is one scheduled?
 
MS. PSAKI:  I don’t — I’m not aware of one being scheduled, but cert- — cert- —
 
(A phone rings.)
 
Q    Sorry.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Weijia, you’re fine.  It’s okay.
 
Q    Uh-oh.
 
MS. PSAKI:  It’s a Friday.  Give everybody a break. 
 
Q    I’m so sorry, Jen.
 
MS. PSAKI:  You’re fine.  You’re fine.  You’re fine.
 
Q    I’m sorry.
 
MS. PSAKI:  This was falling down last week.  We had a plane flying over a few weeks — you never know. 
 
We don’t have — I’m not aware of one scheduled at this point, but — but we certainly will provide you all information and data in a transparent — data — information in a transparent way when it is scheduled, and once he has that appointment.
 
Go ahead.
 
Q    Thanks.  There have been a number of media reports in recent days on a series of newly reported cases, over the past 12 months, of Americans experiencing “Havana Syndrome” at home and abroad, including CIA officers, U.S. troops, and U.S. government officials in the Washington area.  So a couple of questions on this: How concerned are you about these newly reported cases over the past couple of months?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, first let me say that the health and wellbeing of American public servants is of paramount priority to the administration, and we take extremely seriously reports by our personnel of anomalous health incidents. 
 
Our national security staff is working closely with agencies and departments across the federal government to address unexplained health incidents that some government employees have suffered, and to ensure the safety and security of Americans serving around the world. 
 
And we are, of course, investigating incidents in which personnel have reported experiencing sensory phenomena, such as sound pressure or heat, concurrent with or followed by physical symptoms, such as sudden onset vertigo, nausea, and head or neck plain — pain. 
 
At this point — at this moment, we don’t know the cause of these incidents, which are both limited in nature and the vast majority of which have been reported overseas.  So right now we are working to investigate, taking every report seriously, and our national security team is overseeing that process.
 
Q    You say the vast majority have taken place overseas.  How many cases have been reported to have occurred in the United States?
 
MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have any more specifics on reported incidents.  I’m happy to see if there’s more we can provide on that.
 
Q    And how many cases total have been reported over the five years that this phenomenon has been known to us?
 
MS. PSAKI:  It’s an excellent question.  It’s limited, but let me see if there’s a more specific number we can provide to all of you.
 
Q    And my last question on this: What is the NSC doing that is new?  That — again, over the five years, three administrations — we’ve seen this phenomena — phenomenon occur.  What’s new that they’re doing to try to get to the bottom of it?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, I can’t obviously speak to what the last administration did or didn’t do.  What I can tell you is that our team is coordinating a full review of intelligence reporting to ascertain whether there may be previously unreported incidents that fit a pattern. 
 
We are also working closely, as I noted, with agencies and departments across federal — federal government to address unexplained health incidents that — sometimes they’re reported in to different agencies and it hasn’t all been gathered into one place.  So that’s how you can look at it across the board and see if there are patterns.  So that’s a way we are approaching it.  And I can’t, obviously, assess how that compares with past administrations.
 
Q    Just one last question on a different topic.  On Russia: What gives this administration the impression that Vladimir Putin wants a “stable and predictable” relationship?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, all I can speak to, Michael, is what our intentions are and what’s in the interest of the national — of the United States.  And in our view, it’s in the interest of the United States to have a stable and predictable relationship with Russia. 
 
It doesn’t mean that we are going to hold back, as we’ve talked about a little bit before, from implementing consequences when their behavior warrants, as we — as we did just a couple of weeks ago.  But that’s the reason that the President offered to have a meeting. 
 
Again, we’re working through the question of — you know, some logistics, but place, location, time, agenda, all the specifics.  And that was always going to happen at a staff level. 
 
It’s really up to them what they want to achieve, but here’s what we know: The United States is a member of the G7.  We’re working in close partnership with our partners and allies around the world from Europe to Asia to — you know, on a range of shared global interests.  And I think the question for Russia is whether they want to be a part of that global community. 
 
Go ahead, Geoff.
 
Q    Hey, Jen.  How you doing?  The first one — I know you’re just doing your week ahead; it’s not settled.  But do you have a time for the bicam meeting?  Because, as you know, House Republicans are going through some leadership elections.
 
MS. PSAKI:  I’ve heard that.  I — we don’t have a time.  It may be set, Geoff.  Let me see.  I think we’ll put out some more details on the — on the week ahead, but I don’t have the time in front of me.
 
Q    Whether it’s the first part of the day or the second part of the day?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Correct.  Correct.
 
Q    Okay.  Back on the Russia issue.  I know you’ve done a lot of these.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.
 
Q    And you mentioned “U.S. sovereignty,” but Putin — you know, there’s also a movement in Russia to crack down on — on internal dissent, accusing — including declaring Navalny’s party as a — it was called an “extreme” — an “extremist group,” which has caused his offices to shut down across the country.  Could Russia do anything internally that would cause the summit to be off?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Say it — I’m sorry.  Say the last part again. 
 
Q    Is a crackdown on internal dissent something that would stand in the way of the summit?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, first, let me say that the United States put in place a number of sanctions in reaction to the treatment of Navalny, in coordination with our European partners, several weeks ago.  It was separate — or it was earlier than the other set of sanctions that we announced.  But we did put those in place because exactly of their treatment of Navalny.
 
Obviously, human rights, freedom of speech, freedom of expression values are all issues that the President, Secretary Blinken, National Security Advisor Sullivan raise with their counterparts.
 
But the invitation to have a discussion and have a meeting was not — was not offered with the prerequisite that every issue is resolved in advance.  We expect we will still continue to have disagreements.  And we will certainly voice those if — if and when that meeting happens.  So, no, that wouldn’t be a predetermined component of it, but certainly we will continue to voice concern and we will put in place consequences as actions warrant.
 
Q    And just one more on vaccines — a holdover from Tuesday.  The President said — he talked up these ideas of incentives for people to get the shot, including sports tickets and shopping discounts and stuff like that.  He said he liked that idea.  Does he like the idea that some governors are floating out payments to people?  And is there an issue of sensitivity when Americans are getting paid to get a shot but people are dying in Brazil and India and all kinds of places?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, there are a number of states who are implementing different programs to ensure they are meeting people where they are, they are reaching people who are less inclined to get vaccinated for a range of reasons. 
 
What we’ve actually seen in our data is that the big driving factor is access, and that’s why we have massively increased our efforts to put more supply in pharmacies, to have mobile units, to partner with pharm- — with primary care physicians and doctors. 
 
But we know, as the President said, that states will take different actions and take different steps to ensure that their populations are vaccinated and that they’re getting the shots in the arms of as many Americans as possible.  That remains our first priority. 
 
At the same time, Geoff, as you know, we have also announced a number of steps we’re taking to contribute to — to be a part of the global effort to defeat the pandemic, because we know that the pandemic will not be stopped by borders, including the intention to distribute 60 million doses to share — to donate 60 million doses of AstraZeneca.  And we also are going to work with international partners, with the pharmaceutical companies to up the supply, to get as much supply out into the global community as possible.
 
Q    So he’s okay with the idea if it works — if it’s effective?
 
MS. PSAKI:  He supports — he — we all support — the administration supports efforts by different governors to take steps to ensure there’s more vaccines in the arms of Americans.
 
Let me just — go ahead.  Go ahead.
 
Q    Thanks, Jen.  On the subject of the stimulus checks, the President sent out a letter to millions of Americans who have gotten these checks.  And just a few weeks ago, when you were asked if his name was going to be on the checks, you said, “This is not about him.”  So why did he feel the need to send this letter?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, I think the primary driving reason at the time, several weeks ago, was that it could potentially delay the direct payments going out if they needed to be signed by the President, and we just didn’t think that was an appropriate step to take.  So this is a pretty standard letter that goes out with physical checks that are made, of which there are a small percentage of these checks that are actually physical checks. 
 
But it was just a letter that went out with them, but not intended to make it about him; it’s about the American people.  And we didn’t have him sign the checks because we were concerned about any impact that would have on delaying them going out to the public.
 
Q    Okay.  And a couple more questions for some colleagues who cannot be here. 
 
MS. PSAKI:  Okay. 
 
Q    The first is from some of our friends in Atlanta and it’s about the Atlanta mayor’s announcement that she is not going to seek reelection.  She, of course, was a supporter of the President’s, just a few weeks ago even participated (inaudible) —
 
(A noise outside interrupts the briefing.)
 
So was he given a heads up that she was — about this announcement?  What is his reaction to the announcement?  And are there any discussions to bring her into the administration?
 
MS. PSAKI:  I believe she’s already announced what she intends to do — I’ll let her speak to that — which is to go into the private sector, but I don’t have any other insight into her decision making.  And she remains, of course, someone who the President has a fondness for.
 
And, you know, they got to know each other a little bit during the campaign.  But beyond that, I’m not aware of a heads up that he in-pers- — personally had.
 
Q    Okay.  And one more for another colleague.  Given today’s jobs report, does the White House any — have any concerns about raising taxes on the wealthy, as the President has proposed?

MS. PSAKI:  We don’t.  What we’re talking about here, just as a reminder, is bringing the highest income bracket up to what it was during President George W. Bush’s administration, impacting about 1 percent of the public.  No one making under $400,000 a year would have their taxes go up.  That’s a line in the sand for the President, and that remains his approach and policy moving forward.
 
And also, what these tax — these tax proposals are meant to do is to pay for historic investment in infrastructure, historic investments in childcare and education — something that there is broad support for across the country.
 
Go ahead. 
 
Q    Thank you, Jen.  I have two questions.  I just asked President Biden if he believes the Iranians are serious about negotiation in Vienna, and he said “Yes.  But how serious and what they’re prepared to do…” 
 
So after three rounds of talks, is the White House frustrated with the lack of progress?  Are you there where you want to be?  And if diplomacy fails, what are your options to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, first, we always knew that this would be a long process and challenging, and — but we also feel that it has been a good sign that there have been diplomatic engagements over the past several weeks, even through indirect channels with the Iranians.  Some progress has been made.  And we have a better idea of what we need to do moving forward, both to come into — of what we need to do to come back into full compliance; and Iran has a better idea of what it needs to do to come back into compliance. 
 
Returning to the deal, as you know, would require Iran to significantly roll back its nuclear program and block every available pathway to a nuclear weapon.  But the talks are continuing; that is a good sign.  And I’m not going to get ahead of — prediction of what the outcome will be of them.
 
Q    Right, okay.  On Yemen, the President’s envoy, Lenderking, just got back from the region, as you know — from the Gulf.  And he said that they offered a fair deal to the rebels in Yemen — the Houthis — and they rejected it.  What leverage does the White House have considering that the President put it as a top priority for him to end the war in Yemen and the suffering of the Yemeni people?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Are you talking about the group that the bi- — the inter- — the administration group that was just overseas on a trip to —
 
Q    This is part of it, with the (inaudible) and the U.N. as well — they’ve been part of this as well.  
 
MS. PSAKI:  You know, I — I would have to talk to our national security team about, kind of, the status of those and where things are.  And your leverage question is an excellent one, but I haven’t gotten a briefing from them after their trip.  I can —
 
Q    Right.  But you — your general policy towards Yemen and ending the war — do you still believe that you’re on track as well?  Or is this another setback in foreign policy for this administration?
 
MS. PSAKI:  No, we — we still are moving toward — moving forward on our path.  Obviously, we want to get to a point where there is stability, where there is a lasting ceasefire in the region, and that certainly is our objective. 
 
Q    Thank you.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Go ahead.
 
Q    Thanks, Jen.  I have questions on a couple of different topics.  First, given the number of former Obama administration officials that are now in this Biden administration and the President’s relatively light schedule, there’s a growing perception that this is really just the third term of President Obama.  What do you say to people who say that?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Who were saying that?  Who’s saying that?
 
Q    You’ve heard that a lot in the media.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Who in the media?
 
Q    Different people.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Like?
 
Q    Well, there was lots of questions about when you had Japanese Prime Minister Suga here on the one and only, so far, in-person bilateral head-of-state meeting.  It was Vice President Kamala Harris who greeted the Prime Minister, and many people found that odd.  She’s already taking independent, one-on-one calls with key allies, like Prime Minister Morrison and Justin Trudeau.  So I just want to get your reaction to people who question that.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, it’s hard to react when I don’t know what people you’re talking about.  I will say that the President met with the Prime Minister, as you know, and had a full meeting, a full press conference afterwards, and they even shared a meal.
 
So — and the President has had dozens of conversations and calls with world leaders, and should be no surprise that the Vice President is also playing an important role engaging with and having discussions with foreign leaders.
 
Q    It — it’s more so than other Vice Presidents have. 
 
MS. PSAKI:  How so?  I’d love to see the data if you want to give me —
 
Q    Well, sure —
 
MS. PSAKI:  — present that to us.
 
Q    I could provide you with that sometime —
 
MS. PSAKI:  Sure.
 
Q    — and would love to get your reaction on it.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Happy — we’d welcome it.
 
Q    Excellent.  And then on the coronavirus: It’s a matter of public record that Dr. Fauci and the NIH funded gain-of-function experimentation, research at the Wuhan Lab of Virology.  And given the questions about that lab, why would Dr. Fauci and the U.S. fund that kind of experiments, that kind of research at a Chinese lab?
 
MS. PSAKI:  The — I’m sorry.  I can’t hear you super well.  What was the beginning part of your comment — of your thing — of your question?
 
Q    I said that the NIH and Dr. Fauci had provided funding to the Wuhan Lab of Virology.  That’s the lab in question when we talk about the lab-leak theory.  And given that gain-of-function research is dicey, why would the U.S. fund that in China?  Why would Dr. Fauci?
 
MS. PSAKI:  I’m happy to send you to the NIH about more specifics of what program they funded and more details of that. 
 
Q    Now, I do have one more follow-up on that —
 
MS. PSAKI:  Okay.
 
Q    — because the President hasn’t really weighed in.  Dr. Fauci is one of the voices who discredit the lab-leak theory, but now there is more officials in the Biden administration — like the Director of National Intelligence, the CIA Director, and now also the NIH Director — who say that this cannot be ruled out, and there is calls for more investigation into it.
 
Who does the President agree with — Dr. Fauci or the other officials?  Does he think this — it was a lab leak?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, the President has said, and I’ve said from here many times, that there needs to be a credible, independent investigation through the World Health Organization, and tha- — one that relies on data, relies on participation from China and other countries that may have information.  That’s certainly something everybody has called for, and we look forward to that happening.
 
Q    Why hasn’t the President spoken with President Xi about the origins of the coronavirus yet?  He said, just a few weeks ago, he hadn’t yet.
 
MS. PSAKI:  I think we have given a readout of his call.  And also that the President believes there should be an independent investigation led by health experts, and one where their data is provided — that’s provided transparently to our medical and science experts here in the United States.  And we look forward to reviewing that.
 
We’re going to have to go on.  Go ahead.  I’m sorry.
 
Q    If that was a lab leak, will the President be committed to (inaudible) —
 
MS. PSAKI:  I’m sorry, Emerald.  I think you’ve had plenty of time today.
 
Q    Just one more.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Go ahead.  Go ahead.
 
Q    Do you have — Secretary Yellen talked today about how schools being opened kind of unevenly — you know, hybrid — some days it’s in person, some days it’s not — can affect people’s ability to go back to the workforce.  Secretary Walsh mentioned that earlier.  And I think both Secretary Yellen, Walsh, and you have all mentioned childcare as well. 
 
MS. PSAKI:  Mm-hmm.
 
Q    Given today’s jobs report, is that an indication that the — that there is more the administration needs to do to get more schools opened faster or — and/or an indication that childcare needs to move higher on the priority list?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, first, let me say, what Secretary Cardona has conveyed, which is consistent with the President’s view, is that we need to have schools open five days a week — 100 percent of schools across the country. 
 
We’ve seen data come out — that’s from March.  There’s a little bit of a delay in — not delay, it’s done on a monthly basis, but it’s done about a month later — which shows that more than 50 percent of schools are open five days a week.  That’s moving in the right direction, but there’s certainly more we — work that needs to be done.  And they’re looking toward, of course, the fall. 
 
As Secretary Cardona has said, he wants schools to open quickly.  They have the resources now.  We have mitigation steps and measures that have been put out by the CDC, and he is working — this is his top priority — and he’s working with districts across the country to do it as quickly as possible.
 
So there was already an urgency in doing that, ensuring that was happening as quickly as possible.  But there’s no question that the impact of the pandemic — the fact that 2 million women have left the workforce; the burdens of — you know, the challenges of balancing work, childcare, eldercare at times — has had an impact on women and on our economy overall.
 
Q    Okay.  Can I do a quick follow-up on the Iran question?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.
 
Q    The — Iran’s top negotiator is quoted as saying, today, the United States expressed its readiness to lift many of its sanctions on Iran at the Vienna talks, but Tehran is demanding more.  Is that a fair assessment of where things stand?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, first, let me say — the State Department has done briefings on this, but let me reiterate what they have said, which is that: We will not get into a situation where the United States does more than is required by the JCPOA agreement, in terms of sanction relief, and Iran does less.
 
So, what we’re really talking about is mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA.  We’d be prepared to lift the sanctions necessary for our JCPOA compliance only if Iran were prepared to return its nuclear program to its JCPOA status.
 
So that is our view and how Special Envoy Rob Malley, who’s been exploring concrete steps concerning — concrete approaches concerning the steps both Iran and the U.S. can take.  That’s what our approach and the bottom line is from our end.
 
Go ahead, Kelly.
 
Q    When you give us the week ahead and you talk more about the Leader meeting —
 
MS. PSAKI:  Yes.
 
Q    — what impact do you think Leader McConnell’s comments about working with great focus against the Biden agenda — he said it a number of times now.  And does the President view that as an impediment to having a productive meeting?  Or is that just politics that he’s willing to write off?  How does the President view that?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, the President’s view is that he’s ready to have a clean slate, and let’s welcome the leaders here.  Let’s — he believes his — his goal and his — his — what the American people elected him to do was to bring the country together, to bring leaders together, too, to discuss how we can move together and put people back to work, put in place an agenda, put in place policies that will help contribute to doing exactly that. 
 
He also has said — and we’re not at this point — that inevitably there will be some strong disagreements with Republicans, and we know that.  He was in the Senate for 36 years.  He is certainly no stranger to that, and that — he’s ready to debate.  He’s ready to — but he’s also ready to press forward in work — doing work on behalf of the American people.
 
So he will continue to seek bipartisan paths forward.  Doesn’t matter the language or the rhetoric of — of folks on the other side of the aisle, because he believes it’s what the American people elected him to do. 
 
Go ahead in the back. 
 
Q    Just a quick follow-up on your — on your answer before.  Given that you guys say childcare is so important to — to the labor market, wasn’t it — was it a mistake to put childcare in the second part of the infrastructure plan?  Should it have actually been included in the first?  Should it be an even higher priority? 
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, first, the Child Tax Credit was extended in the American Rescue Plan, and those benefits, which are currently being implemented and going out to families across the country, is something that we think will help reduce poverty and help families who need help the most at this time. 
 
You know, he proposed it as part of the — they’re not seen at — the American Jobs Plan, the American Families Plan are both seen as pivotal priorities to the President, and ones where he’s looking forward to talking with leaders in Congress about how to move them forward.  And if they come to the table and want to push for the ordering of things or the mechanisms for the components moving forward, he’s happy to hear from them on that as well. 
 
Thank you, everyone. 
 
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Jen, you forgot her.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Oh, I’m sorry.  Oh, hello.  I forgot it was Friday.  (Laughter.)
 
Hello.  Well, as —
 
Q    She’s been very patient.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Thank you.  I apologize.  Well, thank you.
 
As a part of our effort to bring more people into the briefing room, today we have Chabeli Carrazana — tell me if I butchered your last name — as someone with the last name “Psaki,” I certainly understand if I did that, and I apologize — joining us from The 19th. 
 
So, welcome.  How can I answer your questions today? 
 
Q    Well, thanks so much, Jen.  And it’s okay, everyone butchers my name, so I’m kind of used to it at this point, but you didn’t do too bad. 
 
I have two for you.  One of them is on childcare.  The American Rescue Plan included a $39 billion investment to stabilize the childcare industry.  That money has already gone out to states.  But the administration also said it would provide guidance on how the states should best disperse those funds.  It’s an important question considering the massive administrative challenge this poses for states. 
 
So, considering that money has been out for about a month now, or almost a month, when is the guidance from the administration coming?  And what can we expect it to say about what states should prioritize when distributing the funds?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, first, in mid-April — I know you’ve been following this closely, but for others — the administration — we announced $39 billion to help early childhood educators and family childcare providers keep their doors open, and these step- — these — this funding is, of course, a critical step for childcare centers around the country.  You’re right that the next step is providing this guidance for how it should be distributed. 
 
We’re also working at the same time to implement and get a lot of programs up and going, and implement the American Rescue Plan as quickly as possible. 
 
I asked our team about this, and what I can tell you is it’s going to come soon.  And we are eager to get it out the door.  And we are finalizing components of that guidance to get it out to states, to childcare providers, to territories so that they can implement — they can get this funding into the communities that need it the most. 
 
Q    Great, and I have one more — sort of a similar theme.  A coalition of groups recently sent a letter to the administration about the establishment of the Equitable Data Working Group, which was part of an executive order in January that was around, you know, beginning the work to collecting better data on sex and gender and different topics. 
 
The coalition also requested a meeting with Ambassador Susan — Susan Rice.  So I’m wondering what you can tell us about when the administration plans to convene this working group on data, and what we should expect to hear from the group?  You know, does it plan to collect better intersectional data, which we know has been missing from the vaccine data, for example?  And is there a plan for a meeting?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Yeah, so let me say that the Equitable Data Working Group was stood up around Inauguration Day as part of the equity executive order the President signed.  The group meets weekly and is evaluating data disaggregation, transparency, and sufficiency.  And it’s charged, overall, with identifying inadequacies in federal data collection, so progra- — from programs to policies and infrastructure across agencies.
 
And the hope is that refining and measuring this data will help address equity over the long term.  So they do meet on a weekly basis. 
 
In terms of Ambassador Rice, I know pushing for the racial equity EO and overseeing the implementation of a number of components of our racial equity agenda is under her purview.  And I can certainly check if she’s been a part of those meetings.  I wouldn’t be surprised if she has been.
 
But it’s very nice to meet you over the screen.  We’ll look forward to welcoming you into the White House soon. 
 
Okay.  Thanks, everyone.  Have a great weekend.
 
Q    Thanks, Jen.
 
Q    And will week ahead come out later?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Yes.  That — that is — I take full blame for that. 
 
Thanks, everyone. 
 
Q    Happy Mother’s Day. 
 
MS. PSAKI:  Oh, Happy Mother’s Day to everyone, too.  
 
1:35 P.M. EDT

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