Remarks By Vice President Harris During Listening Session At Maria Empanada
Fort Lupton, Colorado
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Mr. Second Gentleman. Lorena, thank you for inviting us to be here. And I have read so much about your background and the work that you did out of your home; your mother, Maria; and all of the things that were part of your beginning. And look at this place; it’s just extraordinary. And you have, you know, everyone from the neighborhood to governors coming in here on a daily basis.
So I congratulate you for your success. I thank you for the courage you have had through the course of the pandemic. And thank you, on behalf of the President and myself, for welcoming us today.
Governor Polis, you, from the beginning — and, again, I bring greetings from Joe Biden, our President — from the beginning, the first days of our administration, you have been reaching out to engage so that we are working in a cooperative way. You have been one of the leaders in our country. And as the President has said many times and I will say many times, it has been our governors, it has been our mayors, it has been the folks on the ground who have been carrying an extraordinary weight of responsibility to meet the needs of the people and be the voice of the people so that they’re heard. And you have been doing that.
I thank you also, on behalf of the President and myself, for the work you have done to work with us around the federal community health centers and highlighting those. I think we have about 260 in the state of Colorado now, and pharmacies as well. And we’re very excited about working with you on the pharmacies — 260 — and then we have about 16 of the community health centers. So thank you for that, Governor.
You know, Doug — the Second Gentleman said it best: Our small businesses are really part of the heartbeat of every community. Our small-business leaders are not only business leaders; you’re civic leaders, community leaders, role models.
It is our small businesses that hire from the community; that uplift the community; that have regular customers who come in and you can recognize if they’re having a bad day, and you already know what they want so they don’t even have to put in an order. You sponsor the local softball teams and the kids in the community. And — and half of America’s workforce works for a small business or runs a small business. Two thirds, I’ve been told, of the new jobs that are being created are being created out of small businesses.
So all of that to really highlight what we all know, which is the importance of our small businesses to not only the economic engine of our country, to not only job creation in our country, but also part of the civic life of our country.
And with all of that being true, our small businesses were devastated by this pandemic. Here in Colorado — in addition to the one out of eleven families that are describing hunger in their household, one out of seven describing a difficult time paying rent — one out of three of the small businesses here have had to close — many, potentially, permanently.
So I am here — this is the first trip that that I’ve taken — we were in Nevada yesterday, Colorado today — to, one, express our thanks for the leadership that you have been providing, Governor, on the ground, but also to acknowledge that the way that we will recover as a country will rely on (inaudible) and community leaders to see us through.
And that’s why the American Rescue Plan was purposely designed — yes, as the Second Gentleman, as the President said — was designed — because the President told everyone, “Help is on the way” and now help is here — but it was specifically designed to deal with the details of it all, including bringing relief to small businesses.
So, as you know, $15 billion of the American Rescue Plan is focused on the hardest-hit small businesses; $28 billion of the American Rescue Plan focused on the hardest-hit restaurants and small restaurants — again, knowing that you employ locally. You have folks who have been working with you for a very long time, and you had to close your doors for quite some time and then try to figure out how you could do carryout. And we want to make sure that you can stay open.
So these are the things of the American Rescue Plan that were purposely designed to bring relief so that we can get back up and running. Not to mention what we have also focused on, which is the vaccinations. And the governor — you have been doing a great job here in Colorado making sure that we get vaccines — “shots in arms,” as we like to say.
The President has announced that, by the end of May, we will have enough vaccines to vaccinate everyone. But we have to get the word out to remind everyone: When it’s your turn, get your vaccine.
We designed purposely, within the American Rescue Plan, that we were giving relief to schools, knowing we all want our kids to get back in school. We want them to do it safely. We want to make sure that their educators are safe. You’re doing a great job here in Colorado. And that is part of the design of the American Rescue Plan and so much more.
But, specifically, on the issue of our small businesses, we want to make sure that you have — and in the American Rescue plan, we did this — the support you need to retain your workers and extending the retention support that we give you, giving you the support you need to put in the Plexiglas or whatever is necessary in terms of the infrastructure of your facility so that you can be healthy and safe and so can your customers.
And all of this is with the recognition, again, that the strength of America relies on the strength of everyone. And our small businesses are key to our strength, both in terms of community and in terms of our economy.
And I’ll just — I’ll close my comments with this: When I was — and, Governor, you’ll appreciate this. When I was in Nevada yesterday, one of the places that I visited was a — a food bank run by the culinary workers there. And they shared a story, which is that there were volunteers at the food bank, like there have been throughout Colorado and every other state. And folks, for hours, as Doug said, in their cars waiting to get food.
And because of the coronavirus, there’s no direct contact. So people drive up, and they unlock their trunk. They stay in their car; the truck pops open. What the volunteers described is the trunk will pop open, and invariably, often they would see a note — a handwritten note. And the note was written by the occupant of the car to thank the volunteers for their kindness and their work and their generosity. They described that, from time to time, the trunk would open and there’d be a $5 bill.
These families who have nothing because they’ve lost so much, tipping the volunteers for their generosity and recognizing the dignity of their work as volunteers.
And so there’s so much about all of this that is about our mutual commitment to the dignity of each other, especially in difficult times. And in these crises — in these moments of crises, the beauty of who we are as a nation of people who care really reveals itself in spectacular ways.
So with that, I thank you again. And I am now going to pass this — the microphone, as you will, back to Lorena.
(The roundtable discussion commences.)
(The roundtable discussion concludes.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you all for being here and for sharing your stories. And the President and I, along with the Second Gentleman and the First Lady, we have been traveling — we are traveling this week and next, probably — for one specific reason: We want to get the word out about the help that is available so we make sure people take advantage of the help.
And, to that point, we want to sure that people know, for example, that there is, in the ARP, assistance for, as I said earlier, $15 billion for the hardest hit. There is $28 billion for restaurants that have been hard hit. There is $10 billion that is about financing. Right? We talked about that. The financing piece is critical. And, in fact, moving forward, the Secretary — the Treasury Secretary, Janet Yellen, and I are working on what we can do to enhance the work coming out of CDFI’s community banks with a particular focus on minority- and women-owned businesses.
So this is very much within the mindset of our administration around what we can do to lift up these folks who also, to your point, have been unbanked but not — but have great ideas, hard work, motivated by an incredible ethic that includes giving a value to the community. So I’m glad that you raise that, and we are working on that.
Jack, you talked about the Child Tax Credit and the EITC. It’s probably one of things we’re most excited about. We will, through this Child Tax Credit, lift half of America’s children who are in poverty, out of poverty. Can you imagine what that will mean? It will have generational impact.
MR. BRIGGS: Helps break a cycle.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: It’ll breaks — it’ll break a cycle.
GOVERNOR POLIS: And we also want to thank Senator Michael Bennet from Colorado for helping to —
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I was going to get to that because he has been an extraordinary champion, for years, on this issue. And so Senator Michael Bennet — we also can’t mention him without mentioning Senator Hickenlooper, who has also been an extraordinary leader.
But on the Child Tax Credit, one of the things that I’d like you all to help me get the word out, and the EITC and all of the benefits that we’re talking about, including the $1,400 direct payment: So if people are in the system — what do I mean by that? If they’re in the system because they receive Social Security benefits, if they’re in the system because they receive Medicaid benefits, if they’re in the system because they paid taxes last year, then it’s likely that there should be no problem and it will be swiftly — they will receive the benefits.
If they’re not in the system in that way, we want to encourage people to file taxes, even though they may not owe anything, but fill out the paperwork so they get in the system.
So I need your help to get the word out to folks because there is so much there for them, and we would hate that they would be delayed, much less denied, because folks aren’t in the system. Okay? So that’s one of the things that I want to emphasize.
The other piece to emphasize is that there is so much about this also that is about COBRA benefits. And so COBRA benefits — it’s about, for people who have lost their job and their employer helped pay for their health coverage — right? — for their premiums, after a period of time of being unemployed, it ends if people don’t file for it. And this extends COBRA benefits. So that’s a very important part of this.
And then, my final point would be that the — the piece about climate is so important. And if we see the nexus between all of this — because we know that, especially when you’re talking about the hardest-hit communities, globally and in our country, it is people who are living in economically poor neighborhoods who have been overlooked — neighborhoods and communities that have been just dumping grounds.
And so when we think about the American Rescue Plan, a lot of the President’s priority and our priority around it was equity: making sure that everyone, wherever they are, that they’re not overlooked, that they’re not left behind. And that’s a big issue as it relates to climate as well.
And then, the last point is — and, Lalitha, you said this — all of these issues are connected, from what we do to pull children out of poverty, what we do to help our small businesses, what we do to make sure everyone gets vaccinated and they get that vaccine when it is their turn. All of these things are connected and, really, were part of the design of the American Rescue Plan, which is to see people in the full relief of who they are. All of us have many facets to our lives. And the design behind this was to recognize that and to bring relief to the folks who need it.
So I want to thank you all on behalf of President Joe Biden and myself for your leadership, for your strength, for your courage. And let’s just keep on doing what we go to do to build our country up and, as the President likes to say, “build back better.”
So thank you all. (Applause.)