As Prepared For Delivery:
Thank you, Janice. And, good afternoon, everybody. You’ve probably noticed that there are a few things going on in Washington. But, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to—virtually—join you. Because the National Council of Negro Women is not just an organization; it’s a venerable institution. Each of you is carrying on a mighty legacy. Advancing educational excellence. Boosting entrepreneurship. Promoting health. Doing righteous battle for the disadvantaged. In my own efforts, the Domestic Policy Council has benefitted enormously from this National Council. When our White House wants to discuss policy reforms, NCNW is one of the first places we turn. When President Biden mobilizes to protect voting rights, civil rights or advance police reform, my friend Dr. Jonetta Cole is at the table. Informing. Advising. Leading.
There’s so much that requires NCNW’s leadership. More than six decades ago, your founder, Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, said that, “The Freedom Gates are half-ajar. We must pry them fully open.” In 2021, those gates have been cracked ever wider. Wide enough even for a Black woman to become the Vice President of the United States.
Despite such progress, we are painfully aware that those Freedom Gates are still not fully open. The median Black family has just 13 cents on the dollar compared to a white family. During this pandemic, Black people have died at nearly 1.5 times the rate of white people. From Texas to Georgia, we see an unconscionable assault on the voting rights for which Dr. Dorothy Height and so many others fought so hard. Given the magnitude and urgency of these challenges, I’m proud that President Biden and Vice President Harris have put advancing equity and justice at the center of all that we do—and deeply gratified that the President asked me to quarterback this critical effort.
In his very first day in office, President Biden signed a historic executive order to make racial equity the business of the entire federal government. For the past ten months, that’s exactly what we’ve been doing. Thanks to the American Rescue Plan, we’ve cut the poverty rate for Black children nearly in half. Achieved vaccine equity. Leveraged the power of federal procurement to narrow the racial wealth gap. Even in the face of Republican intransigence on police reform, we’re working to reform a broken criminal justice system. I’m a mother of two. Like so many of you, I am outraged by the unfairness. I mourn those we’ve lost and fear for the safety of my own family members. That’s why the Department of Justice has banned chokeholds and mandated wearing body cameras. We’re ending DOJ’s use of private prisons and jails. We’re pushing to reduce sentencing disparities. We’re working to set returning citizens up for success as they reenter society.
And, we’re fighting tooth and nail to protect the ballot box. On the anniversary of Bloody Sunday, President Biden signed an executive order to promote access to voting—and he meant it. The Justice Department has doubled its voting rights staff. We’re making vote.gov more user-friendly and helping Americans register to vote at job training centers and VA facilities. The President is firmly committed to the passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote Act, and we’ll keep using every available tool to protect and strengthen our democracy.
But, we know that strengthening democracy also means showing that government can deliver. That’s what President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal and Build Back Better legislation are about. Let’s be clear about the impact of these bills. This legislation is historic—twice the size of the New Deal. And, it will be transformative for Black communities and every community.
If you’re one of the Black parents that’s twice as likely as white parents to quit or disrupt your job because of child care difficulties, Build Back Better means you won’t pay more than 7 percent of your income on child care. If your children are among the three-quarters of Black three- and four-year-olds that aren’t enrolled in public preschool, this bill offers free preschool in a setting you choose. If you belong to that “sandwich generation” caring for kids and aging parents—and I’ve counted myself among that group—you can now access home care for your loved ones who are aging or live with disabilities.
Or, think about Build Back Better’s impact on health care. You might recall then-Vice President Biden had a few choice words for how big a deal President Obama’s Affordable Care Act was. Well, the Build Back Better Act is the biggest expansion of affordable health care since the ACA. It will expand Medicaid to 570,000 Black Americans, and extend the American Rescue Plan’s lower premiums, saving the average Black consumer $50 a month. It’s estimated this will mean more than one in three uninsured Black people will gain coverage. Medicare will finally cover your hard-hearing parent’s hearing aids. With Black women dying in childbirth at three times the rate of white women, we’re devoting billions to maternal health. And, because healthy communities are safe communities, I’m proud that this legislation invests a historic $5 billion in community violence intervention, proven to reduce the gun violence that rips apart Black and brown communities.
These bills will also create good-paying, union jobs rebuilding our roads and bridges and making the largest-ever effort in American history to tackle the climate crisis. Better public transit. Investments in clean water, removing poisonous lead pipes. The largest-ever clean up of Superfund sites and legacy pollution, disproportionately located in communities of color. A Civilian Climate Corps.
In so many ways, this is the most significant effort in generations to bring down costs and strengthen the working and middle classes. The largest and most comprehensive investment in affordable housing in history—1 million affordable homes built or rehabbed, removing the lead paint that disproportionately affects Black children. Expanded access to free school meals. High-speed internet. Tax cuts for families with children and workers without children. More training and apprenticeships. Historic investments in Dr. Bethune and Dr. Cole’s beloved HBCUs. Increasing and expanding access to the Pell Grant, which was the cause of my mother’s life.
As you can tell, I’m proud of what our Administration has achieved. But, we’ve got a lot more to do—and we need your help to do it. So, I’m asking you to stay involved. Engage your communities. Push us when it’s called for. And, if we keep at it, I believe that together we can swing ever wide those Gates of Freedom for generations to come. Thank you very much.