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Biden, Rice hold roundtable with Black essential workers

Biden, Rice hold roundtable with Black essential workers
© Greg Nash/The Hill

President BidenJoe BidenBaltimore police chief calls for more 'boots on the ground' to handle crime wave Biden to deliver remarks at Sen. John Warner's funeral Garland dismisses broad review of politicization of DOJ under Trump MORE on Tuesday engaged in a roundtable with four Black essential workers from across the country in which he outlined the major features of his sprawling $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package that he’s hoping to pass in the coming weeks.

The head of the president’s Domestic Policy Council, Susan RiceSusan RiceDemocrats control the language of politics and culture — but for how long? The Hill's 12:30 Report: Biden faces pressure amid infrastructure negotiations Republicans' 'marriage bonus' is social engineering at its worst MORE, moderated the discussion.

Communities of color have been hit the hardest by COVID-19, with the pandemic highlighting stark health and economic disparities.   

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In particular, Black Americans make up roughly 12 percent of the U.S.’s total workforce, but make up 17 percent of all frontline workers, many of whom have been the country’s first line of defense against the pandemic as healthcare workers and first responders.

The featured workers included a firefighter, a pharmacist, a child care worker and a grocery store manager.

Rice during the event described frontline workers as “heroes.”

“We’re an administration that thinks science matters,” Biden said during the live streamed event. “[The vaccine] has to be available to the poorest among us and those who are most hurt by this COVID crisis across the board. And that's what we're doing.”

In addition to his ambitious coronavirus relief package, Biden has championed a national strategy to combat the disease. Distributing the vaccine to communities of color equitably has been a major roadblock so far for the month-old administration.

Biden’s bill made progress Monday when it passed through the House Budget Committee on a party-line vote. The package must still make it through the House Rules Committee before it can be brought to the floor for a vote.

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The House version of the bill includes proposals such as a $15-per-hour federal minimum wage that will present challenges for Democrats in the Senate. Two Democratic senators have come out in opposition to the wage hike.

It's also unclear whether the minimum wage hike can be included in the Senate bill under the budget reconciliation rules that are being use to sidestep a GOP filibuster.

Nonetheless, Biden told the essential workers that he’s “optimistic” that the relief package will pass the Senate. 

Biden elaborated on certain features of the bill aimed at directly helping struggling Americans. Specifically, he touched on the expanded child care tax credit, which would be given to families who make under a certain income along with the promised $1,400 stimulus checks. The improved tax credit would be sent out monthly during the pandemic instead of families receiving one lump sum. 

The tax credit would be separate from the promised $1,400 stimulus checks, which also carry a buffed child benefit — an extra $1,400 for every dependent under the age of 18.

Importantly, the bill would also extend unemployment benefits for the millions of Americans who have lost their jobs during the pandemic. Currently, the benefits are set to expire on March 14.

The president said that the relief is designed to give Americans “some breathing room.”

“I think you're going to see that next fall, it's going to be different than last fall, Biden said. “I think you're going to see that we're going to be going into the Christmas season better than we were.”