One day after the House advanced President Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package, Vice President Kamala Harris championed the proposed round of aid as much needed help for Black Americans, calling the pandemic an “accelerator” for “the fissures and the failures, the defects, the flaws in our system.”
Harris delivered her remarks at a Black History Month Virtual Celebration, hosted by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md. In her keynote address, the vice president cited the ways the pandemic has made things worse for “those for whom things were bad before,” particularly Black Americans, who Harris noted, have been shown to be disproportionately affected by the hardships of the pandemic — from health and deaths to economic struggles.
“We are looking at a country in a situation where more than two in three Black Americans personally know someone who has been hospitalized or who has died from COVID-19. Black women workers are being forced out of the workforce in record numbers, and so many Black small businesses are being forced to close their doors,” Harris said.
Harris drew a throughline from those she called “innovators” in the civil rights struggle “who were clear-eyed about the moment in which they lived” to taking action on the pandemic.
“I do believe we can meet this moment and I do believe that this Black History Month, this year, and at this moment, we must be clear-eyed about the challenges in front of us,” Harris said.
The remarks at the 40th annual iteration of the event came less than 24 hours after the House passed its version of the relief package with provisions aimed at bolstering the nation’s vaccination campaign, stimulating the economy and providing aid from checks to rental assistance to individual Americans. The bill, which now heads to the Senate, also includes provisions for those living in poverty and assistance for families with children.
Harris championed the legislation and its provisions for small businesses and money for vaccination efforts as well as a $3,000 per child tax credit – with $3,600 for children under the age of 6 — that was included in the House bill.
“By doing that, we will lift half of those children living in poverty, out of poverty. And a disproportionate number of children in America who are living in poverty are Black children,” Harris said.
The vice president also highlighted how Black Americans had contributed to battling the public health crisis. She mentioned the health care and essential workers who have been on the front lines during the pandemic — such as Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett who contributed to the development the Moderna vaccine, and Sandra Lindsay, the first nurse to receive the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine in the U.S..
Harris also brought up her Thursday visit with Washington, D.C. health director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt to a pharmacy in a predominantly Black neighborhood in the nation’s capital. In her Saturday remarks, Harris noted that access to COVID-19 vaccines is often a concern among Black and brown Americans.
“We know how folks were treated, historically, in terms of medical science and research. So we know it is an issue that we must acknowledge” Harris said. “We must continue to also educate folks about what is happening now that is different.”