Dear Commons Community,
President Joe Biden delivered his first address (see video above) to Congress last night in a one-hour long speech that touched on a lot of issues and proposals that were received well by Democrats and less so by Republicans. One of his main themes was expanding America’s social safety net. The New York Times reviewed this aspect of his address (see excerpt below).
His agenda is ambitious and it will encounter stiff resistance by Republicans in both the House and the Senate.
One other major takeaway for me was Biden’s delivery which was subdued and at times quiet and calm. I appreciated this.
“President Biden’s $1.8 trillion spending and tax plan is aimed at bolstering the United States’ social safety net by expanding access to education, reducing the cost of child care and supporting women in the work force. His proposal is funded by raising taxes on wealthier Americans, and it is likely to encounter Republican resistance for that reason.
Free Pre-K and Community College
Mr. Biden’s plan promises universal free preschool for all 3- and 4-year-olds, as well as two years of free community college for young adults.
The plan outlines a $200 billion investment in free universal preschool and another $109 billion over 10 years to make two years of community college free. On top of that, the president is proposing an $85 billion investment in Pell grants, vouchers that low- and moderate-income students use to pay for tuition, fees, books, room and board.
The universal free preschool includes children from affluent families. That follows a model that cities like Washington and New York City have used, but some education experts favor programs targeted to helping low-income children.
Experts call the plan to fund college education the “biggest expansion in federal support for higher education in at least half a century.”
Even though it is broadly popular, free college across 50 states with unique systems and tuition costs, is complicated to carry out. The Biden plan would require states to eliminate tuition for community colleges to receive funding.
The president’s pitch is that a high school diploma is no longer enough to ensure success and that making a federal investment in education will increase earnings long term. During the pandemic, unemployed workers without college credentials are having a much harder time finding jobs.
Funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities
Mr. Biden’s proposal singles out historically Black colleges and universities, known as H.B.C.U.s, as well as institutions that serve members of Native American tribes and other minority groups, for specific funding.
Addressing racial equity is a theme that runs through Mr. Biden’s agenda, and the 15-page memo outlining his spending plans notes the extent to which historically Black colleges and universities outperform. While they account for only 3 percent of four-year universities, their graduates account for 80 percent of Black judges and half of Black lawyers and doctors. (Vice President Kamala Harris, the first woman of color to hold the role, is a graduate of Howard University.)
Mr. Biden’s plan calls for $39 billion over the next decade to fund two years of subsidized tuition for students from families earning less than $125,000 enrolled in a four-year program at H.B.C.U.s, or institutions that serve members of Native American tribes or other minority groups.
During the 2020 presidential campaign, Mr. Biden promised to invest more than $70 billion in such schools, including $20 billion to build research facilities on their campuses.
Affordable Child Care
Mr. Biden’s plan seeks to invest $225 billion to make child care more affordable and allow parents to stay in the labor force and work outside their homes.
The plan would give child care providers funding to maintain small class sizes and classrooms that can help children with disabilities. It would also cover all child care costs for working families who are struggling. Administration officials did not say exactly who would qualify to have all child care costs covered, only that it would be a sliding scaled based on earnings compared with the state’s median income. Under the plan, families earning 1.5 times their state median income would pay no more than 7 percent of their income for child care.
The plan also seeks to increase wages of early child care providers, who are by and large women of color who currently earn about $12.24 an hour without any benefits. Mr. Biden’s plan would include a $15 minimum wage for early childhood staff.
National Paid Leave
Mr. Biden is proposing a $225 billion investment over 10 years to cover a nationally mandated 12 weeks of paid parental, family and personal illness leave. The program seeks to provide workers up to $4,000 a month in paid leave, rising to 80 percent for the lowest wage workers.
President Donald J. Trump also called for paid family leave in his State of the Union address last year, the first Republican president to take up what has long been a popular Democratic cause.
In contrast to Mr. Biden’s approach, the Republican-backed proposal only covered leave for parents of babies or newly adopted children under 6, excluding care for sick family members or leave for personal medical problems. It also did not propose a new source of funding to pay for it. Instead, people could dip into their own future federal benefits, and receive smaller benefits later.
Mr. Biden’s plan proposes $45 billion over the next 10 years to combat food insecurity among children.
The program would make permanent a summer food program that allows families eligible for free and reduced-price meals during the school year access to meals during the summer at the same rates. Mr. Biden’s plan allocates more than $25 billion to make the program permanent and available to all 29 million children who receive free and reduced-priced meals.
The plan also includes $17 billion to expand healthy school meals at high-poverty schools. The proposals would provide free meals to an additional 9.3 million children, about 70 percent of whom are in elementary school.”