Spotlight Exclusives

Biden Calls for Paid Family Leave, Affordable Child Care in SOTU Speech

Spotlight Staff Spotlight Staff, posted on

The Russian invasion of Ukraine was the centerpiece of President Biden’s first State of the Union address Tuesday night, but the president also used the historic moment to sketch out key proposals and priorities for creating more opportunity for working Americans.

Biden proudly noted that during his first year in office, the economy added more than 6.6 million jobs, the number of number of workers filing for unemployment insurance declined by more than 70 percent, and the country saw the largest increase in the labor force participation rate in more than 25 years.

“The American Rescue Plan helped working people—and left no one behind,” Biden said.

But he also acknowledged more needs to be done, particularly for working families rocked by the economic aftershocks of the pandemic. “With all the bright spots in our economy, record job growth and higher wages, too many families are struggling to keep up with the bills,” Biden said. “Inflation is robbing them of the gains they might otherwise feel.”

Key points in the economic agenda Biden outlined in the speech:

  • Calling on Congress to pass comprehensive paid family and medical leave legislation.
  • Making child care more affordable. “If you live in a major city in America you pay up to $14,000 a year for child care per child.” Biden said. “Middle-class and working families shouldn’t have to pay more than 7% of their income” for child care.
  • Extending the expanded Child Tax Credit.
  • Protecting the right for workers to organized by calling on Congress to pass the Richard L. Trumka Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act and the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act.
  • Supporting skills-based hiring by exploring the use of federal and procurement dollars to hire based on skills rather than educational qualifications alone, including through boosting hiring of people from Registered Apprenticeships and labor-management partnership training programs.
  • Calling on Congress to increase the maximum Pell Grant award by more than $2,000.
  • Calling on Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would take important steps towards the goal of ending pay discrimination.
  • Calling on Congress to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour, and end the tipped minimum wage and sub-minimum wage for people with disabilities.

The president also called for a bipartisan focus on mental health, particularly in light of the emotional rollercoaster most Americans have endured during the pandemic. Some of Biden’s specific proposals:

  • Proposing $700 million in his FY23 budget in programs—like the National Health Service Corps, Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training Program, and the Minority Fellowship Program—that provide training, access to scholarships and loan repayment to mental health and substance use disorder clinicians committed to practicing in rural and other underserved communities.
  • Piloting new approaches to train a diverse group of mental health paraprofessionals and community health workers.
  • Launching the 988 mental health crisis service hotline, which will create a national network of local crisis centers fortified by national back up centers to answer calls and texts.
  • Proposing to make permanent the expanded Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics (CCBHCs), a proven model of care that has been shown to improve health outcomes while lowering costs, by delivering 24/7 mental health and substance use care.
  •  Proposing that all health plans cover robust behavioral health services with an adequate network of providers, including three behavioral health visits each year without cost-sharing.
  • Working with Congress to ensure coverage of tele-behavioral health across health plans and support appropriate delivery of telemedicine across state lines.
  • Working to expand access to mental health support in schools and colleges and universities. Biden pledged to work to double the number of school-based mental health professionals.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds gave the Republican response to Biden’s speech and faulted the president’s policies, not the pandemic, for the pains of inflation, saying Biden has taken the country back to the economic distress of the 1970s.

“I watched working people choosing which essentials to take home and which ones to leave behind at the register,” Reynolds said. “And now President Biden’s decisions have a whole new generation feeling that same pain.”




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