WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris met with female Democratic lawmakers and activists on Thursday to boost support for the White House’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill, highlighting the growing political power of women in Congress.
The virtual meeting, which a White House source said was likely the first of many that Harris will hold specifically with women in power, focused on how women have been affected by job losses, small business closures and a lack of childcare as well as how Biden’s plan will address these issues. Nearly 400,000 childcare jobs have been lost since the outset of the pandemic, Harris said. (COVID-19 graphic: https://tmsnrt.rs/34pvUyi)
The COVID-19 pandemic has had an outsized impact on women, who lost jobs at a higher rate than men and have struggled to return to the workforce because of the need to care for children unable to attend school.
Specific carveouts in the COVID-19 relief bill are designed to address problems faced by women, including an investment of $40 billion in childcare, paid family leave for 100 million additional workers and an investment of $130 billion to help re-open K-12 schools safely.
“For me this is personal…. The longer we wait to act, the harder it will be to bring these women back into the work force,” Harris told the group calling the situation where 2.5 million women have left the workforce a “national emergency.”
That compares with 1.8 million men who have left the work force during the same period, according to Labor Department data.
“In one year…the pandemic has put decades of the progress we have collectively made for women workers at risk,” she said.
Harris said the package would “lift up nearly half of the children who are living in poverty in our country,” a claim backed by analysis by Columbia University.
Attendees included House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro, Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, Representative Barbara Lee and Senator Catherine Cortez Masto.
Harris has already been deeply involved in policy and diplomacy in the early weeks of President Joe Biden’s administration. Earlier she met with Black Chambers of Commerce and Black mayors at a meeting convened by the African American Mayors Association to talk about COVID-19 relief, and this week held a call with French President Emmanuel Macron.
Harris’ meeting on Thursday occurred as Congress has more female members than ever before, with 27% of all seats, more than double the number in 2001. The vast majority of women lawmakers are Democrats, and a growing percentage of women have voted for Democrats in recent elections. Black women rallied behind Biden during critical turns in his 2020 presidential campaign.
Murray said women are facing challenges with remote learning for children, so they must get them back into schools safely. “Women are leaving the work force because of this,” she said.
The meeting also included Melanie Campbell of the Black Women’s Roundtable; Jen Earle, National Association of Women Business Owners; Service Employees International Union President Mary Kay Henry and Tina Tchen, CEO of the anti-sexual harassment group Time’s UP.
“Our economy cannot fully recover unless women can participate fully,” Harris said.
(Reporting by Nandita Bose and Steve Holland in Washington; Editing by Heather Timmons, Cynthia Osterman and Lisa Shumaker)