‘More help is on the way’: In the Philly ‘burbs, Biden touts benefits of $1.9T COVID relief bill

By: and - March 16, 2021 5:22 pm

President Joe Biden (Getty Images)

President Joe Biden returned to Pennsylvania on Tuesday, where he sold the benefits of the administration’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief plan.

“More help is on the way,” Biden said, as he toured Smith Flooring, Inc., a Black-owned union shop in Chester, Pa., Delaware County, that supplies and installs flooring. According to White House pool reports, the business usually has 22 employees during peak times, but it has been making do with half as many during the pandemic: six in the office and six in the field.

“This is a great outfit. This is a union shop,” Biden said of the business, where workers are represented by Carpenters Local 251. “You can make a decent wage, a living wage.”

Biden also touched on the damage the COVID-19 pandemic has done to the local community, noting the hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians who were thrown out of work, “… And in Delaware County alone, this was in 2020, 19,000.”

Although the event was closed to the public, a small crowd gathered in the neighborhood outside. 

Biden was joined on the tour by owners Kristin Smith and James Smith, as well as U.S. Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon, D-5th District, who represents Delaware County, and U.S. Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, a Democrat who represents the adjoining 6th Congressional District in Chester County.

Biden praised the area lawmakers, who were among the six of nine Democratic House members from southeastern Pennsylvania who delivered the votes to get the relief bill over the finish line.

I’m not being solicitous when I say, these are two of the finest [members] in the United States Congress in terms of getting things done. I really mean it,” Biden asserted, pointing to their work to ensure an inspector general will oversee the COVID relief spending.

The Smiths thanked Biden, who spoke for little more than five minutes in a warehouse-style room lined with shelves stocked with boxes and buckets, according to the White House pool report. On one wall, visitors were greeted with these words printed on them: “Vision Statement: we are building a company where innovation and creativity is the norm.”

“Not many people come and stop here in Chester,” Kristin Smith told the president.

“Is there anything else we can be doing?” Biden asked in return, according to the pool report.

For Biden, who is hitting the road to explain and build further support for his already popular COVID-19 relief package, the stop in Delaware County was freighted with both public policy and political symbolism.

Biden carried Delaware County last fall, beating former President Donald Trump 62.9 to 36.1 percent, building on Hillary Clinton’s 59.3-37 percent win over Trump four years earlier. In 2019, Democrats flipped the Delaware County Courthouse for the first time since before the Civil War, hammering home the political shifts that have occurred in the Philadelphia suburbs over the last four years.

Speaking to journalists, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki acknowledged the political symbolism of Pennsylvania, along with other key states included in the president’s travel since taking office, which also have included visits to Wisconsin, Michigan, and Georgia.

“We’ll be certainly going to some redder states, states he didn’t win, or very blue states and states he didn’t campaign in,” Psaki said, according to pool reports. “So I wouldn’t over-read into it in that way. Obviously, Pennsylvania is a state and this — helping the small businesses in a state that’s close to his heart — especially the Philly suburbs, one of the reasons we’re going there today. And on Friday, when he goes to Georgia, that’s a state where he campaigned with the two newest members of the Senate, on a — in part on a commitment to deliver on these $1,400 direct checks, which is part of what was signed into law last week.”

Delaware County, where the median household income of $74,477 floats above the statewide median of $61,744, is also a microcosm of the issues the White House and its Democratic allies on Capitol Hill were trying to address in the sprawling relief package that cleared Congress without Republican support.

Like most Pennsylvania counties, Delaware County does not have its own health department, leaving it to its own devices to address the pandemic, one local told the Capital-Star.

“They’ve had to build the plane while flying it,” the local told the Capital-Star. “It’s a case study in how this pandemic has impacted our county governments and how this bill will provide much-needed relief.”

All told, Pennsylvania is in line to receive $7.4 billion in state fiscal relief, with $4.9 billion in local fiscal relief, according to a summary provided by the White House. The Keystone State’s public schools are set to receive more than $5.1 billion in assistance.

That will come in handy in Delaware County, where there are disparities between each of the county’s school districts, the local told the Capital-Star.

The tour began Monday when First Lady Jill Biden made a stop in Burlington, New Jersey while Vice President Kamala Harris headlined an event in Las Vegas. The tour will culminate in Atlanta on Friday with a joint appearance by Biden and Harris.

Capital-Star Editor John L. Micek reported from Harrisburg. Capital-Star Correspondent Nick Field reported from suburban Philadelphia. 

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.

Nick Field
Nick Field

Correspondent Nick Field covers Philadelphia and its suburbs for the Pennsylvania Capital-Star.