Joe Biden stopped at the Enterprise Center in West Philadelphia on Thursday to debut an eight-part plan for safely reopening the country.
“Trump has had a one-point plan — open businesses. Just open them,” Biden said. “It does nothing to keep workers safe and keep businesses able to stay open. And secondly, it’s done very little to generate consumer confidence.”
Biden, who has gradually started increasing in-person campaign events recently after the coronavirus shut down campaigning in mid-March, talked with Della Clark, president of the Enterprise Center, which helps support minority-owned businesses; U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans (D., Pa.); and two women affected economically by health restrictions.
The former vice president listened to the experiences of Tamika Anderson, a member of SEIU 32BJ, who was laid off from her job as a cleaner due to the shutdown, and Tiffany Easley, who owns an eye-wear shop in West Philadelphia. Each participant sat at least six feet apart from the others and wore masks when they weren’t talking. The room used for the event once was the dance floor on American Bandstand.
Biden discussed aspects of his eight-part plan to reopen, which includes directing the federal government to provide and pay for regular testing for workers called back to work. It also suggests ensuring workers have access to personal protective equipment and extending federal paid leave to workers who get sick from COVID-19, as well as those caring for family members with the virus.
The plan also lays out guidelines for reopening child-care facilities and proposes grants for small businesses looking to reopen.
It lays out guidance for protecting older Americans and a “safe shopper” certification for businesses that complete basic health and safety requirements. The plan would establish a national contact tracing workforce.
“We need to hire 100,000 people now as tracers from communities,” Biden said during his 80-minute visit. "Pay them a decent wage to be the ones who go out and trace.”
He said he was concerned about being unprepared for a second wave of COVID-19. “What worries me the most is, I see nothing that is being done to prepare for what the experts and scientists are telling us is likely to be a bounceback,” Biden said. Referring to the current rise of infections in a dozen states, he said, “I’m praying this is an aberration. But I don’t think so.”
After going over his plan, Biden asked for feedback from the four Philadelphians. “If I had a magic wand,” Biden asked, what would they want him to do?
Easley said she’d ask for more access to capital for businesses with fewer than 20 workers. She’s already had to close one of her stores, despite small grants, including one from the Enterprise Center.
“I was blessed to get those grants," she said. "They were gone within a day because bills exceed what I got.”
Clark noted that a lot of businesses that her organization helps need guidance and funding to transfer some services online. She suggested that janitorial service companies, which employ many African Americans, would benefit from financial assistance to train workers in advanced sanitizing, now in demand to help maintain clean and healthy spaces.
She said her main concern is time, with 34% of minority-owned businesses having closed permanently. “The clock is ticking, and every month that goes by that these small businesses are not able to generate revenue, it’s just putting us further and further behind," Clark said.
Biden said that $2 trillion in federal aid is not getting to the right people and that he’d restore the aid program’s inspector general to review the stimulus payments.
“There are answers, and there are answers available right now," he said. "But this idea of somehow separating the COVID crisis from the jobless crisis is a fool’s errand. They’re tied together.”
The campaign of President Donald Trump said Biden was weeks too late in discussing reopening and should have instead visited Philadelphia businesses damaged by looting during recent protests.
“While the Trump administration issued science-based guidelines and worked with governors of both parties to safely reopen their economies, Biden hid in his basement and opposed reopening at every turn, spreading disinformation about testing capacity and refusing to support any end to the lockdowns,” the Trump campaign said.