U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra visited a White Center community health center Thursday, touting the billions of dollars in funding increases the Biden administration is delivering to such clinics and promoting the president’s plan to spend billions more on family and medical leave, pre-K and community college.
The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan that congressional Democrats passed last month will give more than $6 billion in funding to federally qualified health centers, like the Sea Mar White Center Medical Clinic, which Becerra toured Thursday.
An additional $1 billion from that legislation will go toward building and expanding similar community health centers.
“That’s going to clinics like this across America to try to help them have more capacity to be able to serve more people,” Becerra said.
There are about 1,300 such federally qualified health centers across the country that receive federal funding and are required to provide primary care on a sliding scale, based on a patient’s ability to pay.
“We serve everybody who comes to our doors,” said Dr. Julian Pérez, the director of musculoskeletal services at the White Center clinic. “Whenever the country has fallen down there’s always a safety net system and federally qualified health centers are part of that safety net system.”
Sea Mar operates about 100 community health locations across Washington, serving more than 300,000 patients and clients a year. It was originally founded to serve Seattle’s Latino community.
Becerra, the first Latino to lead the massive federal health agency, switched back and forth between English and Spanish on Thursday as he pitched the American Rescue Plan as just the first part of a comprehensive plan that could ultimately lead to nearly $6 trillion in new spending and reshape the American economy and safety net as the country recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Wednesday night, in a speech to Congress, President Joe Biden laid out the fundamentals of his nearly $2 trillion American Families Plan — a push for universal pre-K, paid family leave and free community college, financed by higher taxes on the wealthy. That followed fast on the heels of his $2 trillion American Jobs Plan, an infrastructure proposal to rebuild the nation’s roads, bridges, transit and water systems.
The American Rescue Plan passed Congress without a single Republican vote, and both subsequent bills already face similarly stiff GOP opposition.
But Becerra billed them as all part of the same package.
“The president put forward the American Rescue Plan because we were trying to get out of the grip of COVID,” he said. “Next he said, ‘Now we’re back, we need jobs,’ and so the American Jobs Plan talks about helping every American get back to work.
“And yesterday we heard the president announced the American Families Plan, which invests directly in our families to make it something where you don’t have to worry about the child care you need, the services you need, the nutrition you need,” Becerra continued.
The plan includes $200 billion for free pre-K for all 3- and 4-year-olds, more than $100 billion to offer two years of free community college, $225 billion for expanded subsidized child care on a sliding fee scale and $225 billion for paid family and medical leave.
Billions more would go to expanding school nutrition programs and SNAP benefits and to tax credits or cuts for low-income families and families with children. It would be paid for by increasing income and capital gains taxes on the wealthy.
“You can’t recover from COVID, you can’t rescue the economy, you can’t build more jobs, unless you invest in the American family,” Becerra said.