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Vice President Kamala Harris speaks exclusively with WSAZ about challenges facing our region

Published: Jan. 28, 2021 at 6:49 PM EST
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HUNTINGTON/CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - As we navigate month 10 of the COVID-19 pandemic, the weight on the shoulders of American families is insurmountable.

On Thursday, Vice President Kamala Harris spoke exclusively with WSAZ’s Amanda Barren. We had the opportunity to ask her if help is coming -- and when.

“To your point in West Virginia, one in seven families is describing their household as being hungry, one in six can’t pay their rent, and one in four small businesses are closing permanently or have already closed, so it’s a big issue in West Virginia and across the country,” Harris said. “And that’s why the president and I are offering the American Rescue Plan.”

The American Rescue Plan (ARP) would put cash into American’s bank accounts. It has the framework for small business help, money for the return to education and extending the eviction and foreclosure moratorium.

It also has provisions for extended unemployment.

As the vice president advocates for the ARP, many people across our region feel like they are advocating for their jobs in the coal, oil and gas industries. This is on the heels of executive orders signed by President Biden connected to the energy industry that jeopardize traditional energy jobs.

We asked Harris about plans for retraining of those workers, something people have heard before with little follow through.

“All of those skilled workers who are in the coal industry and transferring those skills to what we need to do in terms of dealing with reclaiming abandoned land mines; what we need to do around plugging leaks from oil and gas wells; and, transferring those important skills to the work that has yet to be done that needs to get done,” the vice president said.

Harris says the country must act with a sense of urgency. It is why she continues to advocate for ARP to be passed. This, as legislation has been introduced by House Republicans, including West Virginia Senator Shelley Moore-Capito who on Thursday introduced the “Protecting our Wealth of Energy Resources (POWER) Act of 2021.” The POWER Act would prohibit the President or his secretaries of the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) from blocking energy or mineral leasing and permitting on federal lands and waters without Congressional approval. Capito says the president’s order kills American jobs and attacks the oil and gas industries.

“Why should [oil, gas, and coal workers] believe that this time will be different?” Barren asked.

“The president has been very clear that this is not about any existing leases in terms of coal and what we’re doing in terms of oil and coal and federal lands. This is about what we need to do going forward to create more jobs,” Harris said. “The president feels very strongly that when we are thinking about saving our environment (...) When you talk to him about climate change, the first thing that he talks about is job creation.”

ARP includes benefits such as $1,400 stimulus checks for each person in a household and, among other things, would mount a national vaccination program.

“[ARP is] about opening schools back up in a safe way, it’s about getting support for small businesses, getting relief for families. So many people have been unemployed for almost a year at this point,” the vice president told WSAZ. “The president and I feel very strongly that these are the moments when we are facing a crisis of unbelievable proportion [and] that the American people deserve their leaders to step up and stand up for them.”

West Virginia has been leading the nation when it comes to getting shots into arms. However, President Biden said earlier this week vaccine distribution would be based on a state’s population. West Virginia is a small state, and has one of the oldest and most vulnerable populations.

Barren asked the vice president if basing the distribution on a state’s population was fair, especially when small states like West Virginia are efficiently getting people vaccinated.

“Our plan is to get everybody vaccinated ... Our plan was, and remains, that for the first 100 days of our administration, 100 million vaccinations will be performed. That’s why we have the ‘American Rescue Plan,’ because we have over 320 million people in our country,” the vice president told Barren. “It’s also about looking at the rates of child poverty in our country that have been highlighted and have grown exponentially because of the fact that their parents are now unemployed. [ARP] is also about lifting children out of poverty.”

With viewers in our region overwhelmingly supporting the previous administration, Thursday was also an opportunity for the vice president to reach constituents whose ideological values differ. “Why should they put faith in you and the president?,” Barren asked the vice president.

“Because we have faith in the American people,” the vice president told Barren. “We ran as Democrats, but we are Americans and we will lead as Americans. We want our country to be strong, we want our country to be healthy, we want our children to thrive, and that’s the bottom line. That’s why we’re doing this. We are here to support you and the reason I am here in West Virginia talking with you is because everybody matters whether you voted for us or not. The election is over and now is the time to support the American people; to lead, to lift people up, and say, ‘Hello, neighbor!’ We are all in this together. We’re all in it together.”

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