Rep. Clyburn explains why broadband is crucial to America’s COVID-19 recovery

EXCLUSIVE: The House Majority Whip lays out Biden's game plan ahead of his yet to be announced address to a joint session of Congress

House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC), chairman of the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, speaks during a hearing on September 23, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Stefani Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images)

No date has been set for President Joe Biden to address the joint session of Congress. The address will mark the president’s first speech, but not to be confused with a State of the Union address. 

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At some point in the near future, Biden is expected to stand before the joint body of federal lawmakers to lay out his plan for the year to Congress and the American people, while at the same time offering hope and optimism for the future.

Read More: Biden and congressional Democrats to unveil immigration bill

President Joe Biden speaks in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington. Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package presents a first political test. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

As President Biden sets expectations for the coming months, it also comes at a moment of crisis for the country due to the coronavirus pandemic, where everything from public health, education and jobs continue to collide.

Right now, scheduling for the event is a beast. House Majority Whip Congressman James Clyburn tells theGrio the “schedule is all out of whack” due to the pandemic and recent severe weather events across the nation. Democrats are also still waiting for the confirmation of many of President Biden’s cabinet nominees.   

The bigger issues are the themes of the address. As we are in the midst of relief efforts, Congressman Clyburn says the speech will largely focus on recovery with the pillars for that effort being infrastructure and broadband. 

House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

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“[President Biden] will lay out the recovery package, and that’s when you will see this massive infrastructure program being proposed. And at the center of that is going to be two things: Transportation and broadband. Because that’s what you got to have, the most important part of infrastructure to me today is broadband,” Clyburn tells theGrio.

President Biden is not new to recovery efforts, as Clyburn points out. During the Obama years and the Great Recession, President Barack Obama put then-Vice President Biden in charge of the recovery and managed the implementations of The Recovery Act

However, the 2021 recovery is vastly different with competing crises stemming from COVID-19. Yet, with the efforts to fix the multiple layers of ills facing the country, the concern is that various communities are falling through the cracks when it comes to relief.

People wait in long lines at an H-E-B grocery store in Austin, Texas on February 17, 2021. (Photo by Montinique Monroe/Getty Images)

Clyburn, who has served as a congressman in South Carolina for nearly 30 years, is laser focused on rural America during this recovery effort. “We’ve got to stop treating rural and urban in separate silos … we’ve got to see the interconnectedness that exists in our society,” says Clyburn.

“That’s why we’ve got to have broadband. You cannot have telehealth without broadband. You can’t have online learning [without broadband].”

Read More: Clyburn: Bush called him a ‘savior’ for boosting Biden

The issue of bridging the digital divide has been around for decades. During the Clinton era, then-President Bill Clinton traveled with Reverend Jesse Jackson Sr. to rural areas like Whiteville, North Carolina, just shy of the South Carolina border, to help connect remote and rural communities to much-needed internet services.

When it comes to the issue of infrastructure and transportation, the United States has many antiquated and crumbling roadways, bridges and so much more that needs repair and complete overhauling.  

National Urban League President Marc Morial tells theGrio that any infrastructure package should be “inclusive” which he says is “a must for long-term jobs and economic recovery.”

National Urban League President Marc H. Morial and Vice President Joe R. Biden are shown at the National Urban League Conference in Chicago. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images for National Urban League)

For any efforts to improve the economy, leaders say they want an impact that is tangibly felt.

Melanie Campbell, president and CEO of Black Woman’s Roundtable says, “economic impact is huge for Black women and families.”  

Campbell is hopeful that President Biden will keep the $15 minimum wage increase in his $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, which is sure to be another major topic in the president’s eventual address to the joint session of Congress. The ARP is expected to create millions of jobs and generate trillions of dollars in the American economy.

Biden’s speech is also expected to address the administration’s vaccination plan for COVID-19 and his use of the Defense Production Act.

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks about climate change issues in the State Dining Room of the White House on January 27, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker-Pool/Getty Images)

“He knows using the Defense Production Act is something that must be done. Trump refused to do it,” notes Clyburn.

“So you’ve got to go out there, use your powers, the powers of the office, as he has put the Defense Production Act to work, that allows the federal government to get in there with private businesses and help them get the materials, the machinery that they need to produce the vaccine.

The congressman adds, “They didn’t have the capacity to do it. [Biden] is now giving them that capacity. And so he has already announced that by July we’ll have enough vaccines to vaccinate the entire country, and that is as it should be.”

Campbell, of Black Woman’s Roundtable, says she is most concerned about COVID-19 vaccination access in “communities in need.”

She emphasized her commitment in making that priority known in a virtual woman’s leaders discussion on Thursday with Vice President Kamala Harris and other women’s rights groups leaders and female members of congress.  

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris speaks during an event at The Queen theater in Wilmington, Del., Friday, Jan. 8, 2021, to announce key administration posts. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Campbell says there also should be a focus on “prioritizing vaccinations by zip codes and households.”

Data shows Black Americans lag in vaccination numbers compared to that of white Americans.

According to KHN, about 3% of Americans have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine so far. But in 16 states that have released data by race, white residents are being vaccinated at significantly higher rates than Black residents.

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