What we heard in the State of the Union: Real progress while much work remains

On Tuesday night, President Biden delivered his first State of the Union address. He described the progress made over the last year and the challenges ahead, including the myriad crises that the country faces—including the COVID-19 pandemic response and recovery, inflation, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

We commended the president for the concrete steps his administration has taken to put the nation on the right path. We also agree that much work remains to ensure an equitable recovery.

In what must be flagged as a missed opportunity, President Biden did not mention efforts to combat racism or discrimination at any point during his speech, or as part of an inclusive vision for our economic recovery from the pandemic. Yet Latinos and our country cannot afford to return to the pre-pandemic status quo of entrenched social and economic disparities. Our nation’s more than 62 million Latinos need continuing support from the president and from Congress to improve the lives and futures of their children and families.

Last week, we explained what we would like to hear in President Biden’s State of the Union address. Below, we compare our vision with what was covered in his remarks.

Protect immigrant and frontline workforce and their families 

We applaud President Biden for leaning into the issue of immigration by calling for a pathway to citizenship for DREAMers, those on temporary status, farm workers, and essential workers. We agree, as he said, that on immigration reform, we must “get it done once and for all.”

Reform is essential now: both to honor the contributions and sacrifices of immigrant workers during the pandemic and to acknowledge the centrality of immigrants in a stable and revitalized workforce that will help reduce supply chain bottlenecks and rising prices. We look to his administration to breathe life into his words by taking concrete steps to protect workers and their families with deep roots in the United States.

Invest in health coverage and nutrition  

President Biden called for the savings in health care costs—some $2,400 a year for families—that occurred through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to be made permanent, so that families can have peace of mind from health coverage and more money in their pockets. He also spoke about decreasing the price of life-saving prescription drugs like insulin and made a call to close the “coverage gap” for Medicaid.

These are important programs to highlight. For example, more than 560,000 Latinos enrolled in health coverage during the Special Enrollment Period provided by ARPA. Latinos made up 19% of new enrollments, compared to 16% from the same period the year before.

However, President Biden did not mention the further steps that are needed to improve rates of enrollment in, and access to, health coverage for Latinos and others. He also didn’t make the case in the speech for deeper investments in programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) that Latinos use every day to ensure that they can feed their families.

Support the economic empowerment and housing needs of Latinos  

A major achievement in the first year of Biden’s presidency was enactment of an expanded, refundable Child Tax Credit in the ARPA. This credit is effective, reducing Latino child poverty by 30% last November. During his speech, Biden called for the tax credit to be extended once more, a move that would have the effect of lifting millions of Latino children and their families out of poverty.

While Biden also mentioned raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour and increasing the supply of affordable housing—two policies that would impact Latinos, who are concentrated in low-wage positions and are largely locked out of the housing market due to the exorbitant prices and being forced into a high-cost rental market, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic—he did not provide a direct call-to-action or specific plan on these urgent items.

Notably, two other priorities he mentioned—the Paycheck Fairness Act and access to paid leave—would also positively impact Latinos.

Strengthen the educational pipeline for Latino students 

It is laudable that President Biden called for universal pre-K for every three- and four-year-old in the United States. The president also mentioned increasing Pell Grants, which is a key priority for the Latino community, especially as nearly half (47%) of Latino students use them to cover the cost of college.

Regrettably, the president did not mention mitigating the devastating impacts of staggering levels of student loan debt. Latino students are saddled with educational debt that limits their futures and constrains their economic well-being: nearly one in three (31.4%) of Latino Gen Z and 30.8% of Latino millennials have student loans.

Advance equity, inclusion, and civil rights 

During his speech, Biden called on the Senate to pass the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act to safeguard voting rights, as well as the Disclose Act, to ensure integrity in elections and transparency in election funding. These bills are critical to strengthen our democracy, and we stand ready to help move them forward.

Follow us on social media at @WeAreUnidosUS for more policy updates.

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