James S. Brady Press Briefing Room Washington D.C. March 22 12:10 PM EDT
Hi, everyone. Happy Monday. I just have a couple of items for you at the top.
The "Help Is Here" tour continues today with the Vice President and Second Gentleman traveling to show how the American Rescue Plan provides help to put food on the table.
The Vice President will travel to Jacksonville, Florida, to visit a vaccination center and convene a listening session at a food distribution center. And the Second Gentleman is traveling — I say "is traveling," not "will travel," because it's happening today — to Des Moines, Iowa, where he; Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack — former governor; and Congresswoman Cindy Axne will visit a food relief organization.
The American Rescue Plan will reduce hunger, strengthen the food supply chain, and provide support to underserved, socially disadvantaged farmers. It will:
- Extend the 15 percent increase in SNAP benefits through the end of September — about $28 per month per person.
- Provide $888 million to deliver expanded access to more fruits and vegetables to moms and babies participating in WIC.
- $37 million for senior nutrition and $1 billion in nutrition assistance for the territories.
- It will support farmers of color with $4 billion toward debt relief for socially disadvantaged farmers to pay off burdensome debts, and $1 billion in funding to USDA to create a racial equity commission and address longstanding discrimination.
Tomorrow, the "Help Is Here" tour will continue with the President — with President Biden traveling to Columbus, Ohio, to highlight how the American Rescue Plan will help to lower healthcare costs. He will deliver remarks on the anniversary of the Affordable Care Act being signed into law — of course, something he had a major role in — and encourage Americans to sign up for insurance at HealthCare.gov during the special enrollment period his administration opened amid the pandemic.
Additionally, Health and Human Services Secretary — newly confirmed Secretary Xavier Becerra will travel to Carson City, Nevada, and the Second Gentleman will be in Omaha, Nebraska, talking about how the Rescue Plan lowers healthcare costs.
And then, on Equal Pay Day, Wednesday, the President and the First Lady will host an event at the White House, and the Second Gentleman will travel to St. Louis, Missouri. They will showcase how the Rescue Plan provides help for women and families by increasing the Child Tax Credit and expanding childcare assistance. And we may have some special guests in the briefing on Wednesday, who, of course, will be women — just to give you a little preview. But go ahead.
Thanks, Jen. Two subject areas. In the spirit of transparency to rebuild public trust, when will reporters be allowed to tour facilities holding children who crossed at the southern border? And are there any concerns that the images from those tours might show that there's a crisis?
Well, first, we are working to finalize details, and I hope to have an update in the coming days. We are working through, with the Department of Health and Human Services and also the Department of Homeland Security, to ensure privacy and ensure we're following COVID protocols. We remain committed to transparency, and, of course, as I noted last week, we certainly want to make sure that the media has access to these sites.
And your second question — sorry, your second question was what?
Oh, uh —
Your first question? I can't remember which one you asked. Go ahead.
Yeah, sorry. Two subjects areas.
The second subject area is the Boston Marathon bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. The Supreme Court is are now reconsidering the death penalty. President Biden has said he opposes the death penalty. What is the administration's stance on Tsarnaev and executions going forward?
Well, first, President Biden has made clear, as he did on the campaign trail, that he has grave concerns about whether capital punishment, as currently implemented, is consistent with the values that are fundamental to our sense of justice and fairness. He's also expressed his horror at the events of that day and his actions — Tsarnaev's actions, I should say.
As Vice President, he spoke to the people of Boston on the one-year anniversary of the horrible crime. As he said then, "We are Boston...We are America... We own the finish line."
Of course, any process for the death penalty policy moving forward, I don't have any updates on that. As it relates to this specific case, I would refer you to the Department of Justice.
Go ahead, Steve.
We saw the statement about the trip of Roberta Jacobson and Juan Gonzalez to Guatemala and Mexico.
Are they going to specifically ask those countries to help stem the tide of the migrants?
Absolutely. Part of our objective, as Roberta Jacobson conveyed — Ambassador Jacobson — when she was in here just a few weeks ago, was that we need to work in partnership with these countries to address the root causes in their countries, to convey clearly and systematically that this is not the time to travel.
If I may, I wanted to — I actually had a little bit of an update or just something I thought would be of interest to many of you, which is what some of the steps are we're taking in these countries to communicate. And a lot of this is through, of course, the State Department and embassies. And so here's a few things we're doing — and this will obviously increase over time, but just to give you a sense of our investment:
The State Department continues to — we've placed an estimated 17,118 radio ads in Brazil, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras since January 21st in Spanish, Portuguese, and six indigenous languages. These ads played on 33 radio stations reaching an estimated 15 million individuals.
The department has also worked with Facebook and Instagram on an advertising campaign that put out — put our migration messages in the social media streams of millions of individuals who fit the profile of intending migrants. These are very targeted, of course. A total of 589 digital ads in paid search, display, and social media supporting the ongoing migration campaign in Northern Triangle countries have reached more than 26 million people since Inauguration Day.
These ads created over 73 million impressions in the targeted countries, and we're also taking creative approaches in different countries to make sure we're reaching people, meeting people where they are; in some ways, how we try to do things in the United States.
So, as an example, Embassy San Salvador — "Oscuro" comic book and animated show seeks to deter irregular migration by addressing violence as a driver. Content focused on violent [violence] reduction reached 240,000 young Salvadorans in the targeted audience. The two animated episodes in this past year have been viewed by 3.6 million individuals.
So each country is taking different approaches. Our embassies on the ground are obviously the experts working with countries — to your point, Steve — to figure out how to communicate clearly in languages that are — will be received by the people in these countries and communicate clearly, "This is not the time to come. Our borders are not open."
And we will continue to pick this up in the months — weeks and months ahead.
So — excuse me. Is there any indication that this is working; that these ads and all this — whole campaign you're running?
Well, first, let me say, it is difficult to note the people who do not come. That is never a number we will have a mark on. So this is just part of our effort to send a clear message. But there's no question that funding is needed to address the root causes in these countries. That's why the President has proposed funding in his immigration bill. That is an issue he has worked on in the past, for many years, including with Republicans, of course, to try to provide funding to a number of — not directly to the governments, because we want to avoid corruption in some cases, but to organizations that can help address the root causes in these countries.
So it is not the only step we're taking, but a number of you have asked very good questions about specific communications that we are doing in these countries, so I wanted to venture to provide an update.
Now that the public is seeing some of the images because the congressional delegation provided some photos and descriptions about what they witnessed — children who are frightened and crying, overcrowded conditions — now that the public has seen that, is that not a crisis? And what conditions or situation — what metrics would have to be in place for the administration to call it that?
Well, children presenting at our border who are fleeing violence, who are fleeing prosecution, who are fleeing terrible situations, is not a crisis. We feel that it is our responsibility to humanely approach this circumstance and make sure they are treated with — treated and put into conditions that are safe.
I will say that, you know, these photos show what we've long been saying, which is that these Border Patrol facilities are not places made for children. They are not places that we want children to be staying for an extended period of time. Our alternative is to send children back on this treacherous journey. That is not, in our view, the right choice to make.
And so our focus now is on putting in place — is on solutions and putting in place policies, including expediting processing at the border, opening up additional facilities — something that you've seen developments on over the past several days, and there'll be certainly more on — restarting our Central American Minors program, which was stopped in 2017. Thousands of kids should be eligible to apply for that so they're not making this journey. So our focus is on solutions and implementing them as quickly as possible.
The President said he is open to going to the border at some point. Do you have any sense if, during this current situation, he would consider it valuable to go there, see for himself the conditions, talk to people on the ground? Is that something we should expect?
I don't have any trips to preview for you. I can tell you that the President is briefed regularly on the situation at the border. And every step that he is pushing his team to take — that his team is taking to put in place actions, to put in place solutions, that will expedite processing, get kids into shelters more quickly. And he is regularly briefed. But I don't have any — anything to preview for you on a trip.
He also said one of the changes that could take place is allowing a process where those seeking asylum can do it from their home countries.
But there are a lot of advocates who say that just extends the period of exposure to poverty, violence, all of those conditions, and don't support that.
So how is the President going to deal with that factor? And, clearly, the border is not closed, given the flow. So that seems like a message that is not in tune with what people are actually seeing, based on we're now up to 15, 16,000 kids in U.S. custody and so forth.
Well, factually, the vast majority of people who come to the border are turned away. Adults, families, single people who are coming to the border are turned away.
So that is a message we will continue to convey through a number of the means I have outlined for you. And the President has also conveyed that directly, as has our Secretary of Homeland Security. And as was noted earlier, there's obviously a trip to the region as well.
And to — what — sorry, what was your first question?
Well, is the President frustrated his message isn't getting through?
I don't think the President sees it that way. The President, the Secretary of Homeland Security have all conveyed that there are a number of factors at play here, including the fact that a number of the people who are making this treacherous journey are fleeing circumstances that are difficult on the economic front, to hurricanes, gang violence. There are smugglers who are making their own pushes about how this is the time to come.
So we understand we're working against a lot of push factors that are pushing people to come to the region — come to the — come to the border. But what we are conveying from our end is that the border is not open. The majority of people are turned away.
And we are — as — we're talking about children here, and with children, our focus is on expediting the processing at the border and ensuring they can get to shelters as quickly as possible.
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