Second Gentleman, Labor Secretary discuss Pres. Biden’s infrastructure proposal in Memphis

Updated: May. 6, 2021 at 8:00 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - President Joe Biden’s “Getting America Back on Track” tour brought two high-up administration representatives to Memphis.

On Thursday, Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff and Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh came to the Mid-South to garner support for Biden’s proposed infrastructure plan, a two-part proposal that would total $3.8 trillion in spending.

The two took a tour of the Dr. Benjamin L. Hooks Job Corps Center in Memphis, which served as a catalyst for discussion at a roundtable that followed their tour, which included leaders from the center, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland, and Congressman Steve Cohen.

“This is great. We learned a lot,” Emhoff said. “I saw the Secretary taking a bunch of notes.”

The Hooks Job Corps Center is part of the Department of Labor’s Equal Opportunity Employer Program, training students in high-demand fields.

Mayor Jim Strickland called it one of the city’s “hidden gems.”

One feature of the center is the affiliated childcare center for parents who are learning at the center.

Emhoff said this is a perfect example of what the American Families Plan is trying to accomplish.

“Wouldn’t it be great to have this when they working parents went to work, which is why we need to pass these plans we’ve been talking about, especially the American Families Plan,” the Second Gentleman said.

If the American Families Plan is passed, low to middle-income Mid-South families wouldn’t have to pay more than 7 percent of their annual income to pay for childcare.

It would also increase childcare worker wages to $15 an hour.

Between Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee, the Biden Administration predicts the American Families Plan could benefit 305,917 children.

“Some people say it’s not infrastructure. Well, it is,” Walsh said, “because if you don’t have a place to bring your children to get taken care of while you get to school, or you’re here (Hooks Job Corps Center), or you’re going to work, that affects the infrastructure of the country.”

It’s the belief of the administration that this would allow more women to enter the workforce.

“Why should women not be able to have those same opportunities, and they can once we straighten this out on the childcare issue,” Emhoff said.

The American Jobs Plan would allocate $621 billion dollars toward traditional infrastructure, improving 20,000 miles of highways, 10,000 bridges, ports, airports, and several other points.

However, where these improvements will be made is not specified.

WMC asked Walsh for clarification during his visit to the Memphis AFSCME Local 1733.

“Those projects are just basically an investment, a dollar investment,” Walsh said. “A lot of those projects will be decided as they go through the different committees and the final version comes out of the legislature.”

Strickland made note that Memphis has the highest percentage of 16 to 24-year-olds in the country who aren’t in school and don’t have jobs.

With the right training, Emhoff believes they could help fill the roles that would be created if Biden’s infrastructure proposal is passed.

“Just listening to the mayor talk about the need for the jobs. You have the training here,” Emhoff said. “You have a group of young people here who don’t have those jobs, so it’s a perfect complement to solve the problem.”

Biden’s infrastructure proposal would also bring four additional years of free public education, two years of universal pre-K and two years of community college.

Opponents of the proposal say the price tag is too high for accomplishing the task of improving infrastructure, but Emhoff and Walsh say this investment is needed to keep the country’s economy competitive on the global stage.

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