President Joe Biden personally called a California woman who was laid off because of the coronavirus pandemic, during what the White House said is part of an effort to help him engage more consistently with regular Americans.
The White House on Saturday released a two-and-a-half-minute video of Biden’s long-distance telephone conversation with Michele Voelkert.
After losing her job at a San Francisco-based startup clothing company in July, she wrote Biden a letter. He read it, then called her.
Voelkert, who spoke with Biden for 20 minutes, said she wanted to teach her daughter the power of the pen. The 47-year-old mom said that after watching the recent violence at the Capitol and Biden’s inauguration, she wanted to set an example.
“I wanted her to know a well-written letter will serve you better than storming the Capitol and throwing rocks through a window,” she said.
She never expected the president himself would respond by calling her directly.
“When the Biden team called me I thought it was spam and I hung up,” she said. “I’m glad they tried back.”
The Roseville woman told Biden “it’s been a tough time” trying to find work.
Biden, who spoke from his Oval Office desk, replied that his father used to say a job is about dignity and respect as much as it is about a paycheck. He described his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan, which calls for $1,400 payments to people like Voelkert, and other economic aid for individuals and small businesses. There’s also money to help distribute coronavirus vaccines.
Voelkert was featured as the first guest in Biden’s revamped weekly address. The White House posted part of her conversation on Twitter Saturday.
Voelkert’s daughter Maddy even got a chance to talk with the president.
Voelkert said she was laid off in the summer from her job at StitchFix in San Francisco, and she talked with Biden about some of the same things she put in her letter: how tough it was losing a job for the first time in her life, and the challenges she’s facing navigating unemployment and struggling to find a new job during the pandemic.
“I’ve been saying a long time, the idea that we think we can keep businesses open and moving and thriving without dealing with this pandemic is just a nonstarter,” Biden said.
Voelkert said she hopes her chat with Biden will provide him even more incentive for change.
“He talked about the American Recovery Plan which would extend unemployment, which would help me and women like me,” she said.
“Now that he knows what a mom from Roseville is going through, and other moms, I hope it builds momentum to getting policies passed,” Voelkert said.
The conversation is part of an effort to help Biden, who has largely limited his travel because of the pandemic, communicate directly with Americans, the White House said.
“There is a time-honored tradition in the country of hearing from the president in this way,” press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday in previewing the video. She referenced Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “fireside chats” and Ronald Reagan’s establishment of a weekly radio address.
The radio address eventually grew to include a video version viewed over the internet. The practice, however, became moribund under former President Donald Trump.
Psaki said Biden’s weekly address would be produced in a variety of forms.