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RI POLITICS

Infrastructure should include child care, Harris and Raimondo say

“We should not ask women to put their jobs before their children,” the vice president said during a roundtable discussion with women business owners in Rhode Island. “It’s a false choice.”

Vice President Kamala Harris poses for a photo after a roundtable with women-led small business owners Wednesday, May 5, 2021, in Providence, R.I. From left: Christine Paige, owner of Bliss Medical Hair Replacement Center, Vice President Kamala Harris;; Minnie Luong, founder and owner of Chi Kitchen Foods; Suzanne Ellis Wernevi, founder of lunaandstella.com; and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo.
Vice President Kamala Harris poses for a photo after a roundtable with women-led small business owners Wednesday, May 5, 2021, in Providence, R.I. From left: Christine Paige, owner of Bliss Medical Hair Replacement Center, Vice President Kamala Harris;; Minnie Luong, founder and owner of Chi Kitchen Foods; Suzanne Ellis Wernevi, founder of lunaandstella.com; and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo.Andrew Harnik/Associated Press

PROVIDENCE — During a roundtable discussion in Providence on Wednesday, Vice President Harris asked female business owners to help make the case to critics in Washington, D.C., for why infrastructure spending should include investing in child care.

Harris said her definition of infrastructure is “things you just need to get to where you need to go.”

“We should not ask women to put their jobs before their children,” Harris said. “It’s a false choice.”

US Commerce Secretary Gina M. Raimondo joined Harris at the event in the District Hall Providence space at the Wexford Innovation Center. The vice president had traveled to Rhode Island to promote President Joe Biden’s $2.3 trillion American Jobs Plan and American Families Plan.

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Jennifer Cavallaro, owner of Beehive Café; Minnie Luong, owner of Chi Kitchen Foods; Christine Paige, owner of Bliss Medical Hair Replacement Center; and Suzanne Ellis Wernevi, founder and CEO of Luna & Stella Jewelry, were invited to speak at the roundtable discussion.

Raimondo, a former Rhode Island governor, said that nearly 2 million women dropped out of the workforce during the pandemic, in large part because they could not work while caring for younger children and older parents. Investment in “the care economy” is essential, she said.

“How do you think I’m at work today?” Raimondo asked. “How can you go to work if you don’t have child care, or care for an elderly mother or father?”

Luong said that if those making decisions in Washington, D.C. want to put those 2 million women back to work, they need to provide support for child care. “It’s not just a women’s issue,” she said. “It’s an American issue, and I’m glad it’s finally being addressed.”

Luong said that when she first opened her business, she had to put her day care expenses on her credit card, and she cashed out her 401(k) savings plan. “They say don’t do that,” she said. “But I was investing in myself.”

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Wernevi said that the pandemic has proven that child care “is a societal issue and a business imperative.” She said, “I literally would not have a business if I did not have child care.”

Wernevi urged federal lawmakers to develop comprehensive plans to support children, saying, “I think if we do that, our country will benefit in so many ways long into the future if we really view children as our collective responsibility.”

Harris echoed that point, saying, “The children of the community are the children of the community.”

Wernevi also called for Washington officials to help “level the playing field” for small businesses in a system where just three companies – Amazon, Google and Facebook – “control the rails.” She said she would like those companies to “play fair, pay their share of tax, and give small businesses opportunities to succeed.”

Raimondo told Wernevi, “I wish we could make a video of you and bring it back to Washington.” Harris pointed to the news cameras in the room, joking that such a video is probably going to be available.

“You are inspiring many people you may not meet but will hear your stories,” Harris told the roundtable participants. “The reason I’m here is to highlight the work you all have been doing and carry your stories back as the stories of America’s economy and the potential of America’s economy.”

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As part of the American Jobs Plan, Biden is calling for Congress to provide $25 billion to upgrade child care facilities and increase the supply of child care in areas that need it most. He’s also calling for an expanded tax credit to encourage businesses to build child care facilities at places of work, and $400 billion to expand access to home- and community-based care for older relatives and people with disabilities.

“The exodus of women from the workforce is an emergency,” Raimondo said.



Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at edward.fitzpatrick@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @FitzProv. Dan McGowan can be reached at dan.mcgowan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @danmcgowan.