May 27, 2020
Joe Biden Virtual Meeting Transcript With PA Governor Tom Wolf
Joe Biden held a video conference conversation with Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf on May 27, 2020. Read the full transcript of their meeting here.
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Governor Tom Wolf: (00:00)
President even supports it, but absent something like that, our teachers are frontline workers. They’re not going to have the jobs that we need them to have. They are our frontline workers. They’re the ones who are protecting us and keeping us. They’re the ones who are teaching our kids and we cannot stop the education process right now. All those things are really important and none of those things can take place if we don’t get the help we need from the federal government. The Heroes Act actually is out there. And the really good thing that will keep all 50 states and however many territories, five territories from acting counter to what the federal government is doing with the Cares Act. It is really important that we do this. It’s important for the most vulnerable or fellow Pennsylvanians, that we allow teachers to keep on teaching, that we give the frontline healthcare workers what they need to keep on working again, serving us, police officers, the firefighters, all those folks.
Governor Tom Wolf: (01:06)
We cannot do without them and they can’t survive unless they get the help that is in something like the Heroes Act. I mean, I can do all and will continue to work for a higher minimum wage, for better access to childcare, for paid family leave, for worker safety. I think the pandemic has given some real opportunity to make sure that when someone goes to work they’re safe. You made the absolutely the right point saying people have to have confidence because nothing that any employer does reopening or any governor does is going to do anything. If an employee does not or a worker does not feel safe going back to work. There is nothing that any of us can do if a student doesn’t feel safe going back to school or shopper going back to being a customer somewhere. All those things are really important. And again, this is where working at the federal level, things like the Heroes Act, leadership like the kind of leadership you would provide, I think is so important to all of us right now.
Joe Biden: (02:14)
Well, you know, I think the house has done a pretty good job and the Congress, in the Cares Act and in the Heroes Act. But for example, you in Pennsylvania, big state, 2 million, Pennsylvanian’s have filed for unemployment in recent weeks. There are school bus drivers, restaurant workers, hairdressers, manufacturing workers, often low wage workers, folks struggling to enter or hold onto their place in the middle class, if they’ve even made it. Tell me about the unemployment claims you’re seeing in Pennsylvania. And what industries and income levels, et cetera.
Joe Biden: (02:55)
How do you think we should be thinking job creation and dealing with … Because all the studies show a lot of work that Gene Sperling has done as our economic advisor in the last administration points out that one of the problems is the longer someone is unemployed, the less likely they’re ever going to get a job, because there is just sort of a intuitive prejudice that two people with the same resume applying for the same job, one who’s been out of work for six to eight months and one who’s been out of work a month. The one has been out of work a month, gets the job because there’s an implicit notion there must be something that’s a problem for the person who’s been out of work longer.
Joe Biden: (03:45)
How do you think we should be thinking about a job creation? But even before that, that’s a tough, I mean, that’s a really broad question. Not that you could answer any question, but when you seem to have been able to move faster than other states like Florida and others, in terms of getting the unemployment money out, the unemployment checks to people, get them out to process them. How difficult was it because you have this incredible deluge of people on a system that isn’t designed to handle that many people. Talk to me a little bit about how you were able to do it and I guess you’re still, you got about 80% of them out now who’ve applied. I think that’s the number. I may be wrong. Talk to me a little about that.
Governor Tom Wolf: (04:37)
It’s been tough. I mean, we had, I think a two and a half times the largest influx of first-time claims in our history and we were swamped. We I think had 500 people in our call center, unemployment compensation when this started. We’re now on our way to 13, 1400 people working there and do the processing. We also have first time unemployment benefits going out to gig workers and the gig economy and self-employed folks. There are a lot of real challenges and we have been swamped. I think what we did was to take it very seriously.
Governor Tom Wolf: (05:20)
We still have a ways to go to do a good job. We’re getting close to 80%, as you pointed out, in terms of getting claims out. Some of those claims are just held up because of some unusual things that, checking social security numbers and all that kind of stuff. But we are trying our best because we recognize that if we don’t do a good job here, all the other stuff we do is not going to mean a whole lot. We’ve got to get this money out. And so we are working night and day, seven days a week to make sure we are getting the money out.
Joe Biden: (05:59)
Two more questions. I know we both have to go. You have to go you’re governor, you’ve got a real job out there to take care of. But one of the things I wanted to ask is that when they passed the unemployment insurance bill, that the house did, they increase the maximum payment by $600, up to an income of 50 some thousand dollars you can be reimbursed. And they actually put in over half a billion dollars to help states accommodate the inflow that was coming, with almost now close to 40 million people, nationally 38, I forget the exact number. It keeps changing every day. Seeking unemployment, including gig workers, which we pushed very hard. I’ve worked with, I don’t take credit for it, but I spent a lot of time with Nancy and with Chuck Schumer about who we think should be in the legislation. But a lot of states have had difficulty getting enough people transfer from other departments into the department that distributes this and makes judgments on unemployment claims. How’d you do it?
Governor Tom Wolf: (07:10)
Well, we have had a very collegial cabinet right from the beginning. And so it was not that hard. We’ve done what you just said. We have a lot of people moving from different agencies. We’ve also brought people back from retirement, but from all over the Commonwealth agencies that are not quite as busy as they might’ve been before the pandemic hit, they actually can’t afford to send workers over to labor and industry where there really is a big need for workers. The training period is between two and three weeks so there is some lag in terms of bringing people in and getting them trained up to the stuff. We are continually working on upgrading our computer system because the one that we entered this pandemic with is not as great as it should be, but the fact that the agencies are working together in this collaborative fashion, it’s really been a big resource for Pennsylvania.
Joe Biden: (08:21)
Have other governors contacted you to ask you how you did it? How have you done it?
Governor Tom Wolf: (08:26)
No. I mean, I participate in all the governor’s calls but I find them much more of a taker than a giver. I think it’s the kind of thing that every governor out there is trying to do the best for their states and that’s what I’m trying to do in Pennsylvania. I know when I was in college and graduate school, plagiarism was wrong, but I’m plagiarizing left and right from the good ideas from all the other governors and all the other states and nations around the world. I think there are a lot of things that people have tried that work and I think we ought to be open to those things. And luckily I’m surrounded by people in Pennsylvania and the leaders in my agencies who recognize that and are willing to take new ideas and run with them.
Joe Biden: (09:12)
You picked a lot of good people, some of whom are friends of mine. I know pretty well, but I really mean it. It’s a matter of making sure that you surround yourself with people who are competent, smart and know what they’re doing and you’ve done that. Look, I have a lot more questions. One of the things I want to do is not now, I know we have to go, but I have an idea about what I think we should be doing between now and the end of the election, which I can’t very much control right now. But how I would put together the country, if I am fortunate enough to be elected president and what I’d do on January 21st of 2021. It’s about a work plan and how to rebuild and how to regenerate an opportunity not to build back, but to build better because you and I talked a little bit, everything from childcare to making sure we spend that $20 billion in been trying to get spent for broadband so that every kid in rural Laverne County has the same access to home learning as the kid in central Philadelphia does.
Joe Biden: (10:27)
And to get all those things that we can be doing to create good jobs, not just the $15 an hour job, which I fully support your effort in doing, and it has to happen, but jobs where people are making a prevailing wage. We’re investing billions of dollars in infrastructure and improving our whole economy. But one of the things that, and I want to be able to send that to you and talk, not that you don’t have a full time job already, but I’d talk it over because I think it’s a lot of things you’ve been talking about. We don’t have time to do it now, but one of the things that I want to end with is that I really think that it’s important that we let people know that there’s nothing this country’s ever been unable to do when we’ve done it together.
Joe Biden: (11:15)
I mean, that sounds like hyperbole, but we’re an incredible, incredible country. One of the things that I see Tom, and I see it … The old joke was that people used to say that arc that goes into Pennsylvania, “in Delaware.” I had somebody once say “The best part of Delaware’s in Pennsylvania.” It’s not, we have a whole state, but my point is, we’re very close.
Governor Tom Wolf: (11:40)
I want to remind you that Delaware used to be part of Pennsylvania.
Joe Biden: (11:44)
That’s right. But we declared our independence on December the seventh, by the way. And it’s not just D-Day. Anyway, but look, one of the things that I think is really important is that we somehow put that back on. That somehow that we’re in a situation where we work together. And I think what’s happened is, as I’ve observed, particularly in the Tri state area here in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, which the old joke used to be and I was very proud of the joke that Biden was Pennsylvania’s third Senator for a long time. But all kidding aside because I’m from Scranton. But look, one of the things is that I think, when I announced I was running, I said that over a year ago, now that I wanted to restore the soul of the nation. I think we’re seeing the soul of the nation.
Joe Biden: (12:41)
We’re seeing all these people, that in fact are doing heroic things for other people. The way we’re pulling together, the sacrifices people are making, the lives being lost saving other people’s lives, the way in which people have stepped up. And I’m absolutely confident that we’re going to get through this. The approaching 100,000 people have lost their lives and left behind family is going to be really, really, really hard for them, but we will get through it all. But one of the things that I think is the most important thing is we’ve got to be in a position where we acknowledge what we’ve seen this country is capable of. And it’s not enough, in my view, that we as I said, build back, we got to build back better. And I think the blinders have been taken off a whole lot of people out there, not people who were prejudiced or anything, but people who just didn’t understand how important that grocery store clerk was.
Joe Biden: (13:44)
Didn’t understand that nurse who early on had to take out a plastic garbage bag and put it over her because she didn’t have the proper protective equipment. The people, the cop who shows up in a car crash, and doesn’t worry about a burning car, pull somebody out, doesn’t ask whether they’re Muslim or they’re black or they’re white or Asian or anything else, just goes ahead and does it. I mean, the way people have stepped up across the board, and I think they’re ready that to change the system. I think they’re ready to do essentially what happened with Roosevelt, that they can through a depression and came out stronger. We came out with social security. We came out with unions. We came out with a whole range of things. I think we can do that again, but I know how busy you are and you have to get back to work, but I promise you that if and when I’m President, I promise I’ll have your back, we’ll work together.
Joe Biden: (14:42)
And for working families and small businesses and they’re the people we should be focusing on now. Not one single dollar of age should be gone to a major corporation now, if you’re going to small businesses. It should be going to keep families on a payroll. It should be going to make sure people, in fact have the basic necessities they need. And I think that we’ll get through, I know we’ll get through this. I think we can come out stronger. And because of folks like you, who are real leaders and Tom, you’ve done one hell of a job. And I just want to thank you for taking the time to be with me and hope we’ll keep in touch like we have.
Governor Tom Wolf: (15:17)
Let’s keep in touch and thank you. Thank you. I’m proud to be a supporter.
Joe Biden: (15:21)
I’m a supporter as well of you as you know. All right, well, thanks an awful lot folks. And I look forward to talking to more of our governors, with more of our governors and this is not a … Wearing one of these masks when you’re outside, it’s not a partisan issue. The secret service outside my house here, they all have the masks on. We don’t talk. We don’t talk unless I walk out with a mask on. It is a matter of protecting other people, not just yourself, other people. That’s what this is about. So thanks. Thanks again, gov. Appreciate it.
Governor Tom Wolf: (15:56)
Thanks. Thanks Joe.