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Republican Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso grilled Democratic New Mexico Rep. Deb Haaland on Tuesday over the American jobs expected to be lost in the oil and natural gas industries under President Joe Biden’s administration.

Haaland, Biden’s nominee to lead the Department of the Interior (DOI), was being questioned by Barrasso in her Senate confirmation hearing when he asked her about Biden’s executive order “banning new oil and natural gas leasing on federal lands and waters” and its expected job losses.

(RELATED: Rep. Dan Crenshaw: If Democrats Claim They Are The Party Of The Working Class ‘They Actually Have To Support Working’)

“In his first few weeks in office, President Biden issued several orders … banning new oil and natural gas leasing on federal lands and waters. It’s estimated this long-term leasing ban is going to cost your home state of New Mexico 62,000 jobs. My home state of Wyoming 33,000 jobs,” Barrasso began.

He went on to list the jobs that are expected to be lost as a result of Biden’s executive order and noted that Haaland previously pledged to work her heart out for everyone, including those employed in the fossil fuels industry. “My question is for you, why not just let these workers keep their jobs?” Barrasso asked.

“Senator, it’s my understanding that President Biden has put just a pause on new leases. He didn’t ban new leases. He didn’t put a moratorium on new leases. It’s a pause to review the federal fossil fuel program,” Haaland responded. “I know that there are still thousands of leases and thousands of permits that are moving forward.”

Barrasso then asked Haaland that, if she were to be confirmed as Secretary of the Interior, would she tell Biden that “it’s unwise to continue the pause as a permanent ban.”

“I don’t believe that it is a permanent ban, Senator. I am more than happy to work with you and to work with, of course at the pleasure of the president, and along with, if I’m confirmed, my colleagues to make sure we’re doing everything we can to create jobs for Americans,” Haaland responded.

Biden announced the 60-day suspension of new oil and gas leasing and drilling permits in January after taking office. The order does not affect all drilling or projects that are already ongoing, as previously reported. Biden also signed an order revoking permits for the continued construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline.

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COVID-19 relief bill includes desperately needed help for child care centers

The child care industry and the workers in it—overwhelmingly women, many of them women of color—have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. Really hard. But now there are two big reasons for hope, thanks to child care funding in the COVID-19 relief bill passed by the House and to a rush of states opening up vaccinations to child care workers.

After losing 400,000 jobs early in the pandemic, the industry hasn’t fully rebounded. In December 2020, there were still nearly 175,000 fewer child care jobs than there were in December 2019. In an industry that operates on extremely tight profit margins, enrollments remain down due to both reduced class sizes for social distancing purposes and parents keeping their kids home rather than risking group settings, while expenses for personal protective equipment and cleaning are up.

According to a December study from the National Association for the Education of Young Children, 56% of child care centers say they are “losing money every day that they remain open.” The first glimmer of hope on that front came at the end of December, when the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021 allocated $10 billion to child care, and that money is going out. In Pennsylvania, for instance, Gov. Tom Wolf announced plans this week for $303 million in federal money, including $140.7 million to support providers who have lost enrollment and $87 million in increased payments for providers who participate in subsidized care.

But the COVID-19 relief package the House passed includes much more help: $39 billion. And, HuffPost’s Emily Peck reports, “the money is retroactive, so centers that are already in debt or behind on their rent or mortgage payments can catch up.” 

While Senate Republicans have objected to many of the provisions in the relief bill, and intend to do everything they can to delay its passage, they haven’t targeted the child care money, so there is hope that help is on the way.

There’s a more individual form of hope, too, for child care workers. Following President Biden’s call for teachers and child care workers to be vaccinated (or have gotten at least one shot) by the end of March, pharmacies participating in a federal vaccination program opened up eligibility to those groups across the country, regardless of whether they were yet eligible under state guidelines. But that wasn’t all.

A series of states quickly moved to open up their own vaccination programs to teachers and child care workers, including Massachusetts (where Republican Gov. Charlie Baker made clear he wasn’t happy about it), Washington state, and Texas. Prior to Biden’s push, teachers and child care workers had already heard that they would soon become eligible in Ohio, Vermont, and New Jersey as the states continue to expand their vaccinations.

None of this is the end of problems for the industry or for its low-paid workers. Even before the pandemic, turnover was extremely high in daycare centers, and that’s only gotten worse during the pandemic. Median pay for child care workers is $11.65 an hour, according to one recent study. And despite the low pay, reliable, high-quality child care is not affordable for many families, keeping some women out of the workforce (at cost to their lifetime earnings) or leaving families with a series of bad choices. 

The pandemic has shown that child care is absolutely an economic issue, with increased work absences due to child care problems over the past year and many parents of young children—again, especially mothers—dropping out of the paid workforce entirely over it. There’s an immediate crisis here, but there’s also a long-term problem. It would be great if we could use the crisis to draw attention to the problem and look at longer-term fixes. But in the short term, keeping child care centers open and protecting their workers from COVID-19 are big steps.

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