President Joe Biden's inaugural weekly conversation featured a California woman who wrote a letter to him about being laid off due to the COVID-19 pandemic

By Karen Mizoguchi
February 06, 2021 06:45 PM
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Now that he's in office, President Joe Biden is continuing a tradition previously halted by his predecessor Donald Trump.

On Saturday, the White House debuted Biden's "A Weekly Conversation" series on social media, including YouTube and Twitter.

In the inaugural video, the president, 78, had a phone conversation with Michele Voelkert from Roseville, California, who wrote a letter to Biden after she was laid off for the first time in her life due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"It's just been a tough time as far as trying to find work," says Voelkert, who was seen on camera from California, to Biden, who was seated in the Oval Office and later spoke with Voelkert's daughter on the phone.

"Working is part of who you are. Like my dad used to say, a job is about a lot more than a paycheck. It's about your dignity, it's about your respect, it's about your place in the community. 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 responds.

Joe Biden weekly phone conversation
President Joe Biden
| Credit: The White House/YouTube

"We're putting together a plan that provides for emergency relief to people who are in desperate need now. Everything from mortgage payments to unemployment insurance, to rental subsidies to food security for children. It provides for small, medium-sized businesses to be able to be open," the president said, touting his $1.9 trillion Covid relief package.

Last month, Biden unveiled a proposed stimulus package in light of the ongoing novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The $1.9 trillion proposal aims to combat the economic downturn brought on by the virus and would include $350 billion in state and local aid, $1,400 direct payments to Americans, expanded unemployment benefits and institute a higher federal minimum wage. (The $15 minimum wage is expected to be a controversial provision, as other attempts to raise the wage have been historically unsuccessful due to resistance from Republicans.)

• For more from Joe and Jill Biden's first White House interview, subscribe now to PEOPLE or pick up this week's issue, on newsstands Friday.

Biden's revamp of the weekly conversation series is a modern relaunch in comparison to the pre-written addresses made by his predecessors, including former Presidents Trump, Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

Former President Franklin D. Roosevelt was the first to make the addresses, called "fireside chats," after the Great Depression. In 1982, Ronald Reagan took up the practice during his presidency with weekly broadcasts over the radio.

Bush was the first president to deliver weekly addresses both in English and Spanish, though he only recorded 18 videos, according to Politico, which also reported that Obama posted videos, for which he spoke directly to a camera, almost every Friday.

Trump, who was known to favor Twitter, discontinued the weekly addresses less than two years into his only term, until 2018. Trump's second impeachment trial for Trump is set to start next week.

On Friday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden's weekly address series is part of the president's effort to "regularly communicate directly with the American people," adding, "We expect it to take on a variety of forms."