President Joe Biden challenged the country to focus on mental health — especially for the nation’s children — during his annual State of the Union address, March 1.

Noting that the lives and education of children “have been turned upside down,” the president called attention to the American Rescue Plan, which has provided funding for schools to hire teachers and help students make up for lost learning.

In seeking to combat learning loss stemming from the pandemic, the president urged everyone to step up by being tutors or mentors for children in need.

“Children were also struggling before the pandemic. Bullying, violence, trauma, and the harms of social media,” he said. “As Frances Haugen, who is here with us tonight, has shown, we must hold social media platforms accountable for the national experiment they’re conducting on our children for profit.” (Haugen, a former Facebook employee, shared tens of thousands of Facebook’s internal documents with the Securities and Exchange Commission and The Wall Street Journal in 2021.)

Biden also called for strengthening privacy protections, banning targeted advertising to children and urged tech companies to “stop collecting personal data on our children.”

Cost of Child Care

Biden cited the high cost of childcare in the United States, noting that many families pay up to $14,000 per year for childcare per child.

“Middle-class and working families shouldn’t have to pay more than 7% of their income for care of young children,” he said. “My plan will cut the cost in half for most families and help parents, including millions of women, who left the workforce during the pandemic because they couldn’t afford childcare, to be able to get back to work.”

He added that his plan would provide affordable housing as well as pre-K “for every 3- and 4-year-old.”

The president urged legislators to extend the Child Tax Credit “so no one has to raise a family in poverty” — and to increase Pell Grants and increase support of historically black colleges and universities and to invest in community colleges.

Biden also looked back on the toll of COVID-19, noting that severe cases are down to a level not seen since last July.

“Just a few days ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — the CDC — issued new mask guidelines,” he said. “Under these new guidelines, most Americans in most of the country can now be mask free.  And based on the projections, more of the country will reach that point across the next couple of weeks. Thanks to the progress we have made this past year, COVID-19 need no longer control our lives.”

The president’s comments came as New Jersey’s universal mask mandate in schools is expiring.

Biden also urged Americans to continue to get vaccinated. “Now, I know parents with kids under 5 are eager to see a vaccine authorized for their children,” he said. “The scientists are working hard to get that done and we’ll be ready with plenty of vaccines when they do.”

On schools, he said they are open and added, “Let’s keep it that way. Our kids need to be in school.”

Read President Biden’s full remarks.