In this Dec. 4, 2019, file photo, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra speaks during a news conference in Sacramento, California. The former congressman has been nominated by President Joe Biden to head the Health and Human Services Department. Credit: Rich Pedroncelli / AP

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Don Berry of Sumner is president of the Maine Chapter of the Alliance for Retired Americans.

Our country is in the middle of the worst public health crisis in American history, and despite the approval of multiple COVID-19 vaccines, the Trump administration’s failure to effectively distribute the vaccine far and wide has undermined the response to the pandemic, leaving Mainers vulnerable to the virus. Maine’s seniors have been at the forefront of the most vulnerable populations in this pandemic.

With more than 460,000 American lives lost to COVID-19, including 639 Mainers — the vast majority being seniors — and millions more out of work, the Biden administration must make up for lost time in tackling the pandemic and rebuilding our nation’s economy. Now more than ever, we need a strong, experienced leader to serve as Secretary for the Department of Health and Human Services, and Xavier Becerra is the right person for the job.

While the Trump administration spent the last year refusing to acknowledge the severity of the COVID-19 crisis, and mishandled our country’s response to the pandemic, President Joe Biden has been working on a plan to slow the spread of the virus, and to rebuild our economy. Key to that plan is his appointment of a strong, experienced, diverse team, led by Health and Human Services Secretary-designate Becerra, a fierce health care champion whose experience in Congress and state government makes him uniquely qualified to serve as Health and Human Services secretary.

Throughout his career, Becerra has been on the front lines fighting to expand access to affordable care and protect underserved communities. As a member of Congress, Becerra was an original co-sponsor of the Affordable Care Act, and a staunch defender of Medicare and Medicaid. In his 24 years in Congress, Becerra worked across the aisle to get things done, prioritizing the health and safety of his community over partisan differences. 

As HHS Secretary, Becerra will work to undo the damage done by the Trump administration, and hit the reset that experts are calling for to revitalize our country’s vaccine rollout. Until then, millions will remain unprotected against the virus, and unable to safely return to work.

Mainers are suffering, and millions across the country are struggling to make ends meet. Nearly 20 million Americans filed for jobless benefits in mid-December and job growth has slowed.

Instead of providing support to those in need, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans spent months blocking meaningful relief for the American people. Unfortunately, we cannot effectively rebuild the economy and get people back to work until the virus is under control, and we need leaders at our federal health department who will confront this crisis head-on. Becerra is up to this job and must be swiftly confirmed by the Senate.

We have waited long enough for real leadership, and with the virus spreading in Maine and across the country, we cannot wait any longer. The pandemic demands a strong and knowledgeable HHS secretary who can marshal the people and resources to not only contain the spread of the virus, but also ensure a smooth and equitable vaccination distribution program that doesn’t leave communities behind.

Xavier Becerra is the right person at the right time and he deserves the support of Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. Senate. To delay his appointment is to prolong our suffering and put millions more Americans’ lives in jeopardy.