Janet Yellen has been confirmed as the first woman to head the US Treasury.
The former chair of the Federal Reserve and noted economist was approved by the Senate on an 84-15 vote. She sailed through a congressional hearing last week and had already been unanimously approved by the Senate finance committee and backed by all living former treasury secretaries.
She faces a monumental task. Last week another 900,000 people filed for unemployment benefits – more than the population of San Francisco and four times the number of weekly claims made before the coronavirus pandemic struck.
Businesses are closing across the US amid a surge in infections. The US reported more than 188,000 new cases for Thursday, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, and close to 4,000 people are dying each day.
At the hearing Yellen said it was imperative for the government to “act big” on the next coronavirus relief package and argued now is not the time to worry about the costs of a higher debt burden.
Tackling the fallout of Covid-19 would be her top priority, said Yellen, and especially its disproportionately hard impact on communities of color. Black and Latino workers are still experiencing far higher rates of unemployment, at 9.9% and 9.3%, compared with their white counterparts, 6%.
“We need to make sure that people aren’t going hungry in America, that they can put food on the table, that they’re not losing their homes and ending up out on the street because of evictions,” Yellen said. “We really need to address those forms of suffering, and I think we shouldn’t compromise on it.”