Biden to sign executive orders to boost food benefits, workers’ rights as part of Covid relief push

President Joe Biden will sign two executive orders Friday designed to reduce hunger and bolster workers’ rights during the coronavirus pandemic, as his administration pushes Congress to pass another sweeping coronavirus relief package.

One White House measure urges the federal government to offer any relief it can through “existing authority,” National Economic Council Director Brian Deese told reporters Thursday night. The other calls for “empowering federal workers and contractors.”

The orders set out multiple tools to offer aid during the pandemic, while Biden tries to nudge his $1.9 trillion proposal through Congress.

  • Biden will ask the U.S. Department of Agriculture to consider allowing states to expand access to enhanced Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits as the country confronts a hunger crisis unseen in decades.
  • The USDA will also examine increasing by 15% the Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer program, which replaces meals for low-income children who would otherwise get food at school.
  • The president will urge the Treasury Department to adopt tools to more efficiently deliver the direct payments approved by Congress to eligible people. The White House said up to 8 million people did not receive the first $1,200 stimulus check passed in March.
  • Biden will ask the Labor Department to set out rules clarifying that workers have the right to turn down work that risks their health during the pandemic — without losing eligibility for jobless benefits.
  • The president asked his administration to prepare a potential executive order, which he aims to sign in his first 100 days in office, that would require federal contractors to offer a $15 per hour minimum wage and emergency paid leave.
  • Biden will revoke executive orders issued by former President Donald Trump that the White House said damaged workers’ collective bargaining power, and get rid of a rule that limited job protections for civil servants.
  • He will call on agencies to review which federal workers make fewer than $15 per hour.

Deese stressed that the orders and others signed this week to provide immediate aid cannot replace another relief package from Congress.

“These actions are not a substitute for comprehensive legislative relief … but they will provide a critical lifeline to millions of American families,” he told reporters.

The executive actions fit into Biden’s early push to curb the outbreak and mitigate its damage to the economy. He signed a series of orders Thursday designed to promote mask wearing and streamline production of Covid vaccines and protective equipment, among other goals.

His first-day actions Wednesday included extensions of a federal eviction moratorium through March, and a pause on federal student loan payments and interest accumulation through September. Both pandemic relief measures would have expired at the end of the month.

Biden has moved to boost the economy through executive orders while he tries to get the $1.9 trillion aid package passed by Congress. Republicans have started to express doubts about backing another relief bill after Congress approved $900 billion legislation last month.

Democrats, who control a 50-50 Senate through Vice President Kamala Harris’ tiebreaking vote, will need to win 10 GOP votes for the plan or use budget reconciliation, which requires only a majority. The White House has said Biden wants to pass a bill with bipartisan support.

The Biden administration has warned that the U.S. economic recovery could fizzle and stressed that the risk of spending too much money is lower than the risk of spending too little. Another 900,000 people made first-time jobless claims last week, and roughly 16 million people were receiving benefits, the Labor Department said Thursday.

A $300 per week federal unemployment supplement included in the latest aid law expires on March 14. Biden’s plan seeks to extend the jobless benefit at an increased $400 per week through September.

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