President Joe Biden signed two executive orders on Friday designed to reduce hunger and strengthen workers' rights during the coronavirus pandemic as his administration urges Congress to pass another comprehensive coronavirus aid package.
A White House move urges the federal government to offer every possible relief through "existing authority," Brian Deese, director of the National Economic Council, told reporters on Thursday evening. The other calls for "the empowerment of federal workers and contractors".
The orders included several tools to offer aid during the pandemic as Biden seeks to advance his $ 1.9 trillion proposal through Congress.
Biden urged the U.S. Department of Agriculture to consider giving states access to enhanced benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program as the country faces a hunger crisis that has been unseen for decades. The USDA will also consider increasing the Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer program by 15%, which will replace meals for low-income children who would otherwise be given something to eat at school. The President urged the Treasury Department to put in place tools to more efficiently deliver the Congress-approved direct payments to eligible individuals. The White House said up to 8 million people failed to receive the first $ 1,200 stimulus check, passed in March. Biden called on the Department of Labor to put in place rules that make it clear that workers have the right to refuse jobs that endanger their health during the pandemic – without losing their right to unemployment benefits. The president called on his administration to prepare a potential executive order that he would like to sign in his first 100 days in office, requiring federal corporations to offer a minimum wage of $ 15 an hour and paid emergency vacation executive orders issued by former President Donald Trump stating the white House harmed the collective bargaining power of workers and abolished a rule that restricts labor protection for civil servants. He called on authorities to review which federal employees earn less than $ 15 an hour.
Before signing the orders on Friday, Biden said the country was "facing the growing hunger crisis." He added that "no one has to choose between a livelihood and their own health or the health of their loved ones".
Biden stressed that he wants Congress to "act now" for wider relief than his government can alone.
"We are in a national emergency. We need to act as if we were in a national emergency," he said.
United States President Joe Biden speaks about his administration's plans to respond to the economic crisis while Vice President Kamala Harris listens during a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) response in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington on January 22, 2021 .
Jonathan Ernst | Reuters
The executive measures fit Biden's early drive to contain the outbreak and mitigate its damage to the economy. He signed a series of orders on Thursday designed to encourage the wearing of masks and streamline the production of Covid vaccines and protective equipment, among other things.
His actions on the first day of Wednesday included extending a federal eviction moratorium through March and a break in federal student loan payments and interest accumulation through September. Both pandemic measures would have expired at the end of the month.
Biden has been looking to boost the economy through executive orders as he seeks to get Congress to pass the $ 1.9 trillion bailout package. Republicans have begun to express doubts about supporting another relief bill after Congress passed a $ 900 billion bill last month.
Deese will speak to a non-partisan group of senators about the aid package on Sunday. Speaking to reporters on Friday, he said he would try to "get in touch" with the senators and "understand their concerns."
Democrats who control a 50:50 Senate through Vice President Kamala Harris' runoff must win 10 GOP votes for the plan or use a budget vote that only requires a majority. The White House has said Biden wants to pass law with the support of both parties.
Deese didn't respond directly on Friday when asked what time the Biden government would decide to move forward with only democratic support.
The Biden administration warned that the US economic recovery could falter, stressing that the risk of spending too much is less than the risk of spending too little. Another 900,000 people filed their first unemployment claims last week, and around 16 million people received benefits, the Labor Ministry said on Thursday.
A $ 300 per week unemployment allowance included in the latest relief bill expires on March 14th. Biden's plan is to extend unemployment benefits by $ 400 a week through September.
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