President Joe Biden signed two executive orders on Friday to reduce hunger and empower workers 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 multiple 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 expanded benefits of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program as the country faces a hunger crisis that has not been seen in decades. The USDA will also examine whether the Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer program that it replaces will increase by 15% meals for low-income children who would otherwise be fed in school. The president called on the finance department to put in place tools to more efficiently deliver the direct payments approved by Congress 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 out on unemployment benefits. The president asked 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 damaged the collective bargaining power of workers and abolished a rule that restricts occupational safety for civil servants. He asked 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 as 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 relief efforts would have expired by the end of the month.
Biden has been trying to boost the economy through executive orders while trying 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 when the Biden government would decide to move forward only with democratic support.
The Biden administration has warned that the US economic recovery could be faltering, stressing that the risk of spending too much is less than the risk of spending too little. Another 900,000 people filed unemployment claims for the first time last week, and around 16 million people received benefits, the Ministry of Labor said on Thursday.
A $ 300 per week unemployment benefit included in the latest relief bill expires on March 14th. Biden’s plan is to extend unemployment benefits by $ 400 a week through September.
Subscribe to CNBC on YouTube.