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


President Joe Biden signed 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 asked 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 urged 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 asked 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 revoked 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 called on agencies to review which federal workers make fewer than $15 per hour.

Before signing the orders Friday, Biden said the country needs to “tackle the growing hunger crisis.” He added that “no one should have to choose between their livelihoods and their own health, or the health of their loved ones.”

Biden stressed that he wants Congress to “act now” to provide broader relief than his administration can alone.

“We’re in a national emergency. We need to act like we’re in a national emergency,” he said.

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