October 17, 2021

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Biden Plans Executive Action to Expand Food Stamps and Speed Stimulus Checks – The New York Times

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WASHINGTON — President Biden will issue an executive order on Friday aimed at steering additional federal aid to families struggling to afford food amid the pandemic and at helping workers stay safe on the job.

Mr. Biden, who has vowed to use the power of the presidency to help mitigate economic fallout from the pandemic, will also direct the Treasury Department to find ways to deliver stimulus checks to millions of eligible Americans who have not yet received the funds.

The president also plans to sign a second executive order that will lay the groundwork for the federal government to institute a $15 an hour minimum wage for its employees and contract workers, while making it easier for federal workers to bargain collectively for better pay and benefits.

The actions are part of an attempt by Mr. Biden to override his predecessor, former President Donald J. Trump, on issues pertaining to workers, the economy and the federal safety net. The orders Mr. Biden will sign on Friday signal a break from the Trump administration’s attempts to limit the scope of many federal benefits that Trump officials said created a disincentive for Americans to work.

Mr. Biden has issued a series of economic orders in his first days in the White House, which his aides have cast as emergency relief for Americans struggling in the Covid economy. He has also called on Congress to approve a $1.9 trillion economic rescue package in the coming weeks.

“We are at a precarious moment in our economy,” Brian Deese, who directs the National Economic Council, told reporters in a call previewing the orders. “The American people cannot afford to wait. So many are hanging by a thread.”

The orders Mr. Biden will sign Friday would increase the weekly value of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, commonly known as food stamps, for about 12 million families who depend on the program the most, according to White House estimates. The aid would increase weekly benefits by 15 to 20 percent for a family of four, Mr. Deese said. Congress approved enhanced benefits as part of its economic aid efforts last year, but the Trump administration did not expand benefits for households receiving the maximum benefit under the program.

The order will also increase the value of an emergency benefit, also included in economic rescue legislation, to provide money for families to replace the free meals students would have been receiving at school before the pandemic forced students out of classrooms. That expansion would amount to an extra $100 every two months for a family of three.

Mr. Biden will also seek to allow workers to draw unemployment benefits if they quit jobs they fear are unsafe amid the pandemic, by asserting “that workers have a federally guaranteed right to refuse employment that will jeopardize their health, and if they do so, they will still qualify for unemployment insurance,” White House officials said in a fact sheet detailing the orders.

Some Republicans fought an expansion of unemployment benefits last year, saying workers would quit jobs or avoid looking for work in order to draw government benefits. Academic research has not supported that fear, and employers have once again begun shedding jobs as the virus persists, presenting a hurdle for those who want to find employment.

To help struggling individuals and families, Mr. Biden will direct the Treasury Department to find new ways to get stimulus checks, including $600 checks passed in December and $1,200 checks passed in March, to as many as eight million eligible people who have not yet received them.

The second order seeks to undo some of Mr. Trump’s orders pertaining to the federal work force, including one that gave presidents more leeway to hire and fire workers and others that limited some bargaining rights for employees. It will also direct federal agencies to determine which of their workers earn less than $15 an hour, and to develop “recommendations to promote a $15 per hour minimum wage for them,” the fact sheet said.

Mr. Biden has called on Congress to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour for all workers.

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