WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden plans to sign two executive orders Friday to address the economic toll of the coronavirus pandemic, including expanding food stamps and beginning the process to require that everyone working for the federal government get a minimum wage of $15 an hour.
National Economic Council Director Brian Deese said the orders, which add to a slew Biden has already approved, are “not a substitute” for the massive $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief bill that Biden hopes Congress will pass, but rather a “critical lifeline” for millions of Americans who need assistance now.
“The American people can’t afford to wait. So many are hanging on by a thread,” he said.
Biden’s “all-of-government” effort will ask the Agriculture Department to increase by 15 percent a Covid-19 food assistance program that provides nutritional assistance to families with children who would normally receive free or reduced-price lunches when schools were in regular sessions, as well as expand the emergency increase in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits authorized by Congress to include those at the lowest income levels.
The order will also ask the Treasury Department to update its process to issue direct payments after a number of qualifying Americans reported issues and delays getting the first two rounds of stimulus checks last year, a hurdle Biden hopes to avoid with the third round of payments included in his relief bill.
Biden will also ask the Labor Department to allow for workers who refuse employment out of concerns about health risks to qualify for unemployment benefits. The order will create a coordination system across federal agencies to help people better navigate what relief benefits they qualify for.
The second executive order Biden is expected to sign will revoke orders signed by former President Donald Trump to restore collective bargaining power and ask federal agencies to pay a $15-an-hour minimum wage.
Biden will also start the planning to require federal contractors to pay a $15 minimum wage and to provide emergency paid leave.
Biden inherits a deeply damaged economy, with about 900,000 Americans having filed for unemployment benefits last week, according to the first labor market data released under his presidency. Coronavirus deaths in the country have surpassed 400,000.
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Biden has signed a number of executive orders since he took office Wednesday to swiftly roll back some Trump-era policies, as well as tackle the coronavirus.
On Thursday, Biden signed an executive order requiring people to wear masks in airports and on airplanes, trains and maritime vessels. He also directed agencies to use their powers, including the Defense Production Act, to accelerate production of items in short supply.
Aides have said more executive actions are expected in the coming days and weeks.