Joe Biden on Friday will sign a pair of executive orders aimed at providing immediate relief to American families grappling with the economic toll of the Covid-19 pandemic and expanding safety protections for federal workers.
The first action targets food insecurity, by expanding nutritional programs for low-income families and children. The order would also attempt to clarify a rule to ensure that jobless Americans would still qualify for unemployment insurance if they declined work that would jeopardize their health.
The second order is aimed at expanding protections for federal workers by restoring collective bargaining rights and promoting a $15 federal minimum wage. To do so, Biden will direct agencies to conduct a review of federal workers earning less than $15 an hour and develop recommendations for raising their wages.
“The American people can’t afford to wait,” Brian Deese, Biden’s top economic adviser, said on a call with reporters. “So many are hanging by a thread, they need help and we are committed to doing everything we can to provide that help as quickly as possible.”
The latest executive actions come one day after a labor department report showed that unemployment claims remained at historically high levels, with 900,000 Americans filing for unemployment benefits last week. The figures reflected the magnitude of the economic challenges Biden inherited, amid a resurgence of the coronavirus this winter.
Friday’s actions are part of a blitz of executive orders and directives Biden has taken since assuming the presidency.
Hours after his inauguration, Biden signed an executive order extending a federal pause on evictions through the end of March, a move that will shield millions of Americans struggling to pay rent amid the pandemic. He also directed federal agencies to extend their moratorium on foreclosures of federally guaranteed mortgages and asked the education department to prolong its freeze on federal student loan payments through the end of September.
On Thursday, he unveiled a “wartime” national Covid-19 strategy aimed at growing the production of vaccines, creating guidelines to reopen schools and businesses and imposing new requirements on mask-wearing.
Biden has long argued that economic recovery is tied to combatting the coronavirus, a starkly different approach to his predecessor who urged states to lift restrictions even as infections rose.
The centerpiece of Biden’s plan to alleviate the economic crises is a $1.9tn emergency relief package called the American Rescue Plan, which includes $1,400 direct payments to Americans, an extension of the temporarily-elevated unemployment benefits and billions of dollars for a national vaccination program.
Already Republicans are objecting to the cost of the legislation, raising doubts about whether Biden will be able to attract bipartisan support as he had hoped. Several Republicans questioned the need for an additional stimulus package weeks after they passed a $900bn coronavirus relief bill.
Deese stressed that the president’s unilateral decrees offered only emergency relief and were not a replacement for congressional action.
“These actions are concrete and will provide immediate support to hard-hit families,” he said. “They are not enough, and much, much more is needed.”