President Joe Biden took executive action Friday to expand access to unemployment and food aid while Congress begins considering his proposal for a sweeping $1.9 trillion stimulus package amid continued economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.
One executive order signed by Biden directs the Agriculture Department to provide 15% more in food aid to families whose children are unable to get free school meals because of remote learning.
The same order seeks to make it easier for as many as 8 million U.S. households to receive stimulus checks that they may have missed out on from the first two relief packages because of their tax status. In addition, the order guarantees that workers can still collect unemployment benefits if they refuse to take a job for health reasons.
“No one should have to choose between their livelihoods and their own health in the middle of a pandemic,” Biden said during an appearance with Vice President Kamala Harris at the White House.
A second order Biden issued would restore collective bargaining rights for federal workers rescinded by the Trump administration and pave the way for all government employees to be paid at least $15 per hour, with the hope that the move will pressure private sector companies to bump their wages as well.
“We’re in a national emergency. We need to act like we’re in a national emergency. So we’ve got to move with everything we got,” Biden said.
Still, Biden aides made clear Friday that the executive orders are only meant as stopgaps while waiting on more all-encompassing action from Congress.
“These actions are not a substitute for comprehensive economic relief,” Brian Deese, Biden’s director of the White House National Economic Council, told reporters during a briefing earlier in the day.
Congress is expected to start talks in short order on Biden’s proposed $1.9 trillion stimulus blueprint, which would bankroll $1,400 stimulus checks to most Americans, extend federal unemployment benefits that are set to expire in weeks and funnel more than $400 billion to states for coronavirus vaccination efforts. The stimulus package would also implement a $15 minimum wage on a universal basis.
There’s unanimous support for the $1.9 trillion measure among Democrats, and thanks to the Senate now being under their control, Congress could likely get the package to Biden’s desk without any Republican support.
Still, Biden, who has long prided himself on being able to reach across the aisle, is expected to parlay with Republicans in hopes of getting them to join the push for more relief. GOP support would also allow the package to pass Congress faster.
“If we act now, our economy will be stronger in both the short and long run,” Biden said. “That’s what economists both left, right and center are telling us.”
The pandemic continues to wreak havoc on the economy, with another 900,000 new unemployment claims filed last week, according to Labor Department.
The human toll of the pandemic is also worsening, with more than 3,000 Americans dying every day this week. The total U.S. death toll is expected to surge past 500,000 next month.