The Biden Administration's flurry of no fewer than 50 executive orders, executive actions and legislative action-items continued apace on Friday as the administration turned its attention to combating economic and "racial" inequality, following Thursday's COVID focus. Biden is cooking up two new EOs on Friday, one which raises the minimum wage nationally, and another expanding food stamp accessibility.
The administration appears to be pivoting on from Thursday's theme - combating the COVID crisis - to Friday's theme (as previewed yesterday by the Hill a day ago) which is focused entirely on "economic/racial" inequality.
First thing's first, Biden is signing two executive orders Thursday aimed at speeding pandemic stimulus checks to families who need it most, while increasing food aid for children who normally rely on school meals as a main source of nutrition.
Biden, who has proposed a $1.9 trillion stimulus package (at least the third since the start of this whole debacle, if one counts the measure passed last fall by Trump and his team), is using the two orders to try to ease the financial burden on Americans while Congress continues to battle over the next stimulus package, which is already seeing some (not-unexpected) pushback from Republicans like Mitt Romney who once lambasted Trump for his utter unwillingness to work with the other side (even though they once would have done the same.
Here's more on the package from Reuters:
Biden, who has proposed a $1.9 trillion stimulus package, is using the two orders to try to ease the burden on people while the legislation is negotiated in Congress. He has made fighting the pandemic an early focus of his new administration.
The pandemic recession has hit Americans hard. Some 16 million are now receiving some type of unemployment benefit, and an estimated 29 million don’t have enough to eat. Women, minorities and low-income service workers have been disproportionately impacted, with Black and Hispanic workers facing higher jobless rates than white workers.
“We’re at a precarious moment in our economy,” Brian Deese, director of the White House National Economic Council, told reporters in a preview of the orders.
He said the actions are not a substitute for comprehensive legislative relief, “but they will provide a critical lifeline to millions of American families.”
The new president's first agenda item will be taking steps to expand and improve delivery of stimulus checks.
In the first order, Biden will ask the Treasury Department to consider taking steps to expand and improve delivery of stimulus checks, such as establishing online tools for claiming payments. “Many Americans faced challenges receiving the first round of direct payments and as many as 8 million eligible households did not receive the payments issued in March,” a White House fact sheet said.
On the minimum wage front, Biden plans to sign a Friday Executive Order which would require federal contractors to pay their workers a $15 minimum wage as well as provide emergency paid leave. The Order will direct the Federal government to "start the work that would allow him to issue" and order "within the first 100 days" requiring the $15 per hour minimum wage.
Yet, as we noted on Wednesday, 75 years of minimum wage boosts have had a negative effect on employment, every time.
Biden is also seeking to supply more access to school children and families who normally depend on these school focused programs. But instead of doing it unilaterally, he wiill ask the Agriculture Department to come up with new guidelines promising at least one free meal a day for families with children who once depended on in-school lunches. Per Reuters, this could provide a family with three children more than $100 of additional support every two months.
"USDA will consider issuing new guidance that would allow states to increase SNAP emergency allotments for those who need it most. This would be the first step to ensuring that an additional 12 million people get enhanced SNAP benefits to keep nutritious food on the table," the fact sheet said.
Circling back to the massive nearly $2 trillion stimulus program, it looks like moderate Republicans who were the first to repudiate Trump are also being the first to back away from yet another "socialistic" stimulus package despite the demands from Janet Yellen for Congress to "Go Big" or go home.
As of now, it looks like the package won't pass muster in the Democrat-controlled Congress, where their slim majority in the Senate and the House could prove a sticking point, unless Mitt Romney, Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins have their way.
Even as stocks rally to ever-higher highs, it's important to remember that millions of Americans were bitter abiuitSome 16MM are now receiving some type of unemployment benefit, and an estimated 29 million don’t have enough to eat.
"We’re at a precarious moment in our economy," said White House Economic Director Brian Deese, who gave reporters in a preview of the orders.
For millions of working-class Americans about to burn through the last of their savings, this could be a major lifeline. For the rest, it's just more fodder for their Robinhood-assisted options trading strategy.
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Today, the President is issuing an Executive Order that will launch an all-of-government effort to provide equitable emergency economic relief to working families, communities, and small businesses across the nation. The actions taken as part of this effort will provide relief to millions of American workers who have lost their jobs and had their hours or wages slashed through no fault of their own. They will help working families feed their children and keep a roof over their head. They will help ensure that unemployed Americans no longer have to choose between paying their bills and keeping themselves and their families safe from COVID-19 by clarifying that workers who refuse unsafe working conditions can still receive unemployment insurance. And, they will help more unemployed workers pay for training and college so they can find better jobs and succeed in an increasingly competitive job market.
That all-of-government effort will:
Address the growing hunger crisis facing 29 million Americans — and as many as 12 million children – by asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture to consider expanding and extending federal nutrition assistance programs.
Ensure equitable and effective delivery of direct payments — by asking the Treasury Department to consider changing its delivery structure and focus on getting relief to the 8 million Americans who still have not received the financial assistance to which they are entitled.
Help approximately 2 million veterans maintain their financial footing by asking the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to consider pausing federal collections on overpayments and debts.
Help ensure that unemployed Americans no longer have to choose between paying their bills and keeping themselves and their families safe from COVID-19 by asking the U.S. Department of Labor to consider clarifying that workers who refuse unsafe working conditions can still receive unemployment insurance.
Enable effective and equitable distribution of government assistance by establishing an interagency benefit coordination structure.
The President is also asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to consider taking the following steps to provide nutrition assistance to working families, including to:
Increase access to nutritious food for millions of children missing meals due to school closures. Established under Families First Coronavirus Response Act, the Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer (P-EBT) connects low-income families with kids with food dollars equivalent to the value of the school meals missed due to COVID-related school closures. To date, the program has only allowed P-EBT benefit amounts up to $5.70 per child per school day and many households have had trouble claiming benefits. To address these concerns and expand needed relief, the President is asking USDA to consider issuing new guidance increasing P-EBT benefits by approximately 15% to accurately reflect the costs of missing meals and make it easier for households to claim benefits. For instance, this action could provide a family with three children more than $100 of additional support every two months.
Allow larger emergency Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program allotments for the lowest-income households. Congress authorized emergency increases to SNAP benefits to help address food insecurity during the pandemic. So far, those benefit increases have not been made available to all of the lowest income households. USDA will consider issuing new guidance that would allow states to increase SNAP emergency allotments for those who need it most. This would be the first step to ensuring that an additional 12 million people get enhanced SNAP benefits to keep nutritious food on the table.
Update food assistance benefits to reflect the true cost of a basic healthy diet. More than 40 million Americans count on SNAP to help put food on the table. Currently, however, USDA’s Thrifty Food Plan, the basis for determining SNAP benefits, is out of date with the economic realities most struggling households face when trying to buy and prepare healthy food. As a result, the benefits fall short of what a healthy, adequate diet costs for many households. Therefore, as directed by the 2018 Farm Bill, the President will ask USDA to consider beginning the process of revising the Thrifty Food Plan to better reflect the modern cost of a healthy basic diet.
PROTECTING AND EMPOWERING FEDERAL WORKERS AND CONTRACTORS
The federal government should only award contracts to employers who give their workers the pay and benefits they have earned; President Biden is today directing his administration to start the work that would allow him to issue an Executive Order within the first 100 days that requires federal contractors to pay a $15 minimum wage and provide emergency paid leave to workers.
He is also taking critical steps to protect and empower federal employees, who dedicate their careers to serving the American people. They keep us healthy, safe, and informed, and their work transcends partisan politics. They are health care workers who care for veterans, the elderly, and the disabled. They are expert scientists, medical doctors, and technicians who maintain world-class standards, prevent and combat the spread of infectious diseases, and save countless lives. They deliver our mail, run our national parks, keep our federal buildings up and running, help protect us against climate change and environmental poisoning, and ensure that the law is applied faithfully and fairly. They are talented, hard-working, and inspiring Americans, worthy of the utmost dignity and respect. But, over the last four years, they’ve been undermined and demoralized. The President will sign an executive order taking steps to protect and empower federal employees who are so essential to this country. It:
Restores collective bargaining power and worker protections by revoking Trump Executive Orders 13836, 13837, and 13839. It goes further to direct agencies to bargain over permissible, non-mandatory subjects of bargaining when contracts are up for negotiation so that workers have a greater voice in their working conditions.
Eliminates Schedule F, which undermines the foundations of the civil service. Its existence threatens the critical protections of career employees and provides a pathway to burrow political appointees into the civil service.
Promotes a $15 minimum wage. The Executive Order directs the Office of Personnel Management to develop recommendations to pay more federal employees at least $15 per hour.
These steps will help ensure the federal government is a model employer and restore protections to career civil servants who are so essential to this country.