Biden Orders Boost in Food Aid, Paves Way for $15 Federal Minimum Wage

President Biden signed a pair of executive orders he says will jumpstart the economy and keep food on the table for Americans hit hardest by the pandemic.

President Joe Biden signs executive orders Thursday after speaking about the coronavirus, accompanied by Vice President Kamala Harris and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

WASHINGTON (CN) — A flurry of executive orders ushering in a new era at the White House continued Friday as President Joe Biden signed off on directives aimed at improving food security for millions of struggling Americans and paving the way for a $15 minimum wage for federal workers.

“We cannot, we will not let people go hungry. We cannot let people be evicted because of nothing they did themselves. We cannot watch people lose their jobs. We have to act and we have to act now,” Biden said at a press conference at the White House. “It’s not just about the moral obligation, this is an economic imperative. There’s a growing economic consensus that we must act decisively and boldly.”

The first order directs the U.S. Department of Agriculture and a host of other federal agencies to broaden access to federal food assistance and remove any red tape currently barring some people from tapping into the Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer program, or P-EBT.

Almost 30 million Americans are food insecure and the order could help cushion the blow for young children especially. Under Biden’s order, P-EBT benefits will be increased by about 15% for families in poverty who rely on assistance like school lunch programs. This could mean families of three or four would see an additional $100 tacked onto existing benefits.

“For a family of four, it would mean about a 15% to 20% increase,” White House national economic director Brian Deese said during a press conference ahead of Biden’s remarks.

The level of benefits a family can receive under the regular food stamps program, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, must also be reassessed by federal agencies under the order.

Last year, the Trump administration declined to expand food benefits for families already receiving them and most Republicans in the House and Senate argued against an increase, claiming it would disincentivize workers from finding steady employment. However, A recent study by the National Employment Law Project and the Groundwork Collaborative found that argument lacking. 

The executive order also creates a new online tool to for the direct stimulus payments Congress approved late last year, helping those who have yet to receive their checks track the process through the Treasury Department.

Emphasizing worker safety during the pandemic, Biden also ordered a review of unemployment benefits for those who feel going to work during the Covid-19 crisis poses a direct risk to their health.

His administration has argued workers have a right to refuse employment that will jeopardize their health and should still qualify for unemployment benefits if they do refuse a potentially dangerous job.

“No one should have to choose between their livelihoods and their own health and the health of their loved ones in the middle of a deadly pandemic,” Biden said.

The other executive order signed Friday directs administration officials to begin considering increasing the minimum wage for federal workers to $15 an hour. The increase would not go into effect until after the review is complete. For now, the order primarily tasks department heads with determining which federal employees earn less than $15 per hour and what it would take to increase those rates across the board.

Biden has already asked Congress to consider increasing the minimum wage for all Americans to $15 as a part of his administration’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan.

The federal worker order also restores collective bargaining power for civil servants and eliminates a novel employment classification former President Donald Trump put into effect in October that stripped federal employees of protections and made them easier to fire without recourse.

Deese said Friday that Trump’s maneuver last fall “provided a potential pathway to burrow political appointees” into civil service instead of relying on a candidate’s merits or experience.

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