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Biden signs two executive orders on Covid economic relief, worker protections

Biden has signed a number of executive orders to roll back Trump-era policies, as well as address the Covid-19 pandemic.
Image: President Joe Biden Discusses His Administration's Covid Response Plan And Signs Executive Orders
President Joe Biden speaks during an event at the State Dining Room of the White House on Thursday.Alex Wong / Getty Images

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden signed 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.

"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 in a speech ahead of signing the orders.

"If we act now, our economy will be stronger in both the short and long run. That’s what economists both left, right and center are telling us."

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The first order, which the White House called an "all-of-government" effort, asks 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.

The order also expands the emergency increase in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, commonly known as food stamps, authorized by Congress to include those at the lowest income levels. That could provide a family with three children with more than $100 in extra benefits every two months, administration officials said.

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.

The order signed Friday also asks the Treasury Department to update the process it uses to issue direct payments after a number of qualifying Americans reported issues and delays getting the first two rounds of stimulus checks last year. The order also establishes a coordination system across federal agencies to help people better navigate what relief benefits they qualify for.

Biden's order also allows for workers who turn down employment out of concerns about health risks amid the pandemic to qualify for unemployment benefits.

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

The second executive order Biden signed revoked orders put in place by former President Donald Trump in an effort to restore collective bargaining power for federal workers. The second order also asks federal agencies to pay a $15-an-hour minimum wage.

Biden also started the planning to require federal contractors to pay a $15 minimum wage and to provide emergency paid leave.

Deese told reporters on Friday that he did not have an estimate as to how many federal workers and contractors are currently paid less than $15 an hour.

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.