How Biden's orders could help America's neediest who have been battered by COVID-19 pandemic

Paul Davidson, USA TODAY
·4 min read

President Biden isn’t wasting any time in his bid to provide relief to the most vulnerable Americans pushed to the brink by the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Friday, his second full day in office, he signed two executive orders that expand food assistance for low-income families, ensure that all Americans get their stimulus checks, protect workers from the pandemic’s workplace hazards and pave the way to a $15 minimum wage for federal workers and contractors.

USA TODAY economics reporter Paul Davidson breaks down what the orders mean, how many people they could affect and what their impact could be:

Why are these executive actions needed? Hasn’t Congress already approved COVID-19 relief legislation, and hasn’t Biden proposed additional aid in another bill?

Yes, Congress recently passed a $900 billion relief package that provides more aid to the unemployed and struggling small businesses, a $600 check to most individuals and more money for vaccine distribution. And Biden is proposing an additional $1.9 trillion measure that would extend and expand the unemployment assistance, send another $1,400 check to most Americans, provide rental assistance and extend a 15% increase in food stamp benefits through September, among other provisions.

But passing legislation can take some time and could be further delayed by former President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial in the Senate. So Biden is signing the executive orders, which don’t require Congress’s approval, to rapidly assist the neediest and most vulnerable Americans.

How many people are struggling to put food on the table?

An estimated 29 million adults in at least 8 million children are coping with food insecurity.

How will these executive actions help?

An existing program, called Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer, was intended to replace school meals that children from low-income families missed because of COVID-19-related school closures. But the program only provides up to $5.70 per child each day and many households have trouble claiming the benefits. Biden is asking the Agriculture Department to consider new guidance that would increase the amount by 15% and make it easier for households to claim the money. A family with three children could receive more than $100 in additional support every two months.

Also, Congress authorized emergency increases to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps, to help address food insecurity during the pandemic. But as many as 12 million low-income people didn’t get the allotment because the Trump administration determined that 40% of families already receiving SNAP benefits weren’t eligible. The executive action could boost the benefit for a family of four by 15% to 20% a month.

Finally, more than 40 million Americans receive SNAP benefits, but the way they’re calculated falls short of what it costs for a healthy diet. Biden is asking the Agriculture Department to revise its Thrifty Food Plan to better reflect those costs.

President Joe Biden speaks about the coronavirus in the State Dinning Room of the White House, Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021, in Washington.
President Joe Biden speaks about the coronavirus in the State Dinning Room of the White House, Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021, in Washington.

How will the actions help people receive stimulus checks?

Even as Biden pushes for a total $2,000 in new payments to individuals, as many as 8 million households didn’t receive the $1,200 checks issued in March. Biden is asking the Treasury Department to consider taking steps to ensure that those who haven’t received the money get the relief they deserve and come up with ways, including online tools, to generally improve the payment system.

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How would the president better protect some families from COVID-19?

The nation’s 10.7 million unemployed workers sometimes are faced with a dilemma. Those who refuse a job offer could be denied unemployment benefits. Biden is asking the Labor Department to clarify that workers have a right to refuse employment that would jeopardize their health without losing their jobless benefits.

How would Biden ensure the federal workforce receives a $15 minimum wage?

Biden is asking his administration to start the work that would allow him to issue an executive order within his first 100 days requiring federal contractors to pay their workers a $15 minimum wage and provide them emergency paid leave.

Biden is also ordering federal agencies to determine which federal workers earn less than $15 an hour and draft recommendations to bring their pay to that level. Biden is also revoking some of Trump's actions that restricted collective bargaining for federal workers when their contracts are renegotiated.

Tax and stimulus guide: Stimulus checks and taxes: What you need to know before filing your 2020 income tax returns

Contributing: Michael Collins

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Joe Biden: How his executive orders could quickly aid neediest?