The Covid Economy

Biden signs executive orders to increase food stamps benefits and send missing stimulus checks

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021.
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President Joe Biden issued two executive orders on Friday aimed at combating the nation's ongoing hunger crisis and addressing the financial instability felt by millions of families and exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.

Today's orders follow a slew of other memos signed by Biden in his first few days in office, which aim to tackle the worsening economic and public health crises devastating the nation. Those orders included extending the nationwide eviction ban and the pause on federal student loan payments.

National Economic Council director Brian Deese called the orders a "critical lifeline" for millions of families at the White House Friday, noting that Biden also introduced a more comprehensive $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package earlier this month. The package would provide additional funds for vaccine production and distribution, unemployment insurance, stimulus checks and more.

"Our economy is at a very precarious moment," Deese said. "It's a moment that requires decisive action to beat this pandemic and support the economic recovery that American families need."

These are the issues the executive orders Biden signed Friday address:


Biden is taking major steps to address the "growing" hunger crisis in the U.S., Deese said, directing the Department of Agriculture to increase the value of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for an estimated 12 million families by 15% to 20% through September 2021.

Additionally, the order calls for the department to consider increasing Pandemic-EBT benefits by 15%, getting more aid to families with children who would have received free or reduced school lunches. This could provide a family with three children an extra $100 each month, according to Deese.

An estimated 6 to 7 million people have applied and been approved for SNAP benefits since February 2020, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a 17% increase from before the pandemic.

Stimulus checks

Biden is also asking the Treasury Department to take additional measures to finally deliver stimulus checks to taxpayers who are eligible but have not yet received them. While most people received their payments, an estimated 8 million people — including many who do not typically make enough money to file taxes — are still missing the first $1,200 check authorized under the CARES Act in March 2020. Millions of taxpayers have also not yet received the second stimulus check, though many are still being delivered.

Last year, the Treasury Department created an online tool that helped low income people get the first payment without filing a tax return. The department could create additional tools to help people now, and reach out to those who have not been paid directly, among other measures. These fixes are especially important for Biden as he plans to improve the delivery process for his desired third payment.

Unemployment benefits

The president is also asking the Department of Labor to clarify to states that workers have a "federally-guaranteed right to refuse employment that would jeopardize their health" and still qualify for unemployment insurance (UI) during the pandemic, Deese said.

"This is a commonsense step to make sure that workers have a right to safe work environments, and that we don't put workers, in the middle of a pandemic, in a position where they have to choose between their own livelihoods and the health of they and their families," he said.

The CARES Act, passed last year, allowed people more leeway to quit and still receive benefits if they felt their health and safety was at risk. But as the pandemic dragged on for months, some states began restricting the circumstances under which workers could do leave their jobs and still qualify for UI. This order would ensure that states follow a broader, more uniform standard.

$15 minimum wage

Finally, a second order will establish, within his first 100 days in office, a $15 minimum wage and emergency paid leave for federal employees and contractors. The relief plan Biden unveiled earlier this month also calls on Congress to establish a national $15 minimum hourly wage. Currently it is $7.25 per hour.

Biden's second executive order also revokes orders signed by former president Donald Trump that weakened labor unions, allowing federal workers to collectively bargain for increased pay and better benefits.

Check out: Critics say Biden's Covid relief plan breaks promise of $2,000 stimulus checks

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