President Joe Biden signed two executive orders Friday designed to reduce hunger and bolster workers' rights during the coronavirus pandemic, as his administration pushes Congress to pass another sweeping coronavirus relief package.
One White House measure urges the federal government to offer any relief it can through "existing authority," National Economic Council Director Brian Deese told reporters Thursday night. The other calls for "empowering federal workers and contractors."
The orders set out multiple tools to offer aid during the pandemic, while Biden tries to nudge his $1.9 trillion proposal through Congress.
Before signing the orders Friday, Biden said the country needs to "tackle the growing hunger crisis." He added that "no one should have to choose between their livelihoods and their own health, or the health of their loved ones."
Biden stressed that he wants Congress to "act now" to provide broader relief than his administration can alone.
"We're in a national emergency. We need to act like we're in a national emergency," he said.
The executive actions fit into Biden's early push to curb the outbreak and mitigate its damage to the economy. He signed a series of orders Thursday designed to promote mask wearing and streamline production of Covid vaccines and protective equipment, among other goals.
His first-day actions Wednesday included extensions of a federal eviction moratorium through March, and a pause on federal student loan payments and interest accumulation through September. Both pandemic relief measures would have expired at the end of the month.
Biden has moved to boost the economy through executive orders while he tries to get the $1.9 trillion aid package passed by Congress. Republicans have started to express doubts about backing another relief bill after Congress approved $900 billion legislation last month.
Deese will hold a call with a bipartisan group of senators about the aid package on Sunday. Speaking to reporters Friday, he said he will try to "engage with" the senators and "understand their concerns."
Democrats, who control a 50-50 Senate through Vice President Kamala Harris' tiebreaking vote, will need to win 10 GOP votes for the plan or use budget reconciliation, which requires only a majority. The White House has said Biden wants to pass a bill with bipartisan support.
Deese did not directly answer Friday when asked at what point the Biden administration would decide it should move forward with only Democratic support.
The Biden administration has warned that the U.S. economic recovery could fizzle and stressed that the risk of spending too much money is lower than the risk of spending too little. Another 900,000 people made first-time jobless claims last week, and roughly 16 million people were receiving benefits, the Labor Department said Thursday.
A $300 per week federal unemployment supplement included in the latest aid law expires on March 14. Biden's plan seeks to extend the jobless benefit at an increased $400 per week through September.