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Biden Takes Executive Action on COVID Aid Before Congress Considers $1.9 Trillion Package

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President Joe Biden took executive action on Friday to send financial aid to millions of Americans affected by coronavirus lockdowns while Congress begins to consider his much larger $1.9 trillion package.

The two executive orders that Biden signed would increase food aid, protect job seekers on unemployment and clear a path for a $15 hourly minimum wage for federal workers and contractors.

“This can help tens of millions of families — especially those who cannot provide meals for their kids,” Biden said. “A lot of Americans are hurting. The virus is surging. … No matter how you look at it, we need to act.”

Biden described the outlook in the U.S. as bleak, saying the virus could not be stopped in the next several months and predicting that well over 600,000 would die. The nation’s death toll has just passed 400,000.

Biden says additional stimulus is needed beyond the $4 trillion in aid that has already been approved, including $900 billion this past December.

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Nearly 10 million jobs have been lost since last February.

One of Biden’s orders directs the Agriculture Department to consider adjusting the rules for food assistance, so that the government would be obligated to provide more money to the poor.

Children who are unable to get school meals because of remote learning could receive a 15 percent increase in food aid, according to a fact sheet provided by the White House. The poorest households could qualify for the emergency benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

The order also tries to make it easier for people to claim direct payments from prior aid packages and other benefits. In addition, it would guarantee that workers could still collect unemployment benefits if they refuse to take a job that could jeopardize their health.

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Biden’s second executive order would restore union bargaining rights revoked by the Trump administration and promote a $15 hourly minimum wage for all federal workers.

Biden also plans to start a 100-day process for the federal government to require its contractors to pay at least $15 an hour and provide emergency paid leave to workers.

These orders arrive as the Biden administration has declined to provide a timeline for getting its proposed relief package through Congress, saying that officials are beginning to schedule meetings with lawmakers to discuss the proposal.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at a Thursday briefing that the proposal has wide-ranging support.

But not all components of the package are popular among Republicans, including the proposed doubling of the federal minimum wage.

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Psaki stressed that Biden wants any deal to be bipartisan. She told ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Friday that Biden is “not going to take tools off the table” as he looks to bring Republicans on board.

Neil Bradley, chief policy officer at the Chamber of Commerce, told reporters on Thursday that Congress should act fast to approve the roughly $400 billion for vaccinations, reopening schools and other parts of the plan with bipartisan support, rather than drag out negotiations.

“We’re not going to let areas of disagreement prevent progress on areas where we can find common ground,” Bradley said.

“We cannot afford six months to get the vaccination process working right. … We can’t even wait six weeks to get vaccinations distributed and schools reopened.”


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