U.S. President Joe Biden signed a pair of executive orders Friday aimed at providing financial and food security to families impacted by the coronavirus pandemic and at helping federal workers.
The orders would boost food assistance, protect unemployment benefits for job seekers and lay the groundwork for federal employees and contractors to get a $15 minimum wage.
“We have to act now,” Biden said at the White House before he signed the orders.
He said Americans who have seen their paychecks reduced are “barely hanging on,” and that “we cannot, will not, let people go hungry.”
Many people who have been laid off from their jobs because of the pandemic have sought help finding food.
Biden has proposed a $1.9 trillion relief plan to Congress to help Americans suffering from the effects of the coronavirus, but it is not clear if the bill has enough support from lawmakers to pass. Congress passed a $900 billion relief bill in December, and some Republican lawmakers have questioned whether there is a need for another large relief bill.
'Precarious moment' for economy
Earlier Friday, National Economic Council Director Brian Deese said at a White House press briefing, “Our economy is at a very precarious moment."
"If we don't act now, we'll be in a much worse place and will need to do more to dig out of an economic hole,” he said.
Deese said one of the two orders signed Friday asks the U.S. Agriculture Department to increase benefits to families whose children typically rely on school lunches as a primary source of nutrition. Many of those children are now out of school and learning remotely because of the pandemic.
Deese said the order asks the agency to boost Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits by 15% to 20% for as many as 12 million people in the country. Biden administration officials say the change could result in a family with three children receiving more than $100 in extra benefits every two months.
The executive order would also ensure that individuals do not lose unemployment insurance benefits if they turn down a job that would put their health at risk.
Biden's second executive order would restore union bargaining rights revoked by the Trump administration, protect the civil service system and promote a $15 hourly minimum wage for all federal employees and contractors.