Biden orders will boost food aid, change rules for federal workers

The new economic executive orders follow a flurry of other proclamations issued this week

President Joe Biden signs documents in the Capitol after his inauguration on Wednesday. (EPA-EFE)
President Joe Biden signs documents in the Capitol after his inauguration on Wednesday. (EPA-EFE)
Posted January 22, 2021 at 5:00am

The White House will release executive orders Friday calling for an “all-of-government effort” to provide wider food and other assistance to Americans amid the pandemic and for changes in labor relations rules, including a mandated $15 an hour minimum wage for federal contractors.

“These actions are not a substitute for comprehensive legislative relief,” said Brian Deese, director of President Joe Biden’s National Economic Council, referring to the administration’s proposed $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan, but will nevertheless “provide a critical lifeline to millions.”

The new economic executive orders follow a flurry of other orders and proclamations issued by Biden since his swearing in on Wednesday that include a nationwide mask-wearing mandate for all public transportation systems and a new board to coordinate federal coronavirus testing efforts.

One new order will urge the Agriculture Department to alter two benefit formulas. The first would increase by 15 percent the $5.70-a-day breakfast and lunch allowance for schoolchildren, while the second would update how benefits are calculated for the Thrifty Food Plan that provides food for 40 million Americans.

The first change would amount to an increase of $105 over two months for a family with three children and the second would boost benefits to a family of four between 15 percent and 20 percent, Deese said on a call with reporters late Thursday.

That would be in addition to the 15 percent increase in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, benefits that were part of the $902 billion aid package (PL 116-260) enacted late last year. That increase is scheduled to expire June 30 and Biden’s executive order will encourage Congress to extend that deadline.

The order will also encourage the Treasury Department to take added actions to get the $600 relief checks approved in the December package to families. Millions of households either didn’t get or were delayed in receiving economic impact payments that were part of the March 2020 relief bill.

It will also ask the Labor Department to look into “clarifying” that workers who turn down employment “that will jeopardize their health” can still qualify for unemployment benefits.

Another order will “direct agencies to take more than a dozen discrete actions to improve the jobs of federal workers,” Deese said.

That order calls on the administration to start work that will set the stage for Biden to issue a separate executive order during his first 100 days in office requiring federal contractors to pay workers at least $15 an hour and also to provide emergency paid leave.

It will also rescind three executive orders having to do with collective bargaining agreements with federal workers signed by President Donald Trump that the former president said “will reduce costs and promote government performance and accountability.” In a release, the White House said rescinding the orders “restores collective bargaining power and worker protections.”

The order will also eliminate a new civil service classification, Schedule F, created by Trump in October that would remove much of the job protections for employees in policymaking positions, basically allowing them to be fired without cause. Democratic appropriators had expressed concern this week that the new classification stripped job protections from nearly 90 percent of the career civil servants at the Office of Management and Budget.

“The order will eliminate schedule F which undermines the foundations of the civil service,” Deese said.