Biden Signs Executive Orders for Enhanced Food Benefits and Workers' Rights

by Maurie Backman | Updated July 25, 2021 - First published on Jan. 25, 2021

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A mom standing at a kitchen island packing lunch boxes for her daughters who are sitting on stools watching.

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Americans are struggling during the pandemic. Thankfully, the president is taking steps to help.

When Joe Biden was elected president, he pledged to make meaningful strides in the pandemic immediately upon taking office. And so far, he seems to be holding up his end of the bargain.

The president signed two executive orders on Friday, Jan. 22, to help struggling Americans with food insecurity and to protect the rights of the jobless. Here's what the orders entail.

Enhanced food benefits

Many Americans have already exhausted their savings during the pandemic and are struggling to put food on the table. This crisis is made worse because many school districts are closed for in-person learning, and a lot of families rely on schools to provide free or subsidized meals to their children.

Biden is asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to allow states to expand access to enhanced Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. The USDA will also look at increasing the Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer (P-EBT) program by 15%. The program currently replaces meals for children who would otherwise be entitled to free or reduced-cost meals through school.

Protections for jobless workers

The U.S. unemployment rate reached a record high back in April of 2020, and thankfully, it's slowly but surely come down since then. But millions of people are still out of work, and Biden wants to make sure their rights are protected. Specifically, he wants to implement a set of rules that would let jobless workers turn down employment opportunities that put their health at risk without losing their unemployment benefits.

Normally, those who claim unemployment must certify that they're available for work, are actively looking for work, and haven't turned down suitable work. It's that last point that could compromise some people's benefits. Someone who rejects an offer to work at a grocery store, for example, could risk losing unemployment benefits because they turned down that job. But if that person fears taking the job will increase their coronavirus exposure, that's a legitimate concern. Biden intends to make sure that jobless folks don't lose their benefits when they turn down jobs that pose a clear danger to their health.

Biden is still pushing for more relief

These two executive orders might help a lot of people during these troubling times, but as far as Biden is concerned, they're just the tip of the iceberg. The president still intends to push his $1.9 trillion relief proposal, which calls for boosted and enhanced unemployment benefits and a round of $1,400 stimulus checks. Some lawmakers have already expressed concern about the cost of Biden's bill, while others want to see targeted aid given out instead -- meaning stimulus payments specifically for the jobless, not the general public.

With a Democrat-controlled Senate, the chances of a near-term relief package are greater. But Biden still has some hurdles to jump, so Americans shouldn't count on those $1,400 checks just yet. What they should count on, however, is Biden working to provide more relief until the pandemic is well behind us.

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