Updated Jan 22, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Biden to attempt "emergency economic relief" by executive order

President Biden

President Biden. Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

President Biden will continue his executive action blitz on Friday, issuing two more orders in an attempt to provide immediate relief to struggling families without waiting for Congress.

Why it matters: In his second full day in office, Biden is again resorting to executive actions as he tries to increase payments for nutritional assistance and protect workers' rights during the pandemic.

  • "These actions are not a substitute for comprehensive legislative relief or reform that is in the American rescue plan," said Brian Deese, director of the National Economic Council. "But they will provide a critical lifeline to millions of American families."

The big picture: Last week, Biden asked Congress to consider a $1.9 trillion COVID relief package to address the economic and health impacts of the coronavirus.

  • In addition to $140 billion in public health investments, Biden called for Americans to receive $1,400 per person direct payments.
  • But the package's overall price tag will likely be winnowed down in Congress, where Biden will need to muster 60 votes in the Senate to pass a bill quickly.

Details: Friday's first executive order is billed as a "whole of government" approach, but primarily focuses on the departments of Agriculture, Treasury and Veterans Affairs to consider administrative changes to how they calculate payments under various federal programs.

  • One goal is to have the Department of Agriculture readjust the formula for families whose children are missing meals due to school closures — and increase their benefit by approximately 15%, which could mean another $100 per month for families with three children.
  • Biden is also asking the Department of Veterans Affairs to consider pausing federal collections on overpayments and debts, potentially helping some 2 million veterans.

The second executive order is designed to protect workers and increase wages and also revokes three Trump executive orders.

  • It will ask the Labor Department to "consider clarifying" whether workers who refuse employment for fear it will endanger their health will still be eligible for unemployment insurance.
  • The order also directs the department to lay the groundwork to require federal contractors to pay a $15 minimum wage and emergency paid leave to workers.

The bottom line: The operative word in these executive actions is "consider." Biden is putting his own departments on notice that he expects them to interpret regulations broadly to help families in this unprecedented crisis.

  • But Biden will need congressional action to get the trillions of dollars his economists say is required.
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