Written by 12:43 PM News

Biden signs executive orders on food aid and worker protections

President Joe Biden signed two executive orders address the economic toll of the coronavirus pandemic, including expanding food stamps and beginning the process to require that everyone working for the federal government get a minimum wage of $15 an hour.

Brian Deese, director of the White House National Economic Council, said the action would “provide a critical lifeline” to millions of families.

It comes a day after the new US president signed a raft of orders to boost the fight against coronavirus.

This included expanding testing and accelerating vaccine distribution.

Mr Biden said it would take months to defeat the pandemic but America would “get through this” if people stood together.

The Trump administration was widely accused of failing to get to grips with the pandemic.

The first increases food aid for children who rely on school meals as a main source for nutrition, but are unable to access them because of remote learning.

It also creates a guarantee that workers can access unemployment benefits if they refuse a job on the grounds that it could jeopardise their health.

The second is aimed at expanding protections for federal workers, by restoring collective bargaining rights and promoting a $15 (£11) hourly minimum wage.

Mr Deese said the orders were “not a substitute” for a $1.9 trillion Covid relief bill that Mr Biden wants Congress to pass, but an essential lifeline for people who need immediate assistance.

“The American people cannot afford to wait,” he told reporters. “So many are hanging by a thread. They need help, and we’re committed to doing everything we can to provide that help as quickly as possible.”

Speaking separately chief medical adviser Anthony Fauci spoke about the vaccine rollout, saying the Biden administration was “amplifying” the programme that was already there.

If, as hoped, 70-85% of the population was vaccinated by the end of summer, there would be “a degree of normality” by autumn, he said.

Dr Fauci said his main concern was persuading people who were sceptical about the vaccine to take it.

He added that the administration was in talks with manufacturers to produce more vaccine, amid reports of supply problems. Some regional officials say they have run out of available vaccine.

The Trump administration had been criticised for a lack of strategy at the federal level.

“The American people deserve an urgent, robust and professional response to the growing public health and economic crisis caused by the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak,” an introduction to the plan said.

It said Mr Biden believed the government “must act swiftly and aggressively to help protect and support” essential workers and the most vulnerable.

The aim is to reopen most schools safely within 100 days, and establish vaccine centres at stadiums and community facilities.

International travellers will need to test negative before departing for the US and self-quarantine for 14 days on arrival.

On top of the already announced rules on wearing masks and social distancing on all federal government property, face coverings will become mandatory in airports and on many planes, trains and buses.

There will be more funding for state and local officials to help tackle the pandemic, and a new office will be established to co-ordinate the national response.

The Defense Production Act will be used to speed up production of personal protective equipment and essential supplies needed for vaccine production. Mr Trump used the same piece of legislation to compel the production of items in short supply last year.

The US has recorded the highest coronavirus death toll of any country in the world, with more than 410,000 fatalities, according to data collated by Johns Hopkins University. It has recorded more than 24.6 million cases.

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