Biden to expand food benefits, worker COVID-19 protections
President Biden on Friday is set to sign an executive order expanding the scope of nutrition assistance programs, an effort to address a growing hunger crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and boosting worker protections.
The latest census Pulse Survey found 13.7 percent of adults said they did not have enough to eat in the previous week, a figure that’s higher among Latino and Black households.
The executive order would reinterpret rules already in law, making benefits more generous. Benefits from the Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer, a program to help families cover costs for food children normally get at school meals, would increase 15 percent, about $50 a month for a family with three children.
The order would also expand the Emergency Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, to families that were previously deemed ineligible, to about 12 million people.
It will also kick off a process of reevaluating the Department of Agriculture’s Thrifty Food Plan, which serves as the basis for SNAP. Redefining what constitutes healthy nutrition through the plan could expand the level of benefits.
The order would also clarify that unemployed people have the right to refuse a job they deem unsafe without losing unemployment benefits.
Democrats and Republicans have sparred over employment and worker safety issues.
Republicans worry that overly generous unemployment benefits and lax rules would encourage workers to stay home rather than return to work.
Last year, then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) pushed to include liability protections for businesses that would shield them from coronavirus-related labor lawsuits in negotiations for a COVID-19 relief package.
However, the issue was pushed off the table alongside aid to state and local governments.
The Biden administration says the actions are an important step, but no substitute for legislation. Biden proposed a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill, which faces an uphill battle in the Senate.
“We are at a precarious moment in our economy,” said Brian Deese, director of the National Economic Council.
“We hope that congress will move quickly to consider this important plan.”