Biden isn’t just waiting for Congress. He’s using executive power to provide stopgap COVID-19 relief

 Biden isn’t just waiting for Congress. He’s using executive power to provide stopgap COVID-19 relief

Biden will call on the Department of Agriculture to allow states to increase Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits for people who were already at the maximum benefit allowed—the people who need it most but didn’t get a boost from earlier benefit enhancements. That’s 12 million people. Biden’s order would also increase Pandemic EBT benefits by 15% for students who aren’t getting free or reduced-price school lunches while education is remote.

Those changes could happen quickly, but Biden is also calling on the USDA to look into a significant longer-term change by reassessing the metrics used to determine SNAP levels at all times. 

Any one of these in itself would be terrific, but if you bundle them together, these are indeed quite significant in terms of helping Americans get through one of the most terrible times in our lives,” Catherine D’Amato, chief executive of Greater Boston Food Bank, told The Washington Post.

Biden’s executive orders will also clarify to the states that they can’t kick people off of unemployment for refusing to endanger their health on the job during a pandemic. That has been a priority of Republican-controlled states eager to “reopen” at any cost to the health of workers.

Additionally, Biden is improving labor conditions for workers where the president can do so without Congress: federal workers and workers at federal contractors. He is “directing his administration to start the work” of giving those workers a $15 minimum wage and emergency paid leave, and is restoring collective bargaining rights for federal employees.

So … Donald Trump could have done this stuff all along, and didn’t? Of course he didn’t want federal workers having a $15 minimum wage, and he did want people forced into unsafe jobs rather than slowing the spread of the virus by being able to stay home. But the nutrition parts—people have been going hungry and Trump could just have told the USDA to tell states they could increase benefits to 12 million of the neediest people? Could just have boosted aid to kids who are going hungry? By not doing so, he let Biden look great as a president who takes decisive action to give help where it’s needed, but … people have been going without food when they didn’t need to. That’s appalling.

And while all this is good, it’s not nearly enough. Congress needs to act.

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