President Biden on Friday signed executive orders to raise pay for low-wage federal workers and increase food assistance for needy families as he warned of dark days ahead and a dramatic increase in COVID-19 deaths.
“I’m going to close and summarize this way, a lot of America is hurting. The virus is surging. We’re 400,000 dead, expected to reach well over 600,000. Families are going hungry. People are at risk of being evicted. Job losses are mounting again. We need to act. No matter how you look at it we need to act,” Biden said.
He signed the reforms while warning of broader economic consequences if needy Americans are allowed to suffer during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We remain in a once in a century public health crisis that’s led to the most unequal job and economic crisis in modern history. And the crisis is only deepening. It’s not getting better, it’s deepening,” Biden said.
The new orders require the federal government and its contractors to pay a minimum wage of $15 per hour and boost supplemental food benefits by $100 every two months for three-person families eligible for free food at school.
The food-assistance order also seeks to allow people to collect unemployment insurance if they refuse work due to health issues that could make them especially vulnerable to COVID-19.
“If we fail to act, there will be a wave of evictions and foreclosures in the coming months as this pandemic rages on because there’s nothing we can do to change the trajectory of the pandemic in the next several months,” he warned in dire terms.
Biden said that he viewed the orders as the right thing to do, but that also the “return on these investments in jobs and racial equity is going to prevent long term economic damage and benefits that are gonna far surpass the cost if we don’t act.”
Biden’s chief White House economist Brian Deese said at a Friday afternoon press conference that it was not immediately clear how many federal contractors will benefit from the boosted minimum wage.
Biden, who also is asking Congress to approve a large relief package, recounted his own father’s period of unemployment at his afternoon order-signing event.
“These are not the values of our nation. We cannot, will not let people go hungry. We cannot let people be evicted because of nothing they did themselves. I cannot watch people lose their jobs. And we have to act. We have to act now,” he said.
Biden’s new orders supplement two dozen others he signed after taking office on Wednesday — many of those reversing former President Trump’s own orders on a range of issue areas including the environment and foreign policy.
Biden said Friday that a COVID-19 strategy document released Thursday by the White House “puts us on a war footing to aggressively speed up our COVID-19 response, especially on vaccines and testing and reopening our schools.”
Biden warns of 600,000 COVID deaths as he signs wage hike, food aid orders Wire Services/ New York Post.