New Administration Sets Sights on Additional Worker Benefits
By Joshua C. Black, Esq.
When Joe Biden was sworn into office on Jan. 20, 2021, he promised immediate action to help struggling Americans. In an effort to exemplify his word, the President signed 30 executive orders within his first three days in office. While many of the initial orders address the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, several were aimed specifically at helping American workers and their families.
A few notable executive orders include:
Protection for jobless workers. Customarily, citizens who file for unemployment must demonstrate they are available and actively looking for work. In order to maintain unemployment benefits, they must also prove they haven’t turned down suitable jobs. However, President Biden wants to make sure jobless Americans don’t lose benefits if they turn down opportunities they feel pose a danger to their health. Under the president’s executive order, jobless workers can now decline potential employment opportunities if they feel their health is at imminent risk, without jeopardizing their unemployment status.
Increased minimum wage, restoration of collective bargaining power and worker protections for federal workers. This executive order is aimed at improving pay for federal workers and contractors. It lays a foundation for increasing the minimum wage to $15 per hour for these employees and providing paid emergency leave. The president also encouraged a nationwide minimum wage increase to $15 (currently the national minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.) Additionally, Biden revoked three executive orders signed by his predecessor that made it easier to terminate federal employees and weaken labor unions.
Equal rights for all workers. The Biden administration issued the most significant LGBTQ executive order in U.S. history that implements the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County from 2020. The sweeping executive order makes it clear that gay and transgender people are protected against discrimination in the workplace, schools, health care, etc. The order is anticipated to have a real and practical impact on improving the day-to-day lives of LGBTQ citizens across the U.S. Biden also reversed the ban on transgender people serving openly in the military.
The Biden administration issued a number of executive orders focused on advancing racial equity and support for underserved communities throughout the federal government, too. The executive orders strive to support marginalized communities including women, people of color, those living with disabilities and religious minorities.
Enhanced food benefits. With countless Americans struggling to put food on the table, the crisis has been made worse by a global pandemic, record-breaking unemployment rates and closed schools where many families rely on meal programs. President Biden has asked the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) to allow states expanded access to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. The USDA will also explore increasing the pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer program by 15%, giving low-income families with three or more children an extra $100 for groceries every two months.
Buy American encouragement. In an effort to increase U.S. manufacturing through the federal purchasing process, the president signed an executive order to direct agencies to strengthen requirements about buying products and services from U.S. businesses and workers. This move will likely create new jobs and put many Americans back to work. Under this order, the president announced plans for the federal government to replace its fleet of vehicles with America-made electric cars over the next several years.
Other Biden administration items on the table include additional COVID-19 relief monies. Families earning less than $150,000 annually could benefit from an additional $1.9 trillion relief proposal from the new administration. Aimed at enhancing unemployment benefits and sending another round of stimulus checks out in first quarter, many Congress members from both sides of the aisle are in favor of this option to help Americans in need.