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President Joe Biden expects to sign two executive orders Friday, one aimed at getting the country closer to a $15-an-hour minimum wage for federal contractors, and another calling for immediate increases in food assistance for families and children most in need of economic support.
Under an executive order targeted at expanding protections for federal workers, Biden will direct agencies to review which workers earn less than $15 an hour and will develop recommendations to increase their wages. Earlier this month, the minimum wage for federal workers increased by 15 cents to $10.95.
Last week, in the “Rescue” economic plan he released, Biden suggested raising the overall federal minimum wage for all workers to $15; it currently stands at $7.25. Raising the minimum wage would largely benefit the women workers, who make up the bulk of the nation’s low-wage workforce.
The president hopes to issue another executive order within his first 100 days in office that will officially require federal contractors to pay the $15 minimum wage and offer workers emergency paid leave. The first coronavirus stimulus package, the CARES Act, offered workers two weeks of paid sick leave and an additional 10 weeks of paid family and medical leave, but the provisions of the law expired at the end of December. Women make up about half of federal contractors.
“These steps are designed to help ensure the federal government is a model employer … And to make sure that when we are using taxpayer dollars through federal contracts, that we are directing that to employers who give their workers the pay and benefits they’ve earned,” said Brian Deese, the director of the National Economic Council.
The other executive order Biden will sign Friday will focus on assistance to help the estimated 29 million people who are suffering with hunger insecurity, much of it driven by the pandemic. That hunger crisis has devastated mothers most of all, with more than a quarter of mothers reporting that they are struggling to feed their children.
Biden will ask the Department of Agriculture to consider increasing the amount of money available to low-income families to pay for food for children who are missing in-person school and can’t otherwise rely on school-provided meals. The current program, offered through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, allocated $5.70 per child per school day. Biden is asking for an increase of about 15 percent.
The executive order will also ask the department to consider widening the emergency allotment available due to the pandemic under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) for the lowest income families.
About 40 percent of SNAP-eligible households already use the maximum amount of funds under the program. The Trump administration fought in federal court last year to block those households from accessing the additional emergency aid. Biden’s plan would remove that block, a move it estimates could help an additional 12 million people.
“In whole, this executive order is really about marshaling the entire federal government to try to take what concrete emergency actions we can to help working families with the resources they need right now,” Deese said.
The most recent stimulus package passed in December also increased the benefits for SNAP, a program that supports women and children most, by 15 percent for six months. Biden’s “Rescue” plan wants to further extend those benefits through September, plus an additional 15 percent increase, as well. The plan also proposes another $3 billion in funding for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, or WIC.
The executive orders are part of a flurry Biden has signed in his first days as president, many of them helping the women who have been hit hardest by the economic fallout of the pandemic.
Already this week, Biden signed two key executive orders that will specifically affect Black women most: an extended eviction moratorium and a pause on student loan payments.
On Wednesday, Biden asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to consider extending the federal eviction moratorium, set to expire at the end of this month, through at least the end of March. The CDC had issued the moratorium last September as a means of curbing the spread of the virus.
Historically, Black women have been the most vulnerable to eviction. Studies have shown that landlords filed evictions against Black women at double the rate of White people in some states. Since the start of the pandemic recession, Black women have lost their jobs at some of the highest rates of any group, and many who work in low-income jobs lack the financial cushion to pay for rent in the case that they lose work.
Even with moratoriums in place most of the year, some 220,000 evictions have been filed in the 27 major cities tracked by Eviction Lab, a national eviction database. And many of those have gone to Black women who are heads of households.
Following Biden’s request, the CDC agreed to the extension on Wednesday.
“Despite extensive mitigation efforts, COVID-19 continues to spread in America at a concerning pace,” said CDC Director Rochelle Walensky in a statement. “We must act to get cases down and keep people in their homes and out of congregate settings — like shelters — where COVID-19 can take an even stronger foothold.”
Under Biden’s larger “Rescue” plan, he proposes extending the moratorium as long the end of September, while also allocating an additional $30 billion in rent relief to the hardest-hit households.
The president also asked the Department of Education to extend the current pause on interest and payments for direct federal loans until the end of September. The current pause was set to expire at the end of this month.
The Education Department also followed through with Biden’s request on Wednesday, extending the suspension and holding the interest rate at zero.
“Too many Americans are struggling to pay for basic necessities and to provide for their families,” the department said in a statement. “They should not be forced to choose between paying their student loans and putting food on the table.”
Biden has yet to go as far as canceling at least a portion of the national student loan burden, but has instead expressed interest in forgiving up to $10,000 in debt.
Women as a whole hold about two-thirds of the nation’s nearly $1.6 trillion student loan burden, and Black women have more debt than any group, according to a study by the American Association of University Women. On average, Black women borrow almost $10,000 more in student loans than White men.