Biden Seeks $15 Minimum Wage to Help Americans Cope With Struggling Economy

Date: 2021-01-22 19:01:03

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President Joe Biden will mark his third day in office with executive actions to boost food assistance for impoverished Americans and use federal contracts as a step toward his proposed nationwide minimum-wage hike, seeking immediate help for an economy struggling to cope with Covid-19.

The executive actions Biden is set to sign Friday at the White House also include a restoration of rights for federal workers that were stripped by his predecessor Donald Trump.

While consequential for those affected, the measures offer a shadow of the relief included in Biden’s $1.9 trillion Covid-19 aid plan. That package faces challenges in Congress after moderate Republicans this week said they saw no need to rush on another big spending bill after last month’s $900 billion effort. GOP members including Todd Young of Indiana and Roy Blunt of Missouri said Biden’s plan was a “non-starter,” though they favored looking at the vaccine-funding component.

“These actions are not a substitute for comprehensive legislative relief but they will provide a critical lifeline to millions of familes,” Brian Deese, director of the White House National Economic Council, said at a briefing Friday. “Our economy is at a very precarious moment” and it’s one that requires decisive action.”

Deese is planning to discuss the $1.9 trillion package with a bipartisan group of 16 senators on Sunday. He said the objective was to make the case that without this action, the economy will be in a “much deeper hole.”

Democrats, meanwhile, are discussing making an end-run around Republicans. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told donors on a Zoom call Thursday night she had wanted to pass Biden’s Covid-19 relief legislation via the budget reconciliation process in two weeks, according to a person familiar with the comments. That process could eliminate the need for Republican support in the Senate by lowering the threshold for passage to a simple majority.

While congressional Democrats consider their strategy, Biden on Friday will expand eligibility for enhanced food stamp programs, assist veterans who are behind on their bills and create new tools to help Americans who have not received their stimulus checks get paid.

The president will also look to clarify that unemployment insurance should cover workers refusing positions with unsafe working conditions. And he will direct agencies to examine how they can ensure federal workers and contractors are paid a $15 minimum wage.

The administration is set soon to have a new policy maker on deck to help address the crisis, with Janet Yellen advancing through the Senate Finance Committee Friday morning toward confirmation by the chamber. The unanimous approval by the panel opened the way for a full Senate vote as soon as Friday afternoon, senators said.

The better part of a year after the pandemic hit the U.S., weekly filings for unemployment claims in regular state programs are still running at 900,000, more than quadruple the pre-virus level. About 5.05 million people were receiving claiming the benefits as of Jan. 9, according to the Labor Department, with an additional 5.7 million weeks claimed under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program for the self-employed and gig workers.

Some unemployment benefits — including the assistance for gig workers — are set to expire on March 14, underscoring the administration’s desire for congressional action on the stimulus package.

The president is asking the Labor Department to issue guidance clarifying that workers can refuse employment that jeopardizes their health and still receive unemployment benefits. That could help service-industry and factory workers worried about the spread of the coronavirus at their job to stay home from work.

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