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Biden seeks to speed delivery of coronavirus stimulus checks and food aid

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden on Friday will sign orders to speed the issuance of pandemic stimulus checks to needy families and increase food aid for children who normally rely on school meals for nutrition.

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Biden is using the two executive orders to try to ease people’s burdens while Congress negotiates the fate of his proposed $1.9 trillion stimulus package.

“The American people are hurting and they can’t afford to wait. They need help right now,” White House National Economic Council director Brian Deese said at a press briefing.

“We’re at a precarious moment for the virus and the economy. Without decisive action, we risk falling into a very serious economic hole, even more serious than the crisis we find ourselves in,” said Deese. He said he would speak with lawmakers on Sunday to push for more relief.

Biden’s actions were not a substitute for legislative relief, Deese said, with about 16 million people now receiving some type of unemployment benefit and an estimated 29 million who do not have enough to eat. Women, minorities and low-income service workers have been disproportionately hurt, with Black and Hispanic workers facing higher jobless rates than white workers.

In an early test of whether Republicans might support the Democrat Biden’s plans for coronavirus relief, infrastructure investment and tax increases, the U.S. Senate Finance Committee voted unanimously on Friday to approve Janet Yellen, Biden’s choice for Treasury Secretary, paving the way for her confirmation by the full chamber.

Republican lawmakers have questioned the price tags on pandemic aid and Biden’s separate $2 trillion investment proposal for infrastructure, green energy projects, education and research.

Biden’s hopes for speedy action on his legislative agenda and Cabinet appointments are complicated by the expected trial of former President Donald Trump in the Senate as early as next week and bipartisan squabbling over operations in an evenly split Senate.

In Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he would raise his concerns over the job losses caused by Biden’s cancellation of the Keystone XL oil pipeline when they speak on Friday, but added Washington and Ottawa were now “much more aligned” on other matters under Biden, who took office on Wednesday.

In the first executive order on Friday, Biden will ask the Treasury Department to consider taking steps to expand and improve delivery of stimulus checks, such as by establishing online tools for claiming payments.

“Many Americans faced challenges receiving the first round of direct payments and as many as 8 million eligible households did not receive the payments issued in March,” a White House fact sheet said.

Roberto Perli, head of global policy at Cornerstone Macro, said getting stimulus checks out faster would bolster consumer spending but have a “minimal GDP impact.”

Biden will also ask the Agriculture Department to consider issuing new guidance to increase the aid given to families who normally rely on schools to provide a daily main meal for their children. It could provide a family with three children more than $100 of additional support every two months.

“This is a bold, common-sense move to address the nation’s joint hunger and public health crises,” said Joel Berg, CEO of Hunger Free America advocacy group.

Biden’s second order will restore collective bargaining power and worker protections by revoking three related orders issued by Trump during his term, which ended on Wednesday. It also promotes a $15-an-hour minimum wage. The federal minimum wage has been at $7.25 an hour since 2009.

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