Biden Executive Orders Seek Expansion of SNAP Benefits, Reissue of Workplace COVID Safety Guidelines
Among the flurry of executive orders Biden has issued in his first couple days, two have direct impacts on the food industry and food stamps.
President Biden promised he would take a more hands on approach to dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, and during his first week in office, he's rolled out two executive orders that will directly affect the food industry: both for vulnerable workers and hungry Americans.
Yesterday, among a flurry of actions, Biden issued the Executive Order on Protecting Worker Health and Safety, promising to issue "science-based guidance to help keep workers safe from COVID-19 exposure, including with respect to mask-wearing; partnering with State and local governments to better protect public employees; enforcing worker health and safety requirements; and pushing for additional resources to help employers protect employees."
The order requires the Secretary of Labor, acting through the Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health, to issue revised COVID-19 guidance on workplace safety within the next two weeks, and, if any "emergency temporary standards"—including "masks in the workplace"—are necessary, they should be issued by March 15.
It also sets into motion stronger enforcement efforts by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), specifically stating that a national program will be launched "to focus OSHA enforcement efforts related to COVID-19 on violations that put the largest number of workers at serious risk or are contrary to anti-retaliation principles." Finally, the order requires "a multilingual outreach campaign to inform workers and their representatives of their rights under applicable law."
Though meat is not specifically mentioned, this focus on large outbreaks and multilingual outreach could be seen as specifically targeting the meatpacking industry which has been one of the largest sources of COVID-19 hotspots. As The Washington Post points out, measly penalties under the Trump administration included a $15,600 fine for meatpacker JBS after 290 workers were infected, and a $13,500 fine for fellow industry giant Smithfield after 1,294 workers tested positive. And as Eater reported, meatpacking workers have said they feared retaliation if they spoke out about working conditions.
Then, today, Biden is set to issue an "all-of-government" executive order that will, among other things, "address the growing hunger crisis facing 29 million Americans—and as many as 12 million children—by asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture to consider expanding and extending federal nutrition assistance programs," according to the White House.
"In December, Congress bolstered food assistance programs and provided new funding for food banks and school and child care meals. But these measures alone will not solve the growing hunger crisis in America," the White House explains. "As part of his American Rescue Plan proposal, President Biden is calling on Congress to provide additional support to ensure that all Americans, regardless of background, have access to healthy, affordable groceries by extending the 15 percent Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefit increase, investing $3 billion to help women, infants and children get the food they need, and other key steps."
The move includes a three point plan for the USDA. First, Biden is asking for increased access to nutritious food for children missing meals due to school closures in the form of slightly larger benefits and a simpler process to claiming benefits. Second, the president is asking for emergency SNAP increases to be made available to even more families who need it. Finally, the order will request the USDA "update food assistance benefits to reflect the true cost of a basic healthy diet," calling the current benefits "out of date with the economic realities most struggling households face when trying to buy and prepare healthy food."