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Newsletter: How Biden’s orders could affect your work and finances

President Biden signs executive orders.
President Biden signs his first executive orders in the Oval Office.
(Associated Press)

Good morning. I’m Rachel Schnalzer, the L.A. Times Business section’s audience engagement editor. President Biden has issued a flurry of executive orders and other directives since his inauguration last week, many of them aimed at Americans’ well-being and workplace rights during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

Orders tend not to spell out the details of implementation, so it’s too early to know exactly how Biden’s will play out. But they do indicate where to look for changes in the weeks and months ahead. Here are some topics to watch.

Eviction moratorium

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On Inauguration Day, Biden extended the federal eviction moratorium through March. The ban on evictions was previously set to expire at the end of January, Annie Nova and Carmen Reinicke reported at CNBC.

Tenants in California may soon receive an extension of a statewide protection in the same vein. My colleague Patrick McGreevy reported Monday that Gov. Gavin Newsom and state legislative leaders agreed on a proposal to extend California’s eviction moratorium for pandemic-affected tenants through June. The proposal has yet to pass the Legislature and be signed into law. The current moratorium is set to expire Sunday.

Stimulus checks

On Friday, Biden signed an executive order whose goals include improving stimulus check delivery for Americans who have not yet received the first round of payments, according to a fact sheet published by the White House.

Biden has asked the Treasury Department to consider taking actions such as creating an online tool for people to claim their economic impact payment and analyzing information on which households have not yet received their money.

Widespread distribution of stimulus checks — especially to recipients who are likely to spend the money quickly — is important, says Laura Gonzalez, an associate professor of finance at Cal State Long Beach. “The distribution of the stimulus is effective when it reaches those that need the assistance the most,” because spending the money rather than saving it stimulates the larger economy, she explains.

Food benefits

That order from Friday also seeks to increase federal food assistance. National economic director Brian Deese told reporters that Biden has asked the Department of Agriculture to consider a roughly 15% to 20% boost in benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — also known as food stamps — “for as many as 12 million low-income Americans.”

Deese said Biden has also asked for about a 15% increase in pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer, or EBT, benefits, which go to families of children who would normally receive meals at school but now do not have that access because schools are closed.

Additionally, Biden wants a revision of the Thrifty Food Plan, which guides how SNAP benefits are determined. Deese said the plan “is out of date and needs to be updated to better reflect the cost of a healthy diet.”

Worker safety

Under the broad economic order he issued Friday, Biden called on the Department of Labor to consider clarifying when workers can turn down employment they fear could damage their health without jeopardizing their unemployment benefits.

“This is a common-sense step to make sure that workers have a right to safe work environments and that we don’t put workers, in the middle of a pandemic, in a position where they have to choose between their own livelihoods and the health of they and their families,” Deese said.

Biden addressed worker safety in a separate executive order issued Thursday, which directed “federal regulators to issue stronger safety guidance for workplaces operating in the midst of the pandemic,” Eli Rosenberg reported in the Washington Post.

Biden asked the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, to update its safety recommendations for businesses, evaluate its own enforcement efforts and decide whether an “emergency temporary standard,” which could penalize noncompliant businesses, is needed during the pandemic, Rosenberg reported.

Student loans

The White House announced last week that the acting secretary of Education will “extend the pause on federal student loan payments and collections and keep the interest rate at 0%,” at Biden’s request.

The pause, which began in March and had been scheduled to end at the close of this month, will now continue through September, Kate Smith reported at CBS News.

“This is very important,” Gonzalez says, “because students are making decisions whether or not to come to complete their bachelor’s degrees” and whether to apply to college in the first place.

Discrimination

An executive order signed Wednesday says federal prohibitions on sex discrimination will also ban discrimination against LGBTQ people. Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, told NBC’s Jo Yurcaba that it’s “the most substantive, wide-ranging executive order concerning sexual orientation and gender identity ever issued by a United States president.”

The order reads, in part: “Adults should be able to earn a living and pursue a vocation knowing that they will not be fired, demoted, or mistreated because of whom they go home to or because how they dress does not conform to sex-based stereotypes. People should be able to access healthcare and secure a roof over their heads without being subjected to sex discrimination.”

It directs federal agencies to review and revise rules so as to match this interpretation.

Help for federal workers

Biden signed an executive order Friday aimed at federal workers and federal contractors.

White House aides told reporters that Biden will direct his administration to begin the process of instituting a $15 minimum wage and emergency paid leave for federal workers. The order also encourages union organizing and collective bargaining among federal workers, rescinding several Trump-era changes.

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◆ Tech companies are making their users’ online speech “someone else’s problem.” Brian Contreras explains how.

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Attention, self-employed workers: Kathy Kristof explains four tax breaks you should know about, regardless of whether you’re your own boss full time or pick up just a few hours of gig work per week.

One more thing

Two Biden priorities — climate and conservation — are colliding in the California desert.

Sammy Roth recently reported on how Biden campaigned on a goal of eliminating planet-warming pollution from the U.S. power grid by 2035. “Meeting this target will require dedicating huge amounts of land to solar and wind farms — a reality that has already led to tension in California.”

Renewable energy companies and conservationists in California have fought for years over which areas should be set aside to protect animals, plants and their habitat and which can be used for development. Now, Roth says, these tensions could return to the forefront.

Have a question about work, business or finances during the COVID-19 pandemic, or tips for coping that you’d like to share? Send us an email at californiainc@latimes.com, and we may include it in a future newsletter.


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