In his first seven days in office, President Joe Biden has made quite a few moves that have implications for agriculture and rural America. Since his inauguration on Jan. 20, Biden has issued several executive orders and moved to dismantle many of former President Donald Trump’s executive orders. Addressing COVID-19 response, pushing the country to buy American, and rejoining the Paris Agreement were just some of his first acts as president.
“If we act now, our economy will be stronger in both the short and long run,” Biden said in a press conference explaining some of these actions on Jan. 22. “That’s what economists—left, right and center—are telling us, both liberal and conservative. We’ll be better and stronger across the board. If we act now, we’ll be better able to compete with the world.”
As Inauguration Day came to a close, Biden signed a combination of executive orders, memoranda, directives and letters to take the first steps in his administration to address the COVID-19 pandemic, immigration, and climate change.
He issued an executive order requiring masks and physical distancing in all federal buildings, on all federal lands and by federal employees and contractors as part of his “100 Days Masking Challenge.” Biden also took steps to cease America’s withdrawal from the World Health Organization. He also signed an executive order creating a “COVID-19 Response Coordinator” position, who will manage the government’s response to the pandemic, as well as the vaccine and testing protocols.
Addressing the country’s response to the virus is just one part of the recovery efforts. Biden proposed the American Rescue Plan, a bipartisan plan to tackle the pandemic and get direct financial relief to Americans, including another $1,400 in direct payments to Americans, extending unemployment insurance for 16 million Americans, and calls for an increase in the minimum wage to at least $15 per hour.
Biden called on Congress, and the Departments of Veterans Affairs, Agriculture and Housing and Urban Development to work in their own areas to extend eviction and foreclosure moratoriums for the one in five renters and one in 10 homeowners who are behind on payments because of the housing crisis. Among these directives, Biden wants those departments to consider extending foreclosure moratoriums for federally guaranteed mortgages and continue applications for forbearance until at least March 31. He also is asking the Department of Education to consider extending the pause on interest and principal payments for direct federal student loans until at least Sept. 30, as a way to help borrowers of all ages through the pandemic.
On the environmental front, Biden officially signed an instrument that allows the U.S. to officially return to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change in 30 days.
And he signed an executive order that directs all executive departments and agencies to review federal regulations enacted under the Trump administration, and take appropriate action on those that are not supported by science and not in the national interest. That order also directed agencies to revise vehicle fuel economy and emissions standards, methane emissions standards, and it directed the Department of the Interior to place a temporary moratorium on all oil and natural gas leasing activities in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. It also revoked the presidential permit granted to the Keystone XL pipeline.
Biden then signed a Presidential Memorandum directing the Secretary of Homeland Security and the U.S. Attorney General to preserve and fortify protections for “Dreamers,” or those young people that fall under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. He also sent to Congress a proposed “U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021,” which creates an earned roadmap to citizenship for undocumented individuals such as Dreamers, TPS holders and immigrant farmworkers who meet specific requirements. The proposed act also aims to improve the employment verification process.
Other executive and department actions
On Jan. 25, Biden directed federal tax dollars to be spent on American-made goods by American workers, and with American-made component parts as part of his promise to "build back better." The goal of this “Made in America” executive order is to support union jobs and build the manufacturing and technology capacity of the nation for economic and national security reasons.
The National Council of Farmer Cooperatives applauded the move, saying that this ensures good jobs and prosperous local economies and puts substance behind words.
R-CALF USA also supported this move, once again bringing up its emphatic support for the U.S. mandatory country of origin labeling law. Until that is passed, the organization stated, the voluntary “Product of U.S.A.” label only notes that the product received minimal processing in the U.S.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that upon direction from the White House, it will be increasing the Pandemic-EBT benefit by 15% to provide more money for low-income families and children missing meals due to school closures. It’s also looking to increase Supplemental Nutritional Assistance program benefits to all participants.
Biden is asking the Department of Veterans Affairs to consider pausing federal collections on overpayments and debts.
“The bottom line is this: We’re in a national emergency, and we need to act like we’re in a national emergency,” Biden said. “So we’ve got to move with everything we’ve got, and we’ve got to do it together. I don’t believe Democrats or Republicans are going hungry and losing jobs; I believe Americans are going hungry and losing their jobs.”
Jennifer M. Latzke can be reached at 620-227-1807 or [email protected].
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