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President Biden Orders Better COVID-19 Safety Guidelines in Workplaces

The new president also announced plans to expand SNAP benefits and a school meals program

President Joe Biden at a lectern, with Vice President Kamala Harris standing in the background Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

President Joe Biden has spent most of his first 48 hours in office signing Executive Orders to undo everything Donald Trump did and making sure there is an actual semblance of a plan to help Americans through the pandemic. Among the executive orders are new Occupational Safety and Health Administration guidelines and an expansion of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits.

The first, signed yesterday, is an order “Protecting Worker Health and Safety” which directs OSHA to update and enforce COVID-19 safety guidelines. “Healthcare workers and other essential workers, many of whom are people of color and immigrants, have put their lives on the line during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic....The Federal Government must take swift action to reduce the risk that workers may contract COVID-19 in the workplace,” Biden wrote in the order.

Workplace safety has been a huge concern for restaurant and other food industry workers. For instance, workers in the meatpacking industry have been working in unsafe conditions and saying that they risked retaliation if they spoke up about it to managers. Concerns and health were not taken seriously; managers at a Tyson plant allegedly had a betting pool on how many workers would contract COVID and failed to provide workers with adequate personal protective equipment or sick leave.

In a second order, expected today, Biden will expand SNAP benefits and a school meals program, which together “could give a family of three children more than $100 in extra benefits every two months.” The order would not expand benefits for those already receiving the maximum, but would allow states to increase SNAP allotments. He will also ask the USDA to reassess the “Thrifty Food Plan,” which determines the cost levels SNAP benefits are based on, and which are apparently not in line with the costs of a modern, nutritious diet.

More changes are hopefully coming. Biden’s Covid Preparedness Plan emphasizes getting Paycheck Protection Program loans to small businesses that have been hardest hit by the pandemic, which by any metric includes restaurants. “The United States will immediately work to prioritize funds under the recent COVID relief package to the companies hardest hit by COVID-19 and in compliance with public health restrictions, ensuring that small businesses have the funds they need to operate safely,” says the plan.

Unemployment has hit the hospitality sector hard, with the December jobs report saying “employment in leisure and hospitality declined by 498,000, with three-quarters of the decrease in food services and drinking places.” Of those jobs, nearly all were held by women, and overwhelmingly women of color. It remains to be seen whether these orders will be enough to staunch the problems of the pandemic and economic crisis, or whether greater measures must be taken to ensure everyone is fed, housed, and healthy. After all, there’s enough to go around. But for now it’s a start.

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