Remarks on Signing Executive Orders on Economic Relief Related to the COVID-19 Pandemic and Protecting the Federal Workforce and an Exchange With Reporters
The President. Good afternoon, folks. Vice President Harris and I just received a briefing from our economic team, and we remain in a once-in-a-century public health crisis that's led to the most unequal job and economic crisis in modern history. And the crisis is only deepening. It's not getting better; it's deepening.
Yesterday we learned that 900,000 more Americans filed for unemployment—900,000. They join millions of Americans who, through no fault of their own, have lost the dignity and respect that comes with a job and a paycheck. So many of them never thought they'd ever be out of work in the first place. And just like my dad did when he was—he used to lie awake at night when I was a kid, staring at the ceiling, unable to sleep because he worried about whether or not he's about to lose his health care, or whether we were going to be—or have the money to pay the mortgage because of the economic circumstance he was in.
And now, a lot of these folks are facing eviction or waiting hours in their cars—literally hours in their cars, waiting to be able to feed their children as they drive up to a food bank. It's the United States of America, and they're waiting to feed their kids.
Folks who are able to still keep their job, many have seen their paychecks reduced, and they've—and they're barely hanging on and wondering what's next. Sometimes, the anxiety about what's going to happen next is more consequential than what actually happened.
But this is happening today, in America, and this cannot be who we are as a country. These are not the values of our Nation. We cannot, will not let people go hungry. We cannot let people be evicted because of nothing they did themselves. They cannot watch people lose their jobs. And we have to act. We have to act now.
It's not just to meet the moral obligation to treat our fellow Americans with the dignity and respect they deserve; this is an economic imperative. A growing economic consensus that we must act decisively and boldly to grow the economy for all Americans, not just for tomorrow, but in the future.
There's a growing chorus of top economic—top economists that agree that in this moment of crisis, with this—with the interest rates as low as they are—historic lows—it is smart fiscal investment, including deficit spending. And they're more urgent than ever.
You know, and that return on these investments and jobs and racial equity is going to prevent long-term economic damage and benefits that are going to far surpass the cost. If we don't act, the rest of the world is not standing still, in terms of the competitive advantage and the competitive possibilities, relative to us.
That our debt situation will be more stable and not less stable, according to these economists. And that such investments in our people is going to strengthen our economic competitiveness as a Nation and help us outcompete our competitors in the global economy, because we're going to grow the economy with these investments.
While the COVID-19 package that passed in December was a first step, as I said at the time, it's just a downpayment. We need more action, and we need to move fast. Last week, I laid out a two-step plan of rescue and recovery to get through the crisis and to a better and stronger and more secure America. The first step of our American Rescue Plan is a plan to tackle the pandemic and get direct financial relief to Americans who need it the most.
You know, in just a few days—it's just been a few days since I outlined this plan—it's received bipartisan support from a majority of American mayors and Governors. Businesses and labor organizations have together welcomed it as an urgent action that's needed. Even Wall Street firms have underscored its importance.
In fact, an analysis by Moody's estimates that if we passed our American Rescue Plan, the economy would create 7.5 million jobs just in this year alone. That would be on the way to the more than 18 million—I think it was 18,600,000—jobs that they believe would be created over the 4-year period, with our Build Back Better Recovery Plan.
And with our American Rescue Plan, our economy would return to full employment a full year faster than without the plan.
Even President Trump's—President Trump's now—not some liberal organization—President Trump's top former economic adviser, Kevin Hassett, said, quote, he "absolutely is in favor" of this rescue plan. This almost doesn't have a partisan piece to it.
We're seeing the support because this plan takes a step that we so urgently need. More than just a step, a number of steps. It funds big parts of the COVID-19 National Strategy that I released yesterday—we released yesterday. Our national strategy puts on—us on a war footing to aggressively speed up our COVID-19 response, especially on vaccines and testing and reopening our schools.
I found it fascinating—yesterday the press asked the question: Is, you know, a hundred million enough? A week before, they were saying: "Biden, are you crazy? You can't do hundred million in a hundred days." Well, we're going to, God willing, not only do a hundred million, we're going to do more than that. But this is—we have to do this. We have to move.
The American Rescue Plan also includes economic relief for most Americans who are in need. We're going to finish the job of getting a total of $2,000 in direct payments to folks. Six hundred dollars, which was already passed, is simply not enough if you still have to choose between paying your rent and putting food on the table.
We'll extend unemployment insurance benefits for millions of workers, beyond the deadline that's now set. It means that 16 million Americans who are currently relying on unemployment benefits while they look for work can count on these checks continuing to be there in the middle of this crisis.
The American Rescue Plan also addresses the growing housing crisis in America. Approximately 14 million Americans—14 million—have fallen behind on rent, and many risk eviction. If we fail to act, there will be a wave of evictions and foreclosures in the coming months as this pandemic rages on, because there's nothing we can do to change the trajectory of the pandemic in the next several months.
So look, this would overwhelm emergency shelters and increase COVID-19 infections as people have nowhere to go and are socially—can't socially distance.
The American Rescue Plan asks Congress to provide rental assistance for millions of hard-hit families and tenants. This will also be a bridge to economic recovery for countless mom-and-pop landlords who can't afford not to have the rent.
But they can't wait. So, on Inauguration day, I directed my administration to extend nationwide restrictions on evictions and foreclosures. These crises are straining the budgets of States and cities and in Tribal communities that are forced to consider layoffs and service reductions among essential workers. Police officers, firefighters, first responders, nurses, they're all at the risk of losing their jobs. Over the last year, more than 600,000 educators have lost their jobs in the cities and towns. The American Rescue Plan will provide emergency funding to keep these essential workers on the job and maintain essential services.
Look, it will also help small businesses that are the engines of our economic growth. When you say "small business," most people think the major corporate entities are the ones that hire everybody. These small businesses are the glue that hold—and they're important—but these small businesses hold the community—are the glue that hold these communities together. They are hurting badly, and they account for nearly half of the entire U.S. workforce. Nearly half.
Our rescue plan will provide flexible grants to help the hardest hit small businesses survive the pandemic and low-cost capital to help entrepreneurs of all backgrounds create and maintain jobs, plus provide essential goods and services that communities so desperately depend on.
Look, our recovery plan also calls for an increase in the minimum wage, at 15—at least $15 an hour. No one in America should work 40 hours a week making below the poverty line. Fifteen dollars gets people above the poverty line. And we have so many millions of people working 40 hours a week—working—and some with two jobs, and they're still below the poverty line.
Our plan includes access to affordable childcare that's going to enable parents, particularly women, to get back to work, millions who are not working now because they don't have that care.
All told, the American Rescue Plan would lift 12 million Americans out of poverty and cut child poverty in half. That's 5 million children lifted out of poverty. Our plan would reduce poverty in the Black community by one-third and reduce poverty in the Hispanic community by almost 40 percent.
I look forward to working with Members of Congress of both parties to move quickly to get this American Rescue Plan to the American people. And then, we can move with equal urgency and bipartisanship to the second step of our economic plan, the Build Back Better, the recovery plan.
It's a plan that will make historic investments in infrastructure, manufacturing, innovation, research and development, and clean energy, and so much more that's going to create millions more jobs—good-paying jobs, not minimum wage jobs.
But while we work with Members of both parties in the Congress, there are steps that we can and must take right now. For example, on Inauguration day, I directed my administration to pause student loan repayments for interest for—the interest payments for Americans with Federal student loans until at least September, so they're not going to have to pay until September. They still pay the bill, as it stands now, but they will not accrue interest, and they don't have to pay—begin to pay until September. And we may have to look beyond that, I might add.
Today I'm signing an Executive order that directs the whole-of-Government—a whole-of-Government effort to help millions of Americans who are badly hurting. It requires all Federal agencies to do what they can do to provide relief to families, small businesses, and communities. And in the days ahead, I expect agencies to act.
Let me touch on two ways these actions can help change Americans lives. We need to tackle the growing hunger crisis in America. One in seven households in America—one in seven—more than one in five Black and Latino households in America report they do not have enough food to eat. That includes nearly 30 million adults and as many as 12 million children. And again, they're in this situation through no fault of their own. It's unconscionable. The American Rescue Plan provides additional emergency food and nutrition assistance for tens of millions of children and families to address this crisis. But families literally can't wait another day. As a result of the Executive order I'm going to shortly sign, the Department of Agriculture will consider taking immediate steps to make it easier for the hardest hit families to enroll and claim more generous benefits in the critical food and nutrition assistance area.
This is going to help tens of millions of families, especially those who can't provide meals for their kids, who are learning remotely at home, are not receiving the regular meal plans that they have at school for breakfast or lunch. It's going to also—and we also need to protect the health and safety of the American worker.
Right now approximately 40 percent of households in America have at least one member with a preexisting condition. Just imagine: You're out of work through no fault of your own. You file for unemployment while you're looking for a job. You find one, and you get an offer. But then, you find out there's a high risk of your getting infected with COVID-19 because of your condition. You and your loved one—and you and your loved ones have ever even greater risk of death and serious illness because of the preexisting conditions, so you turn it down.
Right now, if you did that, you could be denied unemployment insurance because you're offered a job and you didn't take it. It's wrong. No one should have to choose between their livelihoods and their own health or the health of their loved ones in the middle of a deadly pandemic.
Because of the Executive order I'm about to sign, I expect the Department of Labor to guarantee the right to refuse unemployment—the employment that will jeopardize your health, and if you do so, you'll still be able to qualify for the insurance. That's a judgment the Labor Department will make.
Look, there are just two consequential ways that the action I'm taking today will help people in need. Another way to help approximately 2 million veterans maintain their financial footing: by pausing Federal collections on overpayments and debts.
Another makes sure that Federal contractors are receiving taxpayers' dollars, provide their workers with the pay and benefits they deserve. These are places where Federal tax dollars are administered—are being made available to build things from ships to staircases. And we let out—the Federal Government lets the contract—and we're going to make sure that they buy American and are made in America.
And here's another: Right now there are up to 8 million people that are eligible for direct payments from the CARES Act and the relief bill passed in December. They're entitled to those payments, but there's not an easy way for those folks to assess—access them. So we're making it a priority today to fix that problem and get them relief they're entitled to.
Look, I'm going to close and summarize this way: A lot of America is hurting. The virus is surging. We're 400,000 dead, expected to reach well over 600,000. Families are going hungry. People are at risk of being evicted. Job losses are mounting again. We need to act. No matter how you look at it, we need to act.
If—if we act now, our economy will be stronger in both the short and long run. 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. If we act now, we'll be better able to meet our moral obligations to one another as Americans.
I don't believe the people of this country just want to stand by and watch their friends and their neighbors, coworkers, fellow Americans go hungry, lose their homes, or lose their sense of dignity and hope and respect—I don't believe that—especially in the middle of a pandemic that's so weakened and wreaked so much havoc and caused so much pain on America. That's not who we are.
The bottom line is this: We're in a national emergency, and we need to act like we're in a national emergency. 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.
And we have the tools to fix it. We have the tools to get through this. We have the tools to get this virus under control and our economy back on track. And we have the tools to help people. So let's use the tools, all of them. Use them now.
So I'm going to sign this Executive order, but let me conclude again by saying: Folks, this is one of the cases where business, labor, Wall Street, Main Street, liberal, conservative, economists know we have to act now, not only to help who are in need now, but to allow us to be in the competitive position worldwide and be the leader of the world economy in the next year, and two, and three, and going forward.
So thank you. I'm going to sign this Executive order.
The first one is the economic relief related to COVID-19 pandemic.
[At this point, the President signed the Executive order titled "Economic Relief Related to the COVID-19 Pandemic."]
The second one is protection—protecting the Federal workforce.
[The President signed the Executive order titled "Protecting the Federal Workforce."]
Thank you very much.
Senate Trial Concerning the Impeachment of Former President Donald J. Trump
Q. Mr. President, do you support Mitch McConnell's timeline for a February impeachment trial?
The President. I haven't heard the detail of it, but I do think that having some time to get our administration up and running, we—they—I want to thank the Senate for passing our Secretary of Defense. It looks like our Secretary of Treasury, it looks like our Secretary of State is in place. So the more time we have to get up and running and meet these crises, the better.
Q. And, Mr. President, do you—[inaudible]—the filibuster?
NOTE: The President spoke at 3:04 p.m. in the State Dining Room at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to former Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers Kevin A. Hassett; Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III; Secretary of the Treasury-designate Janet L. Yellen; and Secretary of State-designate Antony J. Blinken. A reporter referred to Senate Minority Leader A. Mitchell McConnell.
Joseph R. Biden, Remarks on Signing Executive Orders on Economic Relief Related to the COVID-19 Pandemic and Protecting the Federal Workforce and an Exchange With Reporters Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/347843