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White House considering giving Americans cash to combat economic impact of outbreak

It is unclear who would be eligible for the emergency money and how much would be offered, but the White House stressed the need for immediate economic relief and said more would be announced later Tuesday.
Posted at 10:52 AM, Mar 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-17 13:52:17-04

The White House announced Tuesday that it wants to give Americans checks in order to combat the economic devastation many will feel amid the coronavirus outbreak.

“We are looking at sending checks to Americans immediately,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said during a news conference at the White House on Tuesday.

“Americans need cash now and the president wants to get cash now,” Mnuchin said. “And I mean now in the next two weeks.”

President Donald Trump, who had initially floated a payroll tax holiday, said that he favored more immediate action that could inject cash into American’s pockets faster than waiting for the next payday.

“I think we are going to do something that gets money to them as quickly as possible,” Trump said. “We will have a pretty good idea at the end of the day what we will be doing.”

It is unclear who would get money and how much, but Mnuchin indicated that it would be aimed towards those most hurt by the outbreak.

“We don't need to send people who make million dollars a year checks,” Mnuchin said.

Mnuchin said he would be “previewing” the details at a meeting with lawmakers on Capitol Hill Tuesday afternoon.

“There are some numbers out there. They may be a little bit bigger than what’s in the press,” he added.

Mnuchin's proposal could be met with a warm reception on Capitol Hill, as lawmakers from both parties have called for giving Americans immediate direct cash payments.

On Monday Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, proposed giving every adult $1,000 to help meet financial obligations. A group of Senate Democrats, led by Michael Bennet of Colorado, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Sherrod Brown of Ohio, proposed sending as much as $4,500 to each American.

Rep. Ilahn Omar, D-Minn., meanwhile, announced her own plan to give $1,000 to every adult and an additional $500 per child.

Mnuchin said that the White House would also be announcing a $300 billion deferment in Internal Revenue Service payments, but still encouraged Americans who expected to get a refund to file their taxes by the usual April 15 deadline. Individuals who owe money to the IRS can defer up to $1 million and $10 million for businesses.

Mnuchin also indicated that the federal government intends to keep the stock markets opened, but added that shorter hours might be necessary.

"We believe in keeping the markets open. Americans should have access to their money," he said. "Everyone wants to keep it open, we may get to the point where we shorten the hours if that’s something we need to do."

Despite market volatility, Trump continued to project confidence that the economic downturn was temporary, telling reporters “I don't think in terms of recession.”

“I think our economy will come back very rapidly," Trump said. “I actually think we will have an economy like we’ve never had before."

Trump also encouraged Americans to take seriously the 15-day guidelines the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued Monday imploring people to stay home and limit social interaction.

“I would just say enjoy your home, stay, we have to get this problem fixed," Trump said when asked what he would say to those considering non-essential travel such as spring break trips. People should "enjoy their living room.”

While other countries such as Italy and France have called for national lockdowns, Trump said that he had discussed the possibility with officials, but did not think it would ultimately be a measure he would take.

“Hopefully we are not going to need it," Trump said. “I just don't think it's going to be an action we're going to take.”

The president, however, did say it was possible that the he would consider limiting travel, telling reporters "it’s possible, we’ll see how it goes.”