White House eyes giving Americans checks to combat economic impact of outbreak

WASHINGTON — The White House announced Tuesday that it is pitching a $1 trillion economic package to combat the coronavirus outbreak, $250 billion of which would be used for direct payments to Americans.

“We have put a proposal on the table that would inject 1 trillion dollars into the economy,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Capitol Hill after meeting with Senate Republicans to discuss the White House’s plan.

“This is a combination of loans. This is a combination of direct checks to individuals. This is a combination of liquidity for small businesses,” Mnuchin continued.

The White House said that if Congress acts quickly, checks could go out to Americans by late April. But that could still leave millions of workers scrambling to make rent and other payments that are due at the beginning of the month.

The White House first floated the proposal of sending checks directly to Americans during a news conference earlier Tuesday morning.

“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 he favored more immediate action that could inject cash into Americans’ pockets faster than waiting for the next payday.

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“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 toward those most hurt by the outbreak.

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

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

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

Mnuchin said the White House would also be announcing a $300 billion deferment in IRS payments, but he still encouraged Americans who expected to get refunds to file their taxes by the usual April 15 deadline. People 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 he 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.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he would discuss the proposal with Republicans and would then begin negotiating with Democrats.

McConnell, however, did indicate that he was open to the White House’s plan, telling reporters: “We’re examining policy tools to put money directly and quickly into the hands of American families.”

Despite market volatility, Trump continued to project confidence that the 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.”

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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 tell people considering nonessential 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 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 he would consider limiting travel, telling reporters: “It’s possible. We’ll see how it goes.”

Image: Lauren EganLauren Egan

Lauren Egan is a reporter for NBC News based in Washington.

Leigh Ann Caldwell contributed.

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