Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Tuesday that the Trump administration was considering offsetting the economic burden of the coronavirus pandemic by “immediately” cutting checks to Americans.
Mnuchin, speaking at a White House press conference, did not say how much money Americans could potentially expect to receive, and indicated that the administration could seek to exclude those who are well-off from receiving payments.
“We are looking at sending checks to Americans immediately,” Mnuchin told reporters. “Americans need cash now, and the president wants to get cash now — and I mean now in the next two weeks.”
Mnuchin indicated that the president’s preference for a payroll tax holiday — a six- to eight-month process — would take too long to put money into Americans’ pockets.
“The president has instructed me we have to do this now. So this is now,” Mnuchin said. “This is stuff that needs to be done now. The president has instructed me that this is no fault to American workers. For medical reasons, we are shutting down parts of this economy, and we are going to use all the tools we have.”
Governors across the country have closed restaurants, bars and other venues across their states as public health officials continue to encourage social distancing to prevent the spread of the virus. The White House released new guidelines Monday encouraging people not gather in groups larger than 10, work and take classes from home as much possible and avoid dining in bars, restaurants and food courts.
President Donald Trump discussed on a call with restaurant executives Tuesday morning the important role drive-thru and delivery options can play as Americans adjust to their new normal while the nation grapples with the global pandemic.
As of Tuesday afternoon, more than 5,000 cases have been confirmed in the U.S., though experts expect that number to rise as more testing is made available. More than 90 people have died.
The president met later with tourism industry leaders in the Cabinet Room, where he said how large the checks will be is “all being figured out now.”
Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, Mnuchin refused to confirm whether the administration was considering sending two waves of $250 billion worth of checks to Americans after previewing the plan at a lunch with Senate Republicans, dismissing reports of that figure as “rumors.”
Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah has proposed sending every American $1,000, and Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas has signaled support for a similar proposal to provide immediate economic relief to American families.
At the White House press conference, Mnuchin also announced that Treasury would defer an additional $100 billion in Internal Revenue Service payments, bringing the total to $300 billion. Individuals can defer up to $1 million, he said, while corporations can defer up to $10 million. The deferments are interest- and penalty-free for 90 days.
Still, Mnuchin encouraged as many Americans as possible to file their taxes by the April 15 deadline to ensure those who are eligible receive their refunds in a timely manner.
“We don’t want you to lose out on those tax refunds,” he said. “We want you to make sure you get them. Many people do this electronically, which is easy for them and easy for the IRS.”
It’s also possible that trading hours could be reduced at the nation’s stock markets given the economic damage of the coronavirus, Mnuchin said, cautioning that the goal was to keep exchanges open to maintain confidence.
While stocks edged upward early in the afternoon Tuesday, repeated selloffs in recent weeks have raised the question of whether exchanges will remain open as the damage continues.
“Americans need to know they have access to their money,” Mnuchin said. But “we may get to a point where we shorten the hours if that’s something they need to do.”
Trump, whose rhetoric and tone has notably shifted in recent days to reflect the the seriousness of the situation, claimed he always knew “this was real — this was a pandemic,” despite repeatedly downplaying the threat of the coronavirus.
He also acknowledged that there could be a 100 percent chance the coronavirus plunges the nation into a recession.
“It could be,” he said, insisting he doesn’t think in terms of recession or not. “When we are finished with the virus, we will win. When that victory takes place, our economy will go through the roof. It is so pent up, so built up, it is so ready to go in an upward duration. We have to knock out this enemy.”
Toby Eckert and Kellie Mejdrich contributed to this report.
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