Americans may get US$1,000 checks in US$1 trillion stimulus plan

March 18, 2020 09:06
US President Donald Trump listens to travel and hotel executives during a meeting on coronavirus response at the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington on Tuesday.  Photo: Reuters

The Trump administration pursued a US$1 trillion stimulus package to buttress an economy hit by coronavirus fears that could deliver US$1,000 checks to Americans within two weeks, Reuters reports.

With the number of reported US cases of the respiratory illness surging past 5,800 and deaths approaching 100, millions of Americans hunkered down in their homes instead of commuting to work or school as New York and other major cities escalated “social distancing” policies by closing schools, bars, restaurants and theaters.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio on Tuesday said he would decide within two days whether to order residents to “shelter in place” to fight the spread of the virus.

The move would largely confine people to their homes in the city of roughly 8.5 million but probably let them make necessary trips to the grocery or pharmacy.

“It’s a very, very difficult decision,” de Blasio said. “We’ve never been here before. I have never heard of anything like this in the history of New York City.”

Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker announced that state’s first coronavirus death and said 22 other people had been infected at a nursing home in suburban Chicago.

In New Jersey, Governor Phil Murphy closed amusement parks and indoor shopping malls as a record number of unemployment applications crashed state computer systems.

In Minnesota, the Mall of America, the nation’s largest enclosed shopping center, said it would close through the end of the month.

Sheriff’s deputies in Los Angeles were ordered to write more tickets and make fewer arrests, to keep jail crowding to a minimum.

Vice President Mike Pence said the White House may have the US military establish field hospitals in virus hot zones if requested by state governors, or use the Army Corps of Engineers to add capacity to existing hospitals.

New York, Washington state and California have the most confirmed cases of the highly contagious respiratory illness.

In one of the most restrictive policies already in place, officials ordered residents of the San Francisco Bay area, some 6.7 million people, to stay home beginning for all but the most crucial outings until April 7.

President Donald Trump on Tuesday said progress is being made against the fast-spreading pathogen and predicted the US economy would “come roaring back” when it slows.

“It’s going to pop,” said Trump, who is seeking re-election on Nov. 3.

The Republican president’s tone on the coronavirus pandemic has changed sharply in the last few days. After initially playing down the threat and focusing on the stock market, his administration has begun pushing for urgent action to stem the disease’s economic and human toll.

His administration sought more than US$1 trillion for a stimulus package, which would include US$50 billion for hard-hit airlines facing bankruptcy and US$250 billion for small business loans.

“We’re going big,” Trump said, describing the health crisis as a war against an “invisible enemy.”

‘Gag and vote for it’

Trump, surrounded by top advisers at the White House briefing room, said his administration was considering a plan to send checks to individual Americans of US$1,000 to help them weather the crisis, though he indicated details needed to be worked out.

High earners might not qualify for payments, which could be sent within the next two weeks, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said his chamber would this week pass a multibillion-dollar emergency spending bill cleared by the House of Representatives on Saturday, despite concerns from some Republicans.

He said he told them to “gag and vote for it anyway”.

McConnell said the Senate would not leave town until it passes a follow-up package.

The House bill would require paid sick leave for workers, expand unemployment compensation and provide nearly US$1 billion in additional money to help feed children, homebound senior citizens and others during the outbreak.

The Senate would then turn to a follow-on aid package, he said.

Wall Street jumps

US stocks jumped on Tuesday, a day after their steepest declines since the 1987 crash, as the Federal Reserve took further steps to boost liquidity amid the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the global economy and markets.

The benchmark S&P 500 closed up 6 percent after the central bank relaunched a financial crisis-era purchase of short-term corporate debt.

Mnuchin said it may get to a point where shortening market trading hours would be needed, but that the intention is to keep markets open.

Trump said travel restrictions within the US are being considered.

“You can do a national lockdown. Hopefully, we’re not going to need that,” Trump said. “It’s a very big step.”

He asked Americans to avoid traveling and urged them to “buy less” when they go to stores after nationwide reports of anxious shoppers emptying grocery store shelves.

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