Federal Government Floats Sending Americans Cash to Address Outbreak

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin speaks during a press briefing with the coronavirus task force, at the White House, Tuesday, March 17, 2020, in Washington, as President Donald Trump looks on.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin speaks during a press briefing with the coronavirus task force, at the White House, Tuesday, March 17, 2020, in Washington, as President Donald Trump looks on. AP Photo/Evan Vucci

 

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The Trump administration is considering providing “business interruption payments” for American workers as the economic fallout from the coronavirus outbreak continues.

The Trump administration is open to providing Americans direct payments as part of a $1 trillion economic stimulus plan meant to help families and workers weather the downturn triggered by the coronavirus outbreak.

“Americans need cash now and the president wants to get cash now,” said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Tuesday during a news conference at the White House.  “You can think of this as something like business interruption payments to the American workers.”

The Republican-led Senate will work with the Trump administration to hammer out the details of the package. But Mnuchin said the administration’s $1 trillion plan includes the direct cash payments to Americans, as well as support for small businesses and loans for the airline and hotel industries.

On Capitol Hill, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the Senate would remain in session to pass a smaller coronavirus aid bill adopted last week by the House and then take up the broader economic stimulus package. While some Republicans have pushed back on provisions included in the Democrat-backed House bill, McConnell said he was advising colleagues to pass the bill and seek to address those issues in what he referred to as “phase three.”

“My counsel to them is to gag and vote for it anyway, even if it has shortcomings," McConnell said Tuesday, following a meeting between Mnuchin and Republican lawmakers.

The discussions about helping workers comes as governors and mayors across the country are ordering schools, bars, gyms and movie theaters to close, while restaurants are being restricted to delivery and takeout service. In the San Francisco area, six counties ordered most residents to “shelter in place.” 

But all of these efforts to get residents to stay in their homes and prevent people from congregating will carry profound economic costs for many workers, particularly those who can’t do their jobs from home. Reports are already emerging of restaurants and bars laying off staff

The amount of money that Americans could receive through direct payments from the federal government would likely be subject to some income limitations, officials said. Mnuchin said the federal government doesn’t need to send checks to “people who make $1 million a year.”

Proposals laid out by members of Congress, such as U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney, over the last 24 hours include providing $1,000 to every American adult or providing up to $6,000 to individuals depending on their income level. CNN reported Tuesday the Trump administration was eyeing income caps of $75,000 to $100,000.

At Tuesday’s news conference at the White House, President Trump said he wants to get money to people as soon as possible. While the president has voiced support for payroll tax cuts in the past, Mnuchin said it would take months for those to benefit American workers who are now feeling the economic impacts of the outbreak.

Meanwhile, if approved, direct payments could go out “in the next two weeks,” Mnuchin said. 

McConnell said Tuesday that he had appointed three Republican task force panels to vet ideas for the third coronavirus package. Once Republicans reach consensus with the administration, they will work with Democratic lawmakers, he said. 

As Republicans sort out the details, Democrats rolled out their own $750 billion stimulus plan. 

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said his proposal would focus on providing aid to workers, the healthcare industry, and small businesses.

“Our major focus cannot be based on bailing out airlines, cruises and other industries,” Schumer said. “We must first prioritize economic solutions that are focused on workers and their families.”

A third coronavirus aide package would be in addition to $8.3 billion in funding for federal, state and local healthcare systems and vaccine development, as well as the House bill still under consideration by the Senate. 

While McConnell urged the Senate to pass the House legislation as is, it was not immediately clear when a vote would occur. The House bill would provide free coronavirus testing for all, provide some workers affected by the virus with two weeks of paid sick leave, enhance unemployment protections for those who lose their jobs during the outbreak and provide money to help feed children who rely on free and reduced-price lunch programs.

But as details emerged over the weekend, it became clear that the paid sick leave provision of the bill would not apply to many workers. Large companies were left out of the bill, while small and mid-sized companies can apply for exemptions. While 89% of companies with more than 500 employees provide paid sick leave, it is not necessarily the two weeks envisioned in the bill. 

Among the concerns McConnell raised with the bill are requirements for small businesses, who may be struggling financially due to closures or cutbacks in service, to provide new benefits to workers. He said that mandate might be harmful “unless we urgently address a broader package that had more and broader small business relief.”

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Andrea Noble is a staff correspondent for Route Fifty.

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