The Trump administration announced a plan on Tuesday to send money to Americans immediately to ease the economic shock of the coronavirus pandemic.
Scrambling to get a grip on the virus that is rapidly spreading through the United States, President Donald Trump told reporters that the economic challenge will be tough in the short term but that the economy will eventually rebound.
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“We’re going to win and I think we’re going to win faster than people think, I hope,” said Trump, surrounded by top advisers on the coronavirus crisis.
Trump told reporters payments could amount to $1,000.
Appearing with Trump, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the Trump administration wants to send cheques to Americans within the next two weeks to help them cope with the virus fallout.
“We’re looking at sending cheques to Americans immediately,” Mnuchin said. “Americans need cash now … and I mean now in the next two weeks.”
Mnuchin also said individuals can defer income tax payments up to $1m and corporations up to $10m for 90 days, interest and penalty-free.
He was adamant that the Trump administration intends to keep markets open through the coronavirus crisis, although shorter trading hours may be needed at some point.
“I want to just be very clear, we intend to keep the markets open,” Mnuchin said.
“We may get to a point where we shorten the hours, if that’s something they need to do, but Americans should know that we are going to do everything to make sure that they have access to their money at their banks, to the money in their 401(k)s, and to the money in stocks.”
Vice President Mike Pence said the government was urging construction companies to donate N95 face masks to local hospitals and not purchase any more to help doctors.
Pence also said the US Army Corps of Engineers can deploy field hospitals quickly to help handle the influx of virus patients. Trump added that he was looking at sites where they might be needed.
Trump on Monday urged Americans to work diligently for 15 days to try to slow the spread of the virus by avoiding crowds and staying home for the most part. On Tuesday, he asked Americans not to travel and said he had not ruled out travel restrictions to parts of the country. He said Americans should “enjoy their living room”.
Trump coronavirus adviser Deborah Birx added: “We’re asking our older generation to stay in their homes … We’re asking the younger generation to stop going out.”
The coronavirus outbreak has forced millions of Americans to hunker down in their homes instead of commuting to work or school. State and local governments have escalated “social distancing” policies, closing schools, bars, restaurants and theatres in an attempt to contain the virus.
The abrupt slowdown has staggered the US airline industry and other economic sectors and has left an increasing number of Americans unemployed.
A report from the US Department of Commerce on Tuesday showed retail sales fell by the most in more than a year in February. Sales dropped 0.5 percent last month, the biggest decline since December 2018. Data for January was revised higher to show retail sales accelerating 0.6 percent instead of rising 0.3 percent as previously reported.
“Disruptions from the coronavirus will bring the economy’s main engine to a halt,” said Lydia Boussour, a senior US economist at Oxford Economics in New York. “As the virus keeps consumers at home and panic spreads, discretionary spending and ‘social consumption’ will take a significant hit.”