WASHINGTON — As large parts of the economy shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Trump administration announced Tuesday that it will propose direct payments to Americans, delay tax penalties, and keep the stock market open, among several measures aimed at protecting the health and livelihood of Americans.
President Donald Trump and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin promised direct payments to Americans, many of whom work in industries like travel and dining, which have all but shut down as citizens self-quarantine to slow the spread of the infectious virus. They also said it will include sweeping measures to bail out industries.
“These will be payments to small businesses. We've talked about loan guarantees to critical industries such as airlines and hotels, and we've also talked about a stimulus package to the American worker,” Mnuchin said at a White House press conference. “We're looking at sending checks to Americans immediately. Americans need cash now, the president wants to get cash now, I mean now, in the next few weeks.”
More details will be coming later on Tuesday, Mnuchin added, as he prepares to head to Capitol Hill to craft the policy with senators. Swift Congressional action is anything but assured, however, as it would need the support of 60 senators, and individual lawmakers have various ideas about how the stimulus should be crafted.
The announcements were delivered at a wide-ranging press conference of the coronavirus task force Tuesday afternoon. Here are the highlights:
- Mnuchin emphasized that he and others prefer direct payments to Americans rather than a payroll tax cut — the previously-discussed solution for those suffering — since such cuts could take months to actually reach people.
- For the next 90 days, individuals can also defer up to $1 million in tax payments, interest-free and penalty-free. Corporations can defer up to $10 million. The cumulative effect of the deferred payments will pump up to $300 billion into the U.S. economy, according to Mnuchin.
- Mnuchin pressed that the stock market will remain open, though trading hours may be reduced. (Trading floors in New York ground to a halt for four consecutive days after 9/11, leading to concerns that the same could soon happen again in an outbreak-stricken New York City.)
- After New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo pressed the administration for the deployment of the Army Corps of Engineers Monday — citing their ability to quickly build out temporary hospitals — Trump said that the Department of Defense was looking into renovating existing field hospitals nationwide. “We can have a lot of units up fairly quickly if we think we need them,” Trump added. Cuomo’s state is currently the center of the U.S. outbreak.
- Vice President Mike Pence urged construction companies to hand over their N95 masks — which are currently in short supply nationwide — and to hold off on any more orders in the meantime.
- Trump said the U.S. has ordered “massive numbers” of ventilators and encouraged governors to order their own medical equipment directly if they felt they could work faster than the feds.
- Seema Verma, the head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said Tuesday that her agency would expand telehealth services to all Medicare beneficiaries so they don’t have to leave their homes. She recommended that seniors get in touch with their physicians to figure out how to set up appointments. The government will also temporarily lift some medical privacy provisions so doctors can carry out telemedical appointments from their personal devices.
Cover: Steven Mnuchin, U.S. Treasury secretary, right, speaks beside U.S. President Donald Trump during a Coronavirus Task Force news conference in the briefing room of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, March 17, 2020. (Photo: Kevin Dietsch/UPI/Bloomberg via Getty Images)