The Trump administration is considering sending cheques directly to Americans "in the next two weeks", as the White House ramps up its response to the economic consequences of the coronavirus outbreak.
Speaking in the White House, President Donald Trump said the government's response was "going to be big, and it's going to be bold", amid growing fears the US economy could enter recession.
As negotiations took place between the treasury department and Congress about a rescue package for the US economy, treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin announced a series of new measures at the daily White House coronavirus taskforce briefing.
“We are looking at sending checks to Americans immediately,” he said, before heading to the US Capitol for discussions with Republican senators. “Americans need cash now, and the president wants to get cash now – and I mean now in the next two weeks.”
The idea of giving $1,000 cheques to all citizens has been mooted by Republican senators such as Mitt Romney in recent days as concern grows among US politicians about the impact of the economic slowdown on their constituents. Mr Mnuchin suggested those earning more than $1 million annually would not be eligible.
The treasury secretary also announced that workers would not have to file their taxes by the annual deadline of April 15th, though he encouraged those who could file by then to do so.
The proposal to post cheques to Americans is part of a broader stimulus package under consideration in Washington as the impact of coronavirus begins to be felt throughout the country. The White House is seeking congressional approval for up to $850 billion (€770 billion) in spending – an unprecedented figure as the US tries to cushion the American economy from the worst effects of the Covid-19 outbreak.
The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives already agreed a "Families First" Bill at the weekend, which has now gone to the Senate for approval. It includes a series of measures such as paid sick leave for some workers and school meals for children. But the final package now being proposed by Congress is likely to include the new proposal for individual cheques for Americans as well as possibly a bailout for airlines.
Asked about provisions for the airline industry, Mr Mnuchin said he had spoken with all the airline chief executives this week. “This is worse than 9/11. For the airline industry, they are almost ground to a halt,” he said.
Several US carriers, including United Airlines and American Airlines, have already announced major cuts in flights and services and the industry body has requested a rescue plan worth at least $50 billion.
In a potentially worrying development for Ireland, Mr Trump has indicated the US is looking at ways to bring the production of pharmaceutical and medical devices back to America – a move that could hit a key Irish industry.
“We’re looking for some alternatives, yes,” Mr Trump said on Tuesday. “Ireland does a lot of work for us you know that in that world, in the pharma world. A very tremendous producer, and we are looking to bring a lot more back home. I’ve been talking about this for many years . . . long before I decided to run for president.”
Ireland is a major exporter of pharmaceutical and medical goods to the United States, including products like ventilators and drugs.
The promise of a suite of economic measures from the federal government helped calm stock markets on Tuesday, which have experienced their most volatile period since the financial crisis due to coronavirus. The main indices rose after Mr Trump’s press conference.
The White House has sought to bolster its economic powers as American businesses, schools and public services began to close around the country. On Monday, Mr Trump unveiled a series of new guidelines to combat the threat of coronavirus, including restricting group gatherings to 10 people and encouraging home schooling. But he stopped short of announcing a national curfew or quarantine. Instead, individual states across America have begun implementing sweeping measures to protect the public, including school and restaurant closures.
Speaking on Tuesday, Mr Trump underlined the need to fight the “invisible enemy” of coronavirus, saying the priority was to save lives. “I think our economy will come back very rapidly,” he said. “If we do this right, our country – and the world frankly – but our country can be rolling again pretty quickly.”