As the government takes drastic measures to calm markets in the economic fallout from COVID-19, individual Americans might soon be seeing some dramatic measures of their own.
In a White House press conference today on coronavirus updates, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin signaled that the Trump administration is very interested in sending Americans a check in the mail—and soon.
"We're looking at sending checks to Americans immediately. What we've heard from hardworking Americans is many companies have shut down, whether it's bars or restaurants," Mnuchin said.
"Americans need cash now and the president wants to get cash now. And I mean now in the next two weeks."
Mnuchin added that he'll be previewing the amount of direct payments with Republicans later Tuesday, but suggested "they may be a little bit bigger than what's in the press," suggesting that individual payments could be higher than the $1,000.
Under the White House's plan, the payments are likely to be income-capped so that high earners don't receive unnecessary payouts.
"I think it's clear we don't need to send people who make a million dollars a year checks," Mnuchin said.
Trump added that the administration will "have a pretty good idea" on the details of those payments by the end of the day. "That's one of the ideas we like," Mnuchin said, referring to the direct payments.
Mnuchin mentioned other measures like a payroll tax holiday, but noted that they would not provide financial relief quickly enough given that their effects might not be felt for six to eight months.
He encouraged Americans to plan on filing their taxes by the regular deadline of April 15, as many Americans can expect refunds. "We don't want to lose out on those tax refunds, we want to make sure that you get them," Mnuchin said. Americans who owe on their taxes can defer up to $1 million on an individual basis interest and penalty free for 90 days. Corporations can defer up to $10 million.
The White House has its own ideas about an $850 billion stimulus package, but it still needs to hammer out the details with Congress. Trump and Mnuchin are headed to meet with Republicans in Congress Tuesday afternoon. The House passed its own bipartisan stimulus bill to expand sick leave and free testing on Friday.
Some Senate Democrats also support the idea of direct cash payments to provide financial relief for Americans during the COVID-19 crisis. Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO), Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) proposed "immediate direct cash payments" in a letter to Senate Democratic leadership first reported by The New York Times.
Under the proposal, Americans would receive $2,000 payments quickly and potentially more over time depending on the course of the economic crisis, up to $4,500 per individual annually. Under the proposal, like the White House proposal, high earners would not be eligible for the payments.
The idea of cash payments to individual Americans is seeing an unusual moment of bipartisan support. The proposal of $1,000 individual monthly payments was a key tenet of Andrew Yang's presidential campaign, which brought discussions about a universal basic income—what Yang called a "Freedom Dividend"—to the forefront of the American political conversation.
On Monday, Republican Senator Mitt Romney proposed a plan to provide American adults $1,000 to lessen the financial blow of the novel coronavirus on working people.
"Every American adult should immediately receive $1,000 to help ensure families and workers can meet their short-term obligations and increase spending in the economy," a statement from Romney's office asserted.
Such proposals, now seeing support from some Republicans, some Senate Democrats and the White House, look likely to make their way into near-future federal relief measures.