(BBC) – US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says the government wants to send cash to Americans in an effort to avert economic crisis caused by the coronavirus.
“We’re looking at sending cheques to Americans immediately,” he said.
“Americans need cash now and the president wants to give cash now and I mean now, in the next two weeks.”
The cheques are part of a potential $850bn aid package, which the White House is discussing with Congress.
That package would also include a bailout for airlines and hotels, Mr Mnuchin said at a press conference in Washington.
The US has been debating how to provide relief as economic activity grinds to a halt in response to widespread closures, cancellations and other measures intended to slow the spread of the virus.
US President Donald Trump initially proposed a payroll tax cut, but many economists had said that would work too slowly and be too limited to blunt the pain. They had urged more direct assistance, including $1,000 payments.
Mr Trump said he had come round to the view that faster relief is necessary.
“With this invisible enemy, we don’t want people losing their jobs and not having money to live,” Mr Trump said.
Jason Furman, an economist at Harvard University who was a top adviser to former President Barack Obama, is among those who have championed such a step.
“It would enable people to not work, if that’s what they need to do. It will prevent some people from not making their rent payments or other payments,” he said.
“There are a lot of ways to spend money that don’t involve going out.”
The plans for the economic relief package follow major actions by the Federal Reserve to ease financial strains.
The bank on Tuesday said it will use emergency powers to purchase up to $1tr in short-term corporate debt. It is also offering another $500bn in overnight loans.
Markets rallied following the announcement. They have been in turmoil for weeks, as investors respond to the likelihood that the coronavirus will cause a sharp contraction in the US economy in coming months.