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Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Tuesday that President Trump is looking at how to reopen parts of the U.S. economy as the coronavirus pandemic forces an unprecedented shutdown of business throughout the country.
"The president is very much looking at how we can reopen parts of the economy," Mnuchin told FOX Business' Maria Bartiromo. "There are parts of the country, like New York, where obviously this is very, very concerning. There are other parts of the country where it’s not."
Restaurants, bars, hotels, gyms, beauty salons, entertainment venues and other businesses deemed nonessential have been ordered to close, while 41 states have enacted strict stay-at-home policies, bringing American life to a grinding halt.
The result has been an economic free fall that experts warn will be worse than the 2008 financial crisis. In the final two weeks of March, a record-shattering 10 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits, a stunning sign of the depth of the downturn.
Estimates vary drastically for how high unemployment will climb, but economists broadly agree that it will be grim. An analysis published by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis last week projected that unemployment could hit 32 percent in the second quarter as more than 47 million workers are laid off because of the pandemic. That would exceed the 24.9 percent peak during the Great Depression.
To prop up the economy, Congress, at the end of March, passed a $2.2 trillion stimulus package that includes a one-time cash check of up to $1,200 for adults who earn less than $99,000; $350 billion in forgivable loans for small businesses to maintain their payrolls and a $500 billion fund for bigger companies.
Mnuchin said the direct payments are slated to be sent by the end of next week.
The $349 billion Payroll Protection Program, meanwhile, is designed to get cash in the hands of struggling small businesses and incentivize them to keep staff on payroll, or re-hire workers who have already been laid off. To receive the aid, businesses must have been operational by at least Feb. 15.
At least 3,000 lenders backed by the Small Business Administration are participating in the program, Mnuchin said. As of Monday afternoon, more than 130,000 loans worth more than $40 billion had been paid, a senior administration official told FOX Business.
Companies may borrow up to 2.5 times their payroll, or up to $10 million, which can be used for payroll and other expenses, like insurance premiums, mortgages, rent or utilities through June 30. The loans, which are guaranteed by the federal government, will be fully forgiven if 75 percent of the money goes toward keeping workers employed, according to the SBA.
If the program runs out of money, Mnuchin said the Trump administration plans to ask Congress to replenish the fund.
"If you can't get the loan today or tomorrow, don’t worry," he said. "There will be money. And if we run out of money we’ll come back for more."