Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has announced that he supports sending money directly to Americans as part of a $1 trillion stimulus aimed at averting an economic crisis caused by the coronavirus.
He said: “We’re looking at sending cheques to Americans immediately.”
The $250 billion in cheques are part of a huge aid package which the White House is discussing with Congress.
The move follows widespread school and store closures as the number of coronavirus cases in the US passes 5,200 people.
The US has been debating how to provide relief as activity grinds to a halt in response to curfews and other measures intended to slow the spread of the virus.
Details such as the size of the cheques, and who would qualify for them, are still under discussion.
A $1 trillion aid package would be larger than the US response to the 2008 financial crisis, amounting to nearly a quarter of what the federal government spent last year.
In addition to the $250 billion in cheques for families, the plan includes a bailout for airlines and hotels, among other measures. The proposal must be approved by Congress to move forward.
Separate from the $1 trillion package, Steve Mnuchin said the government would also allow companies and individuals to delay their tax payments for 90 days.
He said: “We look forward to having bipartisan support to pass this legislation very quickly.”
President Donald Trump initially proposed a payroll tax cut, which would reduce the money the government automatically withholds from worker pay to pay for social programs.
However, critics said that relief would come too slowly and leave out those without jobs. Several high-profile economists had urged more direct assistance, including $1,000 payments, winning support from lawmakers such as Republican Senator Mitt Romney.
President Trump said he had come round to the view that faster, more direct relief is necessary.
He said: “With this invisible enemy, we don’t want people losing their jobs and not having money to live.”
The president added that he wanted to target the relief to those who need it.
Steven Mnuchin said he hoped to send the cheques within two weeks.
He said: “Americans need cash now and the president wants to give cash now and I mean now, in the next two weeks.”