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SALT LAKE CITY — One Utah senator proposed Monday putting $1,000 into the pocket of every adult in the country to help ensure families and workers can pay their bills and shop during the coronavirus pandemic.
Sen. Mitt Romney offered the idea among several suggestions in a call for “urgent” action to provide economic relief for working Americans, ease the financial burden for students and protect health workers and patients.
Romney said the House coronavirus response package passed last week contains critical measures to help families in Utah and across the nation, and the Senate should act swiftly on the legislation.
But, he said, more must be done, including writing $1,000 checks “as soon as possible” at an estimated overall cost of $100 billion. That would be for one month, but he said he’s open to considering it beyond that. He said he couldn’t gauge how much support there might be for his idea.
Calling the COVID-19 pandemic a “unique, singular” event in the country’s history, Romney said government needs to help people in distress and not be bound by financial concerns. Government, he said, must take whatever action is necessary in these “extraordinary” circumstances where enterprises could go out of business and people permanently lose their jobs.
“This is not a time to squeeze the budget,” he said Monday in a conference call with reporters “This is a time to get money to people in need.”
Giving people cash during an economic crisis isn’t unprecedented. Congress took similar action during the 2001 and 2008 recessions, Romney said.
While expansions of paid leave, unemployment insurance and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits are crucial, the check will help tide Americans over that may not quickly navigate different government options, according to the Republican senator.
Romney’s proposals come as the stock market plunged and President Donald Trump issued new guidelines to stem the spread of coronavirus, including avoiding eating out and shopping.
Romney characterized the Trump administration’s response to the outbreak as “evolving.” The political side of the administration, he said, was initially not as concerned as it has become. Trump has adopted a posture that is more consistent with what medical and public health professionals are saying, and those came together Monday, he said.
“I think early on there was some gaps that fortunately have been closed,” Romney said.
Ease the burden on students by allowing unexpected travel, housing, storage costs to factor in to Pell Grant award amounts.— Senator Mitt Romney (@SenatorRomney) March 16, 2020
As for his own health, the 73-year-old senator said he and his family are well, though he is “particularly nervous,” about his wife, Ann, whose immune system is compromised because of her multiple sclerosis.
“She is more strictly being quarantined than anyone else in the family,” he said.
Also Monday, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. — a 2020 GOP candidate for governor — put out a list of recommendations to protect the state’s economy. Stimulating consumer spending and maintaining capital investment are among the key points.
“Whatever we do, we should keep consumer confidence high, even look for incentives that apply to travel, tourism, spending,” he said.
Huntsman, a former presidential candidate and U.S. ambassador to China and Russia, also suggested banks keep lines of credit at zero interest available to small businesses, which he called the “heart and soul” of the economy.
A pathogen that originated in an open-air market in China that no one had heard of a month ago has taken a 30% bite out of the market, he said.
“The level of damage? Wham-bo,” he said.
Of Romney’s proposal to send everyone $1,000 checks, Huntsman said only that all of the best ideas should come forward in a time of crisis.
Gov. Gary Herbert on Monday directed Salt Lake Chamber President Derek Miller to organize an economic response team as a subcommittee of the state’s COVID-19 community task force.
Miller said the group will focus on protecting jobs and strengthening the basics that have made Utah one of the nation’s most successful economies, while working to help those feeling adverse financial effects of the coronavirus.
During the Great Recession in 2008, Utah set a goal to create 100,000 jobs in 1,000 days, which it accomplished ahead of schedule, he said. The challenge now, he said, is to safeguard those jobs.
“Stated another way, the focus on this economic response task force will be to protect 100,000 jobs over the days ahead,” Miller said.
On the federal level, Romney also proposed providing government grants to small businesses that apply but don’t receive economic injury disaster loans. The program, which he estimated to cost at least $50 billion, would ensure small businesses can meet short-term obligations, such as payroll and rent, without forcing them into future bankruptcies.
“We’d have millions of business wanting them, and we only have capacity at the Small Business Administration to deal with a certain number of entities at a time,” he said.
Romney said large industries, such as airlines and hotels, also will need government help.
“We don’t need all of the airlines going out of business or shutting down. That can’t happen. This is not something that has been caused by bad management or poor decisions on the part of regulators. This is an act of nature,” he said.
Other measures include allowing unexpected costs such as travel, housing and storage due to the COVID-19 outbreak factor into the amount of students’ Pell Grants and deferring student loan payments for new college graduates.
The amounts students paid for unexpected travel, housing and storage due to the COVID-19 outbreak should be a factor in the amount of their Pell Grants
Romney also proposed requiring all private insurance companies to cover telehealth services related to COVID-19 and have the federal government reimburse private plans for the full cost of services.