How the government is helping workers and businesses during the coronavirus outbreak


As the United States grapples with the economic impact of the coronavirus, government officials and policymakers are working on legislation to protect both businesses and consumers.

Though the major stock benchmarks have slipped into bear markets and short-term economic outlooks have shifted, the federal government is considering how it can create cushions to help absorb some of the impact.

Here are a few ideas currently being discussed by administration officials in the federal government, or already in the works, as part of a set of stimulus packages:

Direct assistance for workers. The Trump administration's new proposed stimulus plan could send two checks to consumers, one in April and one in May, in an effort to get cash to people to help them contend with a loss or drop in income, according to a document obtained by NBC. President Trump is also expected to sign a "phase 2" relief package, which passed the Senate Wednesday afternoon. It expands access to sick leave, unemployment benefits, coronavirus testing, and offers other aid measures. 

The federal government will set interest rates on federal student loans to 0% for "at least" the next 60 days, according to a U.S. Department of Education press release from Friday, and debtors "will have the option to suspend their payments for at least two months."

The government weighing a moratorium on evictions, too, and is looking at cutting payroll taxes, which would get more money to those still getting a paycheck.

Assistance for businesses. The Federal Reserve has already cut interest rates to near zero, making it cheaper for businesses to borrow money. Legislators are looking at the possibility of giving small businesses money so that they can keep paying their employees. President Trump has also called for the Small Business Administration to make available $50 billion in loans through the 7(a) loan non-disaster program.

Other loan programs and business assistance measures are likely to be announced in the coming days. And many of the proposed plans could change as lawmakers iron out the details.

How the stock market may react

The market's reaction to the news cycle is spurring government officials to action: "It's not pretty, but it's orderly," says Rich Steinberg, chief market strategist at The Colony Group. Steinberg says that as state and local governments, along with the federal government, work out legislation to help workers and businesses, the markets will adjust accordingly, which could further help stabilize things.

And though investors may feel alarmed by the large declines in the stock market, experts say that big drops are a part of ordinary cycles.

Although the Federal government is still ironing out the specifics of various large-scale relief measure, state and local governments may have already made announcements related to housing payments and debt repayments that are also relevant to you. You can check with government agencies, like the CDC, or your state's official website for more information.

On an individual level, Steinberg suggests thinking through your spending decisions and sticking to your financial plan, if possible. "Really think about what your money is being used for," he says. If you're confident with your employment situation, "think about rebalancing your portfolio, and sticking to your long-term investment plan."

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