WASHINGTON (AP) — Government relief checks began arriving in Americans’ bank accounts as the economic damage to the U.S. from the coronavirus piled up Wednesday and sluggish sales at reopened stores in Europe and China made it clear that business won’t necessarily bounce right back when the crisis eases.
With many factories shut down, American industrial output shriveled in March, registering its biggest decline since the U.S. demobilized in 1946 at the end of World War II. Retail sales fell by an unprecedented 8.7%, with April expected to be far worse.
The world's biggest economy began issuing one-time payments this week to tens of millions of people as part of its $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief package, with adults receiving up to $1,200 each and $500 per child to help them pay the rent or cover other bills. The checks will be directly deposited into accounts or mailed to households in the coming weeks, depending on how people filed their tax returns.
Among those receiving a check was Jacqueline Gonzalez, a 32-year-old single mother who was laid off from her job as a bartender and lives with her mother, a teacher, in Miami Lakes, Florida. Gonzalez paid her car insurance and gave her mother $500 for rent. She has signed up for food stamps.
“There is no other form of income for us right now. We have no other choice. We can’t work from home,” she said. “We’re just sitting here. Bills are racking up.”
In an unprecedented move, President Donald Trump’s name will be printed on the paper checks.
Meanwhile, the first steps in lifting economically crippling restrictions in other parts of the world are running into resistance, with customers staying away from the reopened businesses and workers afraid of risking their health.
In China, millions are still wary of spending much or even going out. Some cities have resorted to handing out vouchers and trying to reassure consumers by showing officials in state media eating in restaurants.
“I put off plans to change cars and spend almost nothing on eating out or entertainment,” said Zhang Hu, a truck salesman in Zhengzhou who has gone back to work but has seen his income plummet because few people are buying 20-ton rigs. “I have no idea when the situation will turn better.”
In Austria, Marie Froehlich, who owns a clothing store in Vienna, said her staff was happy to be back after weeks cooped up at home. But dependent largely on tourism, which has dried up amid the travel restrictions, she expects the business will take months to return to normal.
“Until then, we are in crisis mode,” she said.
Rome's streets were also largely deserted despite the reopening of some stores this week.
Worldwide, deaths have topped 130,000 and confirmed infections 2 million, according to the tally kept by Johns Hopkins University. The figures understate the true size of the crisis, in part because of limited testing, different ways of counting the dead, and concealment by some governments
The U.S. has recorded approximately 28,000 deaths — highest in the world — and over 600,000 confirmed infections, by Johns Hopkins' count. Still, the nightmare scenarios projecting a far greater number of deaths and hospitalizations have not come to pass, raising hopes from coast to coast.