How the White House can get $1,000 into the hands of every American

As the coronavirus threatens to push the global economy into recession, the Trump administration is rolling out an unusual idea: handing out free money.

Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Tuesday proposed mailing out checks of up to $1,000 to American adults to quickly pump hundreds of billions of dollars into the U.S. economy at a time when airlines are slashing flights and officials are shuttering restaurants, sports arenas and other public venues.

Though details remain unclear, Washington could turn to the playbook it deployed in February 2008, when the Great Recession was just taking hold. The Economic Stimulus Act of 2008 provided payments averaging $600 per person, injecting more than $100 billion into the economy within a matter of months.

The payments were directly deposited into bank accounts by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service to taxpayers who filed their taxes electronically, or came as paper checks to other taxpayers. Individuals who didn’t make enough to pay federal taxes still had to file an IRS statement that year to get a payment.

Economists concluded that it was one of the most effective measures deployed to blunt the impact of the worst downturn since the 1930s.

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