June 10, 2020 / 1:09 PM / a month ago

U.S. Treasury chief says considering more direct payments in next coronavirus aid bill

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin answers questions during the daily coronavirus task force briefing at the White House in Washington, U.S., April 21, 2020. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Wednesday he would seriously consider more direct payments to individuals in the next phase of coronavirus rescue legislation, adding that funds should also be targeted to help sectors struggling to reopen, including hospitality and tourism.

Testifying before the U.S. Senate Small Business Committee, Mnuchin said the Treasury also planned to issue new guidance this week to ease rules that prohibit business owners with a criminal conviction in the past five years from accessing forgivable Paycheck Protection Program loans.

That would be reduced to three years, and Mnuchin said he was open to easing the rules further.

Mnuchin said he “definitely” believed another round of federal coronavirus aid would be needed, including measures to create jobs. Congress has so far passed three coronavirus bills totaling about $3 trillion in programs, including the small- business payroll loans, payments to individuals, money for healthcare providers and Federal Reserve credit market backstops.

“We will have a significant amount of unemployment and we’re going to need to look at doing something there,” Mnuchin said. “I think we’re going to seriously look at whether we want to do more direct money to stimulate the economy, but I think this is all going to be about getting people back to work.”

The Treasury chief, who has negotiated most of the programs with congressional leaders, also said he was open to “repurposing” some of the unused funds. When asked if he would consider allowing some $130 billion in unclaimed PPP funds to be used to rebuild businesses damaged during recent protests over police brutality, Mnuchin said he would consider the idea.

He cautioned against rushing into a fourth bill as the economy was starting to reopen. But some sectors that have been slow to reopen, including restaurants and travel-related industries, may need more help, he said.

“Small business and by the way, many big businesses, in certain industries are absolutely going to need more help,” Mnuchin said.

Reporting by David Lawder; Editing by Nick Zieminski and Peter Cooney

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