AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
President Trump spoke this evening about the ongoing coronavirus outbreak. He announced that he would be discussing payroll tax relief with Congress and the possibility of creating loans for small businesses. We can expect more information tomorrow, when the president said he would host a press conference to give more details on the economic measures he hopes to use. For now we have NPR's chief economic correspondent Scott Horsley back in the studio.
Hey there, Scott.
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good evening, Audie.
CORNISH: And science correspondent Richard Harris is also here.
RICHARD HARRIS, BYLINE: Thanks, Audie.
CORNISH: Scott, the president mentioned a payroll tax cut and loans for small businesses. What does that have to do with coronavirus? What's the strategy here?
HORSLEY: Well, the coronavirus is certainly doing some damage to the U.S. economy. Up until now, the White House has mostly talked about specific industries like airlines and cruise ships, which might be affected. But the president's here talking about more broad-based remedies. Loans for small businesses - that might mean any small business that's had some disruption to its operations because of this outbreak. And then the payroll tax cut is just sort of an easy way for the government to pump money into the economy, help consumers spend a little bit more at a time when they might be wary about going out and going to a restaurant or going to a shopping center. The payroll tax holiday is something that was done during the financial crisis, during the initial stimulus back in 2009, so there is some precedent for this. Up until now, though, the only person in the White House who's really seemed to advocate for it is Donald Trump himself. He's tweeted about it in the past, and his own economic advisers have sort of pooh-poohed the idea. But now it does seem to be something that's being taken seriously.
CORNISH: So how does this fit in with the bigger economic picture, especially on a day when the Dow fell more than 2,000 points?
HORSLEY: Yeah, this was the worst day for the stock market since the Great Recession, and I think that has just added urgency to the idea of doing something to try to inoculate the economy against the worst ravages of the coronavirus. The president talked about meeting tomorrow with congressional Republicans. He's evidently not meeting with congressional Democrats, although they have some of their own ideas about how to safeguard the economy. One thing they've talked about and the president's talked about is helping hourly workers who don't have sick leave so if they get sick, they don't face the terrible choice of either having to go to work sick or go without a paycheck.
CORNISH: And in terms of curbing the spread of coronavirus, Richard Harris, why would this make a difference?
HARRIS: Well, obviously, if somebody is feeling ill and has to say, well, if I need to keep food on the table and paying my rent, I have to go anyway and do my food service job or whatever, be out in public and out exposing other people to their illness, that, obviously, works against efforts to try to control the disease. And I quickly looked up what was going on in Italy with this. So, for example, if you're an Italian worker and you get sick, you get three days of guaranteed sick leave right away. And then the National Health Service then kicks in and says, for the next 20 days, you - they're going to supplement your pay - pay half of your pay, essentially. And if you're still sick, they'll continue paying, so it's...
CORNISH: The idea meaning if you need to self-quarantine or get tested or whatever.
HARRIS: Yeah. I mean, this is done as a general rule of - in areas that have more substantial health benefits than we do in this country. But it is clearly very valuable in a time right now, when, clearly, local and state governments and the federal government is asking, you know, maybe we need to start shutting down economic activity, telling people to stay home. And that's a really tough situation for people at the bottom of the economic spectrum for sure.
CORNISH: At this press conference, the president and the vice president also talked about rolling out guidelines for individuals and businesses. What do we know about this? How valuable is it?
HARRIS: I think the general guidelines we've been hearing about handwashing and so on are just - they're sort of broadcasting that. But I think what is still missing, really, is federal guidelines helping states and local governments really try to decide, when should we close our schools? When should we take some of these really big measures? They're understandably left up as decisions to local governments, but there's some people who are saying the federal government should be giving more guidance.
CORNISH: That's science correspondent Richard Harris. We also heard from NPR's chief economic correspondent Scott Horsley.
Thank you both.
HORSLEY: You're welcome.
HARRIS: Sure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.