US relief checks begin arriving as economic damage piles up

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Residents of the Alexandra township in Johannesburg wait for a distribution of food organized by the municipality Wednesday, April 15, 2020 downtown Johannesburg. Some waited in vain for over 6 hours, their names not being on the list or recipients provided by the municipality. South Africa is under a strict five-week lockdown credited with slowing the rate of COVID-19 infections and reducing overall crime.(AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

SEOUL – 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. Still, in some places under stay-at-home orders, frustrations began to boil over among those worried the economic toll is more crushing than the virus itself.

And elsewhere around the world, the first steps in lifting economically crippling restrictions 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.