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March 28, 2020, 5:46 p.m. EDT

Government wanted us to splurge on electronics with past stimulus checks; this time it aims to help us buy essentials

Bush administration sent out checks in 2001 and 2008

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By Gwynn Guilford

Associated Press
The federal government in 2008 mailed checks to households to spur consumer spending. It was the second such direct payment to Americans from the George W. Bush administration.

Americans want the federal government to show them the money — and lawmakers are eager to do just that.

A key provision of the economic-relief package passed by Congress is a plan to send one-time cash payments, worth an estimated $250 billion in total, to more than 150 million American households.

See: Trump wants his signature to appear on coronavirus stimulus checks

The economic effects of the program will likely be different, however, from the similar check-payment programs undertaken during past recessions, analysts say.

This time, the money is aimed primarily at helping households keep paying their bills and buying necessities if workers lose jobs or income due to the measures taken to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus. That should help tide them over for a while in parts of the country where authorities have ordered nonessential businesses closed and public events cancelled, while urging people to stay home if possible.

It won’t boost economic output, but should limit its likely steep drop.

This is unlike past recessions, such as in 2001 and 2008, when the federal government mailed checks to households to spur consumer spending in hopes of fueling an economic rebound.

An expanded version of this report appears at WSJ.com.

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