U.S. 'will not have' unemployment rate of 20 percent, Mnuchin says

"I didn't in any way say I think we are going to have that. It's just a mathematical statement," the Treasury Secretary clarified.
Image: Steven Mnuchin
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin speaks during a news conference about the coronavirus at the White House on March 14, 2020.Alex Brandon / AP

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By Lucy Bayly

The U.S. will not see unemployment levels of 20 percent, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin clarified Wednesday, just one day after issuing a stark warning about the economic effects of the coronavirus if Congress did not agree on the White House stimulus package.

Mnuchin's statement on Tuesday turned heads on Capitol Hill and helped fuel a downturn on Wall Street.

"I didn't in any way say I think we are going to have that," Mnuchin told CNBC in a phone interview Wednesday morning. "It's just a mathematical statement."

Mnuchin said he had calculated that if a certain number of workers from the private sector were to lose their jobs, the result would be an unemployment rate of 20 percent.

"But we're not going to let that happen," he said. "We're going to make sure that companies have money so they can continue to pay their employees."

Mnuchin also clarified that the administration would not be extending the deadline to file taxes, though the Treasury Department is allowing a 90-day reprieve on taxes owed.

"We are not moving the filing date, just the date you need to pay the money," he said, adding that Americans who expect to get refunds should file their taxes by the usual April 15 deadline.

Additionally, after making headlines for saying the White House planned to "send checks to Americans immediately," Mnuchin noted that this would actually involve direct deposit.

“When I said checks in the mail, that was a metaphor,” he told CNBC.

While it remains unclear who would get money and how much, Mnuchin indicated the financial aid would be aimed toward those most hurt by the viral outbreak.

"Americans need cash now, and the president wants to get cash now," Mnuchin said during a news briefing at the White House on Tuesday. "And I mean now in the next two weeks."

The White House said checks could go out to Americans by late April, if Congress acted quickly.