NEW YORK – Remember businessman Andrew Yang from the Democratic primaries, who stood out with his emphatic universal basic income “freedom dividend” plan to give $1,000 a month to eligible Americans? Now, in the age of the coronavirus, that’s wiped out jobs like a giant vacuum cleaner at work in a room with cotton balls, that proposal doesn’t seem bizarre or brazen.
Yang’s proposal just before the pandemic struck the US, had been met with skepticism and even derision from conservatives. They dismissed his plan as a far-left socialist move to plunge the country into total welfare state mode, kill capitalism and job-creation.
Yang argued that the steady and assuring dollar trickle would not only continuously revitalize and boost the economy, it would help Americans “pay their bills, educate themselves, start businesses, be more creative, stay healthy, relocate for work, spend time with their children, take care of loved ones, and have a real stake in the future.”
Now, Rep. Ro Khanna, Democrat Congressman from California, who was the former co-chair of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ campaign for president, and was recently appointed to the White House Coronavirus advisory council, to the ‘Opening Up America Again Congressional Group’, and his Democrat counterpart from Ohio, Rep. Tim Ryan, have taken a leaf from Yang’s notebook.
The duo introduced this week in Congress, the Emergency Money for the People Act, to give steady income to Americans, for as long as a year, to counter the negative economic impact of the coronavirus. The 17 co-sponsors, all Democrats, include Rep. Barbara Lee, who helps lead the House Steering and Policy Committee, and Rep. Pramila Jayapal.
The Act, in essence, expands relief to more Americans after the CARES Act, and includes a $2,000 monthly payment to every qualifying American over the age of 16 for up to 12 months. It also fixes a bug in the CARES Act to ensure college students and adults with disabilities can still receive the payments even if claimed as a dependent.
“A one-time, twelve-hundred-dollar check isn’t going to cut it,” said Khanna. “Americans need sustained cash infusions for the duration of this crisis in order to come out on the other side alive, healthy, and ready to get back to work. Members on both sides of the aisle are finally coming together around the idea of sending money out to people.”
Ryan stated: “The economic impact of this virus is unprecedented for our country. As millions of Americans file for unemployment week over week, we have to work quickly to patch the dam – and that means putting cash in the hands of hard-working families.”
According to the plan proposed by Khanna and Ryan, every American age 16 and older making less than $130,000 annually would receive at least $2,000 per month. Married couples earning less than $260,000 would receive at least $4,000 per month. Qualifying families with children will receive an additional $500 per child; families will receive funds for up to three children. So, a married couple making under $260K with three kids would receive $5,500 per month. The plan would also cover those who had no earnings, were unemployed, or are currently unemployed.
It’s not the first time Khanna – who last month urged a massive increase in funding for the Defense Production Act, to make more ventilators and other medical equipment to deal with the pandemic – has come up with this idea to put cash in pockets of Americans.
Khanna and other Democrats are not the only ones who have advocated such a move. Republicans Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah and Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas too had urged the government to cut hefty checks for American adults to counter the coronavirus effect.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had mooted the idea before the CARES Act took shape – which is now delivering relief checks to all tax paying Americans.
CNBC reported last month that Yang’s concept has been advocated for years in Silicon Valley, where the world’s top engineers are building algorithms to replace humans across seemingly every sector of the economy.
Billionaire techies Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk have endorsed universal basic income, and start-up incubator Y Combinator launched a trial in Oakland in 2016 and has since expanded it.
The city of Stockton, California, about 80 miles east of San Francisco, started an 18-month pilot early last year, paying $500 a month to 125 low-income residents, the report pointed out.
Natalie Foster, former digital director for Obama’s Organizing for America, has spent the past four years working to make universal basic income a reality.
“There has been a long history of thought on this idea, and now is a moment to put it into action,” said Foster, who’s based in Oakland, reported CNBC. “We need to put money into the hands of people that need it as fast as we can and that needs to happen regularly until the crisis is over.”
Foster’s concept of putting $2,000 into the hands of each adult and $1,000 per child for families earning up to $100,000, followed by quarterly checks as long as needed, seems to be the basis of Khanna and Ryan’s motivation for the new Act.
The reality, however, is that the plan by Khanna and Ryan doesn’t spell out how the money will be generated, and who will pay for it. Unless, they see the Treasury printing bills without a care in the world.
Their plan also is at odds with measures to help small businesses retain employees. Question is: if some individuals make more money through a relief check than from a paycheck, what would be the necessity or reason to work anymore?
Apart from the fact that the plan would in time trickle down to less dollars, dry up totally, and force Americans to conform to a lesser lifestyle, it’s in tandem with the aspirations of tech and industrial behemoths to have robots take over the jobs done by humans, end all unions; create a new world order.
For now, however, the concept of regular checks to tide over the crisis in the wake of the pandemic, is taking hold in America. It makes sense too.
It’s likely that before the economy opens up totally sometime this year, hopefully, there would be another round or two of stimulus/relief checks for all eligible Americans.
(Sujeet Rajan is Executive Editor, Parikh Worldwide Media. Email him: firstname.lastname@example.org Follow him on Twitter @SujeetRajan1)