Andrew Yang, a former candidate for president, introduced Iowans and the country to Universal Basic Income when he kicked off his campaign here to compete in the caucuses.
Yang’s “Freedom Dividend,” a $1,000 monthly paycheck from the government to all U.S. adults, was not enough to keep him in the Democratic primary contest, but now his vision has taken on a new life in unexpected ways.
As factories, office buildings and small businesses close their doors and send some employees home without pay, or only partial pay, amid the coronavirus pandemic, federally-funded paychecks are part of negotiations for how to soften the economic blow.
“Certainly I would never wish for these circumstances. I think putting money into the hands of American families is vital right now, because we’re facing a recession immediately and it’s going to potentially teeter into a depression,” Yang said on CNN’s “New Day.”
“Putting money into people’s hands will just help keep us afloat during this crisis. It doesn’t solve many of the economic issues, but it’s a stop-gap that we have to do,” he said.
The Trump Administration currently is considering a $1 trillion ask of Congress to send $500 billion worth of direct payments to taxpayers and $500 billion in loans to businesses, according to the New York Times.
Thursday morning on Fox Business, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the administration wants to send out $1,000 checks within three weeks. The income threshold for receiving direct payments has not been determined.
On a conference call Wednesday with reporters in Iowa, Sen. Joni Ernst said direct payments and assistance for businesses is part of a “phase three” coronavirus response bill being hashed out in Congress now, though she demurred on her opinion on it.
Yang’s Freedom Dividend was tested by families across the country, including one in Iowa, when the candidate personally provided individuals $1,000 per month to show the benefits of a financial cushion.
“I got dozens of text messages from friends, family, colleagues, supporters saying, ‘You did it.’ I mean, that was the tone of most of them,” Yang told Politico, recounting the moments after a White House press conference when the administration pitched the possibility of direct payments.
My statement on the discussed stimulus package. My team has been in touch with the White House and we are offering resources. pic.twitter.com/Bi58oq7Q9V
— Andrew Yang? (@AndrewYang) March 17, 2020
“One person said that they were crying tears of joy that they felt like we helped bring the solution to public attention just in time to be implemented,” Yang said in the Politico interview.
What is largely being proposed at the moment is not a full, long-lasting implementation of Yang’s plan, simply a temporary way to provide relief to Americans during this crisis. But even if put to limited use, it’s still a sudden advancement of a policy that was mostly seen as a fringe idea just a year ago.
On Wednesday, U.S. Senate candidate Eddie Mauro took to Facebook for a 45-minute virtual town hall on UBI, one of several forums he has held in recent days as candidates are kept off the campaign trail.
“Yeah, I’ll admit it, this was Andrew Yang’s big idea,” Mauro said. “He and I talked about it while we were bowling in Oskaloosa not too long ago. And now is the time to take that step. The social safety net is broken, and this could be a major step in filling the gaps during this emergency.”
Those in government proposing only a one- or two-time payment, Mauro said, are not going far enough.
“We need a sustainable payment throughout this emergency, maybe beyond. If we can bail out big banks and Wall Street and the airline industry and some others to the tune of trillions of dollars, we can start thinking about the American worker in a meaningful way,” he said.
J.D. Scholten, a candidate for Iowa’s 4th District seat, also has weighed in on how the federal government can help individuals impacted by business closures and limits on public gatherings.
We need to get cash into people's hands right now.
But we also need to:
✅temporarily pause mortgage, rent, and student loan payments
✅provide paid leave for ALL workers
✅provide free coronavirus testing for everyone
✅expand SNAP benefits and unemployment insurance pic.twitter.com/RwhXs4oUkk
— J.D. Scholten (@JDScholten) March 18, 2020
“We need to get cash into people’s hands right now,” said Scholten. “We can’t encourage workers to stay home and leave them without an option to pay the bills.
Scholten said he was “fully supportive” of proposals in Congress from Democratic Reps. Ro Khanna and Tim Ryan “to temporarily give anywhere from $1,000 to $6,000 to working folks who made under a certain amount of money last year. Folks like the truck driver, his wife the hairdresser, and the bar owner. These are the people who are going to be feeling the brunt of this crisis.”
Congresswoman Cindy Axne recently told WHO-TV direct payments are “definitely something that we need to look at.”
“First and foremost I want to make sure that we get the ‘Families First’ bill passed through, because even though I believe that we should do some type of direct cash payment to folks to keep them afloat, we also have to think about down the road … as this thing might expand,” Axne said. “The $1,000 a month is great, but we also need to make sure that that paid family is there.”
The “Families First Coronavirus Response Act” was signed Wednesday by President Trump. It includes, among other provisions, expansion to current laws governing family leave to include paid time off for some workers whose employers don’t currently guarantee it.
By Elizabeth Meyer