COVID-19 Brings Back Andrew Yang's Universal Basic Income Idea: Analysis

While campaigning for president, Yang's proposal was to give $1,000 a month to every qualified American. Now he tells us he's "thrilled" to see a $2,000-per-month proposal to help amid the coronavirus


Remember when entrepreneur Andrew Yang exploded onto the political scene, making presidential debate stages and surpassing career politicians in the race for the Democratic nomination?

He did it with a combination of personality, populism and policy, but the key proposal that defined him was universal basic income.

Yang's proposal was to give $1,000 a month to every qualified American over the age of 18.

Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang spoke to a packed room of voters at To Share Brewing Company in Manchester on Wednesday.

While on the debate stage, Yang said he would fund the pilot program himself. It reeked of a political ploy and his rivals scoffed at it, though politely.

But it kept him in the game for longer than anyone expected.

Most key candidates were not in favor of a universal basic income, or UBI, including Pete Buttigieg, former Vice President Joe Biden (more on him in a minute) and Sen. Bernie Sanders.

But fast forward three months from the February day Yang dropped out, add in a pandemic and 33 million lost jobs and now Sanders is not only for it -- he wants to double it.

Sanders, Sen. Kamala Harris and Sen. Ed Markey, of Massachusetts, are sponsoring a bill called "The Monthly Economic Support Act" that would provide $2,000 a month to people until the COVID-19 health crisis is over. Families with children would get even more.

Sen. Ed Markey is pushing for the federal government to continue paying Americans during the pandemic.

Yes, the proposal does target an end date, but it is in essence a form of universal basic income, and it's got Yang's approval.

"I am thrilled that Congress is focused on putting money into people's hands," Yang told NBC10 Boston. "We have lost over 30 million jobs and should not have any illusion that these jobs are all going to come back – many are gone for good."

Suddenly, Yang is a hot political commodity again. He's got a podcast. He's a political commentator on CNN. And just this week, he announced another UBI pilot program.

This one will be in Hudson, New York, where Yang’s non-profit "Humanity Forward" will help fund 20 residents with $500 a month for five years.

Then, there’s Biden, the presumptive presidential nominee for the Democratic Party. Before now, Biden had not supported UBI, but this week, he had Yang on his own podcast, "Here's the Deal."

NBC10 Boston's Brian Shactman interviews Steve Kerrigan to discuss Joe Biden's campaign during the coronavirus pandemic.

Biden still believes in the power of earned income and did not directly back any monthly payments to everyday Americans, but he fully agreed that what Yang calls the fourth industrial revolution – in which technology, synergy and automation displace millions of jobs – is having a dramatic impact on the American economy and labor force.

Yang was clear with Biden that retraining our workforce is crucial. And he was clear with NBC10 Boston that UBI has to be part of that equation.

"Money in our hands would make people healthier, mentally healthier, more optimistic and would support a meaningful recovery measured in months, not years," Yang said.

The proposal put forth right now in the Senate does not have much of a chance against Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, starting with the fact that it may cost $5 trillion.

"We should be realistic about the magnitude of the solution," Markey told NBC10 Boston's Alison King.

Right now, a magnitude of $5 trillion may be too much for Congress, but if Biden wins the White House and Democrats take back the Senate, that could change.

"What is needed now is a massive investment in our people and families," Yang said. "And the most effective means would be direct payment."

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