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'Americans need cash now:' Coronavirus has lawmakers calling for UBI

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks during a campaign stop at Lansing Community College May 8, 2012 in Lansing, Michigan. Last night former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum gave his endorsement to Gov. Romney in an e-mail sent to supporters.
Bill Pugliano | Getty Images

What a difference a few months can make.

Former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang gained national attention primarily as a result of his proposal to give all American citizens over the age of 18 a $1,000 universal basic income payment, what he called the "Freedom Dividend."

Although Yang dropped out of the race for the White House in early February, his idea is picking up steam thanks to coronavirus.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic there has been a surge in interest and sense of urgency for the idea of distributing some sort of UBI payment to Americans who have lost income as a result of the coronavirus.

"You're going to have many, many Americans have their income reduced or wiped out in the days to come," Yang told Rolling Stone on Monday. "We already had record levels of financial precariousness before the crisis: Almost half of Americans said they couldn't afford an unexpected $400 bill, and 78% are living paycheck to paycheck. So what do you do?"

You give them cash, according to a growing chorus of lawmakers. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in politicians from opposite sides of the aisle — Democratic U.S. Representative for New York Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Republican Senator from Utah, Mitt Romney, for example — coming to the same idea: Cash is going to be essential in helping Americans through this time. 

The idea of giving cash to Americans has received support from the Trump administration too, though it is not clear what form the payment would take.

"Americans need cash now," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said during a White House press briefing on the administration's latest efforts on Tuesday. "I mean now in the next two weeks," he clarified.

"The president has instructed me that we have to do this now," Mnuchin said Tuesday, according to CNBC

The White House has given the public few details so far, but Mnuchin said the money would go to those who need it most.

"We don't need to send people who make a million dollars a year checks," Mnuchin said.

On Monday, Romney laid out a series of proposals he would be advocating for as the Senate considers Congressional action to respond to the coronavirus. One of those proposals was to "immediately" send all American adults over the age of one-time check of $1,000 cash payment. 

"The check will help fill the gaps for Americans that may not quickly navigate different government options," the written statement from Romney's office said

Americans are facing a "liquidity shock" Ocasio-Cortez said, meaning they face shortage of cash they can access. While some are able to work from home, many Americans are not able to complete their job remotely. For example, in New York City, Mayor Bill DeBlasio has banned people from going to bars and eating in restaurants, putting service industry workers who depend on tips out of work.

"Whether it's UBI, mortgage/rent/loan suspensions, or other means, if we do not act quickly many people will go hungry, be driven out of their homes, or confront other extreme harms," Ocasio-Cortez said on Twitter on Monday. 

She added a dose of caution, too. "These proposals should be handled with care and consideration, particularly with respect to macroeconomic effects. But they should be considered nevertheless," Ocasio-Cortex said on Twitter on Monday.

Thursday, the U.S. Representative for Hawaii Tulsi Gabbard announced that she introduced a bill, H.Res.897, to provide an emergency non-taxable Universal Basic Payment of $1,000 per month to all adult Americans "until COVID-19 no longer presents a public health emergency," she said in a statement announcing the proposal.

"We must act swiftly to provide a temporary universal basic payment of $1,000 per month to every American adult to help them weather the storm created by this crisis. Taking care of all Americans will stimulate our economy during this downturn," Gabbard said in a written statement.

Ultimately, all of these proposals will need to be adopted by both houses before they can be turned into law. Currently, the Senate is still in discussions. 

"We are continuing urgent talks on further legislation," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday

The House passed an update to its original coronavirus relief bill which includes some amount of paid sick leave coverage, access to coronavirus testing and increased access to food assistance programs

McConnell indicated the Senate would push back against what the House has put forth, however. "Senate Republicans are convinced that the House's non-comprehensive bill can only be the beginning of our efforts to support our health system, assist individual Americans and families, and stabilize the U.S. economy," McConnell said Tuesday.

See also: 

Why wealth inequality is driving Democrats in the 2020 election

Bernie Sanders: 'If you're a multimillionaire ... you're going to get through' the coronavirus pandemic

Andrew Yang, AOC, Harvard professor: Free cash payments would help during coronavirus pandemic

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Here's what universal basic income could mean for Americans
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