Pelosi says guaranteed income could be 'worthy of attention now' as coronavirus stifles economy

Key Points
  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Congress may need to consider a guaranteed income to help people meet their basic needs during the coronavirus pandemic. 
  • More than 26 million Americans have filed for unemployment since widespread shutdown orders went into effect last month.
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California, speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, April 21, 2020.
Sarah Silbiger | Bloomberg | Getty Images

WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Monday that Congress may need to consider a guaranteed income for Americans as one way to keep people employed while the country remains paralyzed by the coronavirus pandemic.

"Let's see what works, what is operational and what needs attention," the California Democrat said in an interview with MSNBC.

"Others have suggested a minimum income, a guaranteed income for people. Is that worthy of attention now? Perhaps so. Because there are many more people than just in small business and hired by small business ... that may need some assistance as well."

An aide to Pelosi later clarified that the Speaker was referring specifically to paycheck guarantee proposals, and not to a more sweeping universal basic income. 

In recent weeks, several Democratic members of Congress have introduced proposals that would give grants to employers of all sizes, not just small businesses, to let them continue paying their employees. They argue that such grants would keep employees from having to file for unemployment insurance, and help to ensure that businesses are ready to reopen right away when the pandemic subsides.

The coronavirus pandemic has ravaged the U.S. economy, and forced more than 25 million Americans to seek unemployment benefits. With most states not poised to reopen for several more weeks or months, the idea of guaranteed income has emerged as a possible way to stabilize the economy and halt the economic free-fall. 

And while House Democrats' current paycheck guarantee proposals would give the grants to employers, other prominent Democrats have suggested giving the money directly to individuals. 

In mid-March, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders proposed that Congress give every household in America $2,000 a month for the duration of the Covid-19 outbreak. 

The $2 trillion CARES Act that was signed into law March 27 included a one-time cash payment of $1,200 for every American making less than $90,000 annually. But with no known treatment yet for Covid-19 and a coronavirus vaccine more than a year away, it's becoming clear to Congress that more money will be needed in order to keep millions of businesses from laying off their employees when existing short-term aid runs out; 

UPDATE: This story has been updated to clarify that Pelosi was referring specifically to paycheck guarantee proposals, and not universal basic income.

What is universal basic income?
What is universal basic income?