One of the more memorable aspects of this Democratic presdential primary cycle was Andrew Yang’s championing of a Universal Basic Income (UBI). The idea that every adult in the US should receive a 1,000$ a month check from the government drew a cult-like following to the candidate.
The UBI, as a permanent mechanism, has gained both admiration and criticism from persons across the political spectrum.
I don’t have a particularly strong opinion on the use of UBI as a broad social welfare mechanism (though I would consider myself on the “Yes” side). But in the public health emergency we are currently experiencing, a check from the government with no strings attached is essential for the health and welfare of the nation.
As “social distancing” measures become more widespread, many companies and governments will likely have to close their facilities.
While some professional jobs (e.g. law, government) can be conducted remotely-to a certain extent-, many restaurant, retail and service jobs cannot. Already, some Chinese restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley have had to close doors because of decreased foot traffic driven by fears of the virus. Once more restaurants begin to follow suit, an untold number of cooks, busboys and other staff will be left jobless.
Many small business owners will have to close with losses, with no quick, easy route to recoup them (you can’t open another store or restaurant when people aren’t going anywhere).
Even professional firms may eventually have to close doors if clientele slow for a long time.
The sad irony is that many workers’ primary source of revenue will dry up just when their medical expenses start to mount.
Taking a step back, this could have happened at any time. By this I don’t mean coronavirus, specifically, but a shock to the economy caused by a freak disaster be it a wildfire, hurricane, earthquake or illness.
Our country should have an rainy-day fund, by which citizens contribute revenue in “good times” to ensure their well-being in the “bad”.
Every year, we would pay slightly more in taxes (with the amount varying based on income) to contribute money to the fund. When an emergency strikes, the money would be returned to the persons affected in monthly deposits, sufficient for them to live decently. Personally, I think the amount returned should start off higher than what UBI proposals call for (at 3,000$ a month: which is equal to the living wage in a high-cost state like CA)-for those in the lowest income bracket-and decrease inversely to the income bracket and assets of the recipient.
Call it Emergency Relief (ER).
ER would relieve Americans of the added burden of economic anxiety (when crises occur). It would allow American workers and employers to take all steps necessary to combat crises. And it would provide a literal safety net, ensuring that the level of protection one receives in emergencies and disasters does not depend on his or her income.