This op-ed originally appeared in USA Today
Andrew Yang recently dropped out of the 2020 race after his tremendously successful longshot campaign based on a seemingly-radical policy idea: Universal Basic Income (UBI), or the idea of giving people monthly cash payments with no strings attached. While the roots of this concept run through our country’s history — from supporters including Thomas Paine and Martin Luther King, Jr. — Yang is rightly credited with pushing the idea of unconditional cash out of think tanks and academia and into living rooms across the country.
It may sound utopian at first, but the reality is that wages haven’t kept up with the cost of everything else, and these cash infusions could go a long way in ensuring that unstable work, the rising cost of living, or the transition to automation doesn’t leave people living in poverty.
And while Yang’s political journey is over for now, there are several leaders actively working on policies that put more money back in the hands of the poor and middle class. Right now, Senator Kamala Harris, Representative Rashida Tlaib, Representative Bonnie Watson Coleman, and Representative Gwen Moore form a kind of “Cash Squad.” Instead of a focus on automation, these leaders — all women of color — are instead crafting policies that reflect the racial, gender and social justice power of a guaranteed income as envisioned by MLK, the Black Panthers and the National Welfare Rights Organization. These women are moving forward real legislation that advances cash policies to meaningfully build an economic floor for millions of Americans struggling to make ends meet.
Shortly after Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs announced a guaranteed income demonstration in his hometown, California Senator Kamala Harris figured out how to turn that idea into national policy. Senator Harris’s LIFT the Middle Class Act, which puts up to $500 a month into the pockets of half of working Americans regardless of immigration status, pays for itself by undoing the reckless Trump tax cuts and rebalancing the tax code so that the wealthy and corporations don’t get a free ride.
After coordinating with Senator Harris on an earlier version, Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib introduced the BOOST Act last summer. This groundbreaking policy would give up to $500 a month to more than half of Americans, and is the first of these policies not tied to work. With this approach, even people with zero income, like people caring for elderly parents or young kids, or someone recently released from prison, qualify for the cash transfer policy.
New Jersey Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman introduced the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) Modernization Act — a bill that, as the name suggests — modernizes, adapts and expands the existing credit. In particular, this bill recognizes the labor of unpaid family caregivers and low-income students by expanding the definition of work to include their contributions.
Wisconsin Rep. Gwen Moore recently introduced the Worker Relief and Credit Reform Act to give monthly cash payments to Americans. It would reach low-income families as well as those far into the middle class. Congresswoman Moore’s bill also recognizes the work of unpaid caregivers and low-income students by extending the payment to them. The expansiveness of Rep. Moore’s bill, which would benefit more than 40% of all Americans, would cut the country’s poverty rate by one-third.
These women have big bold visions for how to remedy the ills of income inequality in this country and they are pushing forward big bold legislation to get us closer to that vision. They are joined by dynamic community leaders like Aisha Nyandoro, who just announced an expansion of her groundbreaking guaranteed income program — more than tripling the amount of recipients — for Black moms living in extreme poverty in Jackson, MS.
In the face of rising inequality and the changing nature of work, these women have pushed forward policies that use the existing tax code to create an income floor. Their pioneering policies put cash in people’s pockets so that millions of Americans can experience that vital combination of stability and flexibility.
2020 may not usher in a nominee focused on the power of cash, but the work being done from the federal to local level to push forward these ideas should give us hope that a future in which all Americans are able to thrive is close at hand.