NEW YORK — Andrew Yang was a complete unknown when he launched his run for president, but he attracted a lot of attention, and support, thanks to his backing of a Universal Basic Income, or UBI.
His plan was to give every single adult in America $1,000 a month, no questions asked.
Now, he wants to bring a dramatically scaled-down version of that plan to New York City as mayor. Under his proposal, 500,000 of the lowest-income New Yorkers would receive an average payment of $2,000 a year. Yang says it would be the largest basic income program in the country, with the goal of ending extreme poverty.
But his rivals in the mayor’s race have tried to poke holes in the idea.
For one thing, Yang is fuzzy on the details of how to pay for the program, which he says would cost the city an estimated $1 billion a year. He has suggested the program will largely pay for itself by reducing the need for homeless shelters and other social services. But he’s also talked about getting private philanthropists to help foot the bill. And he’s proposed eliminating tax breaks for big landlords like Madison Square Garden. But that change would require action on the part of the state, which is never an easy sell.
Yang’s primary antagonist in the race may be Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams. Adams has attacked Yang’s UBI plan, calling it a “U-B-Lie.” He says it’s a false plan with false promises.
But Adams has a plan that’s not entirely different from Yang’s. He would also take about $1 billion in city funding and put money directly in people’s pockets. His plan would reach 900,000 of the neediest New Yorkers, paying them as much as $4,000 a year.
But his idea is different in a couple of ways. The payments would take the form of earned income tax credits, expanding on a city program that’s already in place. So while Adams would dramatically increase the size of those payments, the fact the program already exists could allow for an efficient rollout.
Of course, Adams faces the same question about how to pay for all this. He points to his budget plan, which calls 3% to 5% cuts at all city agencies, and he would also seek a higher city income tax on the wealthy.
Several other candidates also have proposals that involve direct payments to New Yorkers. Shaun Donovan, the former housing secretary and budget director under President Barack Obama, also wants to hand out money — but in his case, the money would go to kids.
It’s an idea that’s been pitched on the federal level, and referred to as “Baby Bonds.”
Donovan calls them equity bonds, but the idea is the same: The city would pay $1,000 into a savings account for every child in the city, followed by annual deposits of up to $2,000, depending on family income. The idea is that any child born into extreme poverty would have as much as $50,000 waiting for them by the time they finished high school.
The cost to get the program up and running would be $3.2 billion in year one, according to Donovan. He says his plan would rely on both public and private money, the payout would come with some strings attached, and it would have to be used for certain purposes, like paying for college, buying a home or paying off debt.
Other leading Democratic mayoral candidates’ positions on the economy:
- Wants zero-interest microloans for small businesses with 20 employees or less, with investments from the city’s pension fund and private sector support
- Backs emergency cash assistance programs for undocumented workers
- Promises a subsidy covering 50% of a worker’s salary for one year at 50,000 small businesses hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic
- Proposes a $50 million loan fund for small women- and minority-owned businesses, especially in the construction field
- Wants basic income relief for every city household and relief for small businesses
- Supports creating a public bank
- Wants to incentivize entrepreneurs and new businesses to move into vacant spaces
- Proposes launching a bonds program to fund capital and environmental investments
- Proposes a $10 billion capital spending plan to create up to 100,000 new jobs, fund development projects
- Vows to fast-track city projects already in the pipeline that are deemed critical
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