Kamala Harris and Andrew Yang lead the call for monthly coronavirus stimulus payments

by Emery Julia

The nation is in turmoil. Over 40 million Americans are out of work. There’s talk of yet another round of stimulus payments meant to help Americans through tough economic times, adding billions to the bailout budget.

Yet some politicians have even more ambitious designs. In a virtual town hall on Monday, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and fellow former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang talked up a proposal that would see each American receive a monthly payment of up to $2,000 over the course of the coronavirus pandemic. 

“Forty million–plus people lost their jobs within the last 100 days,” Harris said during the town hall, which was held by online criminal justice news outlet The Appeal. “The government should be here for the people in a moment of crisis. People should be able to count on their government to see them and to create a safety net for them, so that these people don’t fall into poverty—or further into poverty—during the course of this pandemic.”

Harris’s proposed bill, which she cosponsored with Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.), would provide up to $2,000 per month to every individual making up to $120,000 annually, with the payment amount gradually reduced for those making over $100,000. Married couples who file jointly would receive $4,000, while those with children would receive $2,000 per child for up to three kids. The payments would be made retroactive to March, and would continue for the duration of the pandemic plus for three months following. 

The Monthly Economic Crisis Support Act, as it’s known, was introduced in early May and goes far beyond the one-time stimulus payment offered in the CARES Act, the $2.2 trillion coronavirus aid bill signed into law in March. But with Senate Republicans and the White House already pushing back against the House Democrats’ $3 trillion follow-up stimulus package, it seems unlikely that the Harris-Sanders-Markey bill will gain much traction on Capitol Hill in an election year.

Still, Harris bemoaned the limited, one-time nature of the government’s fiscal stimulus measures amid a pandemic that appears set to stretch on for months to come. She cited the influence of Yang’s campaign platform—famously built around his “Freedom Dividend” policy, which would give all Americans a universal basic income of $1,000 per month—on her own proposed measure.

“Andrew would talk about the fact that almost half of American families couldn’t afford a $400 unexpected expense; that in 99% of counties, if you’re a minimum wage worker, you can’t afford a market-rate one-bedroom apartment,” Harris noted. “The fact is that the cost of living in America has continually gone up, but wages have remained stagnant.”

Yang himself pointed to the killing of George Floyd, which was allegedly precipitated by Floyd’s use of a counterfeit $20 bill, as indicative of the economic challenges faced by millions of Americans today. He described measures like those proposed by Harris and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.)—who has also floated the idea of recurring payments to get Americans through the pandemic—as “a real chance to alleviate poverty” in the United States.

“We’re facing a new Great Depression, but there are legislators that have bills on the table that, if enough Americans get behind [them], we can pass today,” Yang said. “What I fought for on the campaign trail is not hypothetical. We have tens of millions of Americans whose lives are disintegrating before our eyes, and we have to tell our government to get its shit together and get money out to the people.”

Proposals like Harris’s appear to be gaining more grass-roots support. During the town hall, Denver restaurant owner Stephanie Bonin delivered a Change.org petition supporting a $2,000 monthly payment that has garnered more than 1.2 million signatures to date.

Monthly stimulus payments, including UBI plans, are also getting a closer second look abroad as countries seek to rebuild their economies and offer aid to the hardest-hit income brackets. Spain, for example, is moving closer to a kind of income plan that would pay beneficiaries a monthly payment of up to 1,015 euros ($1,103) per couple, and up to 462 euros per single adult. Similar measures have been floated in countries ranging from Brazil to Britain.

Harris, for her part, dismissed skeptics and political opponents who claim that measures like the Monthly Economic Crisis Support Act are too expensive.

“They’re the same people who passed a tax bill benefiting the top one percent and the biggest corporations of America, and are going to cause us to face a $1 trillion deficit as a result,” she said. “If you want to talk about cost, you can’t do that without talking about the benefit. And the benefit of this outweighs the cost, every way you cut it.”

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