Coronavirus: Bernie Sanders proposes giving every household in America $2,000 a month during epidemic

Candidate floats universal basic income proposal as concept gathers traction across political spectrum

Andrew Naughtie
Wednesday 18 March 2020 15:48 GMT
Sanders proposes $2,000 for every American household during coronavirus crisis

Bernie Sanders has outlined an ambitious “emergency response” to fight the spread of coronavirus and its impact on the US – including a radical proposal to give every American $2,000 (£1,700) a month.

In an address streamed live on Periscope, Mr Sanders discussed an ambitious series of measures to help Americans withstand the economic havoc wrought by the coronavirus outbreak, which is expected to devastate the job market and put many small businesses in danger of collapse.

Among his many prescriptions are expanded unemployment insurance, massive efforts to feed those who need food assistance, a moratorium on evictions, and a waiver on all student loan payments for the duration of the emergency. But it is the universal $2,000 payment that sticks out as truly radical.

“Bottom line here: workers need to continue to get a paycheck, even when their businesses are shut down,” said Mr Sanders.

“Further, we need to provide a direct emergency $2,000 cash payment to every household in America every month for the duration of the crisis to provide them with the assistance they need to pay their bills and take care of their families.”

Mr Sanders, who is losing the fight for the Democratic nomination, then conceded that his plan is not likely to go anywhere.

“Now, we’re throwing out a lot of ideas. And when you deal with the United States Congress, you don’t get everything that you want. There will be a picking and a choosing here and there.

“But I think it’s important for us tonight to discuss the various options that they have, and one of those options is to make sure that people at least get a $2,000 a month cheque to take care of their basic needs.”

The proposal for what would essentially amount to a universal basic income has helped direct attention back to Mr Sanders’s onetime fellow presidential candidate Andrew Yang, who dropped out of the race after the New Hampshire primary.

Mr Yang’s signature policy was to roll out a universal basic income called the “Freedom Dividend”. Once dismissed as a technocrat fantasy, it is now surfacing in proposals from people on all sides, from Mr Sanders to progressive congresswoman Ilhan Omar to former Trump administration press secretary Antonio Scaramucci.

In his full written proposal, Mr Sanders expands on how the payments would work, calling for an effort involving “the IRS, the Social Security Administration, the Treasury Department, credit unions, community banks and other financial institutions”.

He also acknowledges that not all Americans need the money, and carves out a different role for them: “For those who will not need their payments, we will partner with organisations to take donations from patriotic families who can contribute their payments to fighting the coronavirus pandemic.”

Mr Sanders has fallen well behind Joe Biden in the race for the Democratic nomination, most recently losing primaries in Arizona, Florida and Illinois by wide margins. While conceding he is losing the race, he has so far declined to drop out; many of his supporters want him to stay in to continue influencing Mr Biden and the Democratic Party more broadly.

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