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  • There is No Policy Proposal by Any 2020 Presidential Candidate More Progressive than Andrew Yang's

  • Freedom Dividend

  • Primary season has begun and as Trump marches toward a possible second term, a list of Democrats

  • over 20-candidates-long is vying for the honor of being the one who prevents that from happening.

  • One of those candidates, Andrew Yang, has proposed a universal basic income of $1,000

  • per month that he calls a “Freedom Dividend.”

  • As a longtime advocate of UBI, I have something to say about this, and the details of his

  • plan as proposed.

  • This article is meant to be a detailed response to anyone claiming Yangdoesn't care

  • about the poor,” or that “a VAT makes the UBI regressive,” or that Yang's plan

  • increases inequalityand is a “neoliberal Trojan horse meant to destroy the safety net.”

  • None of those claims reflect reality.

  • The reality is that while Yang's proposal can certainly be improved, if signed into

  • law as proposed, the Freedom Dividend would be the single most progressive policy advance

  • ever signed into law in American history.

  • To understand why this is true, we need to dive into the details, so here we go

  • What is the Freedom Dividend?

  • The Freedom Dividend as proposed is an unconditional cash transfer of $1,000 per month that would

  • go to every American citizen age 18 and up.

  • The dividend is unconditional in that it carries no requirements, including any of the typical

  • work requirements imposed on standard benefits.

  • Unemployed?

  • You get it.

  • Do you have to prove you're looking for a job?

  • No.

  • Do you have to attend any classes?

  • No.

  • Employed?

  • You get it in addition to your paycheck.

  • Can you spend it on anything?

  • Yes.

  • It's cash.

  • You are free to use it in any way you want, to buy anything you want.

  • Sounds simple, right?

  • Well, there are some asterisks involved that people tend to miss, or misunderstand, and

  • these can spread either accidentally with no ill intent, or maliciously with the full

  • intent of eroding support through the spreading of disinformation.

  • The most common inaccuracies being spread tend to revolve around the funding and the

  • opt-out structure being proposed which offers people the choice of keeping their welfare

  • benefits or receiving $1,000 per month in basic income, whichever is preferred.

  • Here's a partial list of programs that people would voluntarily opt out of in order to receive

  • the Freedom Dividend: Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Nutrition

  • Assitance (SNAP), Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

  • These programs provide less than $1,000 per month on average, even when combined.

  • Here's a partial list of programs that would exist on top of the Freedom Dividend that

  • no one would have to opt out of: Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI)

  • aka Social Security and SSDIunemployment insurance (UI), housing assistance, VA disability.

  • These programs provide more than $1,000 per month on average.

  • For those concerned about health care, that's a separate issue.

  • People on Medicaid would only lose it if and when replaced by Medicare for All which is

  • one of Yang's two other core policy proposals alongside the Freedom Dividend and Human-Centered

  • Capitalism.

  • As a rule of thumb, programs that are considered entitlements because they are contribution-based,

  • will be earned as additional income to the Freedom Dividend.

  • Programs that are considered welfare because they are based on low income, will mostly

  • be offered as an alternative to the Freedom Dividend.

  • As one example, Anna is a single mother receiving $336 in TANF (median for household of two)

  • and $247 in SNAP (average for household of two) for a total of $583 per month.

  • Opting for $1,000 per month instead, she would effectively get an additional $417 per month,

  • a 72% raise in income, unconditionally, and the conditions for her original $583 would

  • be removed.

  • Question: So why provide people a choice between existing programs and the Freedom Dividend?

  • Why not let them keep everything?

  • Answer: To maximize unconditionality.

  • Consider another recipient of existing benefits.

  • Let's call him Tom, and he receives $750/mo in TANF and SNAP combined.

  • Tom is offered a job that pays $2,000/mo.

  • Accepting this job will mean losing his $750/mo.

  • His net income increase would thus be $1,250.

  • That's an increase of 167%.

  • Now, let's say Tom opts for the Freedom Dividend instead of TANF and SNAP, and gets

  • the same job offer.

  • Instead of $750/mo, he has $1,000/mo as a starting point that doesn't disappear with

  • any amount of earned income.

  • Going from $1,000/mo to $3,000/mo is an increase of $2,000, or 200%.

  • Finally, let's say Tom gets to keep his TANF and SNAP on top of his Freedom Dividend

  • and is offered the same job.

  • In this case, in accepting the job, he would go from $1,750 to $3,000, which is an increase

  • of $1,250, or 71%.

  • Between these three scenarios, there are three key takeaways.

  • First, the scenario where the Freedom Dividend is instead of TANF and SNAP results in the

  • greatest incentive to work.

  • Employment makes Tom in that scenario three times better off, financially speaking.

  • Second, the scenario with the worst incentive to work is the scenario where Tom keeps TANF

  • and SNAP in addition to the Freedom Dividend.

  • Tom actually has a better incentive to work in the scenario that exists today, than he

  • would with everything stacking, because his relative increase with everything stacking

  • would be smallest.

  • Third, in the everything stacking scenario, in absolute terms, Tom is no better off than

  • in the pure Freedom Dividend scenario and is objectively worse off.

  • He still ends up with $3,000/mo, but he has to do a lot of paperwork and dehumanizing

  • bureaucratic hoop-jumping along the way to maintain conditions compliance.

  • To emphasize this point, because it needs emphasizing, those who believe the entire

  • existing welfare state should exist on top of the Freedom Dividend are demanding that

  • we make everyone's incentive to work even worse than the existing system already does.

  • Because people would be lifted higher with the dividend, but then dropped the same distance

  • upon losing their benefits as they are now, there's even less reason to accept any form

  • of employment.

  • Instead of eliminating the welfare trap, it would be made into an even bigger trap.

  • Fewer people would earn additional income, which would only serve to reduce instead of

  • increase economic mobility.

  • I would argue that increased economic mobility is a progressive goal to achieve, and thus

  • as proposed by Yang, the Freedom Dividend meets this goal better than stacking welfare

  • on top of the Freedom Dividend.

  • Besides enhanced mobility, another reason for welfare benefits not to stack is because

  • of all the restrictions imposed, and the damaging effects of those restrictions.

  • TANF is a prime example of a welfare program that is functionally regressive.

  • Designed as a federal block grant provided to states to use essentially as they please,

  • states have been using less and less of it on cash assistance to low-income people.

  • It now pays non-profits to teach pregnant women to get married, helps fund the college

  • educations of middle and upper-middle income kids, and is actively responsible for 15%

  • of the black-white child-poverty gap in America.

  • How is it that conditional welfare programs like TANF are actively increasing the racial

  • divide?

  • In the book Disciplining the Poor, it's described asneoliberal paternalism.”

  • Because a dollar in welfare has about three to five times as many strings for someone

  • who is black than someone who is white, the severity of the conditions themselves, and

  • the punishments applied for not meeting those conditions, can actually function to leave

  • people (disproportionately people of color) worse off than if they'd never applied for

  • assistance in the first place.

  • Not only that, but people exposed to the worst conditions and punishments learn lessons that

  • hurt democracy.

  • They retreat from participating in politics.

  • They become less likely to make their voices heard, and less likely to participate in elections

  • and community organizations.

  • Too many assumptions are made about conditional welfare, and these assumptions tend to be

  • made by those who have never experienced the process of getting, using, and keeping them,

  • and these assumptions tend to be based on whether one is liberal or conservative.

  • If liberal, these programs are godsends that save the lives of everyone in need.

  • If conservative, these programs are demonspawn that rob hardworking Peter to pay lazy pill-popping

  • Paul.

  • Nuance, lived experience, and data are missing from these assumptions.

  • Here's the reality beyond the racial elements already covered.

  • Thirteen million Americans living in poverty are entirely disconnected from the federal

  • safety net.

  • They receive no assistance at all.

  • A third of those in severe poverty defined as half the poverty line, get nothing.

  • By any conceivable measure of need, these are the neediest Americans, and conditional

  • benefits don't reach them.

  • Why they don't is a combination of not knowing the help is possible, not wanting the help

  • because of the stigma, not properly applying, not qualifying despite living in poverty,

  • and being kicked off.

  • When it comes to TANF cases, 20% are closed due to non-compliance, 15% are ended because

  • of sanctions, and 13% of people just quit.

  • Only 16% get off TANF because of employment, and only 1.3% reach the time limit.

  • About two out of five people who qualify for SNAP never even apply, and to qualify for

  • SNAP or SSI one must have less than $2,000 in assets and keep it that way.

  • Did you know that in some states, you must prove you're homeless by providing a document

  • you can only get from an approved homeless shelter verifying you're homeless?

  • Did you know that over 10,000 people die every year while waiting with over one million other

  • Americans to prove they're sufficiently disabled enough to receive disability benefits?

  • The average wait time is now two years, and there is a minimum wait time of five months.

  • Did you know that people receiving $5 per day in SNAP benefits can be forced to spend

  • eight hours a day in a “work-search officewhere if they are five minutes late they can

  • lose their benefits?

  • That works out to 63 cents per hour, even less if one considers the cost of getting

  • to and from the office.

  • Did you know WIC can only allow mothers to purchase cow's milk that is fat-free or

  • low-fat, cheese that is domestic only, and eggs that are white and smaller than large?

  • That's the level of control these programs have over everyday decisions that non-recipients

  • take for granted.

  • Source

  • According to Kate Miechkowski, a social worker who has begun asking her clients if they'd

  • prefer to keep their conditional welfare assistance or receive an unconditional $1,000 per month

  • instead, out of 38 asked so far, only 2 have said they'd prefer to keep their conditional

  • benefits