Coronavirus sparks support for Universal Basic Income in unlikely places

The check is not yet in the mail.
The check is not yet in the mail.
Image: Ephrat Livni
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

As pandemic panic mounts worldwide and more people globally are being told to stay home, one conservative American politician is taking a decidedly progressive position, proposing interim Universal Basic Income.

Senator Mitt Romney of Utah today said that every American should get a $1,000 check to cover costs and keep the economy running, in addition to a slew of other measures to mitigate the pandemic’s fiscal fallout.

While Romney didn’t call his plan “UBI,” this idea—now floated in the context of a possible global economic recession—is one that former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang made the basis of his recently-ceased campaign. Last year, he even announced a free money giveaway to 10 American families during a Democratic candidates’ debate.

Hawaiian Democratic representative Tulsi Gabbard, a presidential candidate who is no longer appearing on debate stages, has also explicitly called for emergency UBI. She tweeted that it is “the most, simple, direct means to ensure people can take care of themselves and loved ones.”

Romney and Gabbard are both oddballs of sorts. Romney is the rare Republican senator who voted to impeach US president Donald Trump for his Ukraine dealings last month, while Gabbard was the sole Democrat in the House of Representatives to vote “present”—essentially abstaining—on impeachment articles last year. In other words, they are used to taking positions that don’t quite toe their parties’ lines.

However, Romney’s call for UBI is nonetheless surprising because it was such a critical aspect of Yang’s outsider campaign. The irony of a conservative championing an allegedly radical progressive notion was not lost on some Twitter users.

In addition to UBI, Romney would like to see aid extended to students, student loan payments deferred, bridge loans for small businesses, and covered tele-health services from insurance companies. He says he will be advancing these proposals in his discussions with senators about an emergency coronavirus bill.

In the wee hours of Saturday morning, the House of Representatives pushed through legislation that provides paid sick leave in companies of less than 500 employees but doesn’t go as far as many progressives want. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell said Sunday evening that “senators on both sides are carefully reviewing the details and are eager to act swiftly to help American workers, families, and small businesses navigate this challenging time.” But Politico reports today that it seems the bill has hit a technical snag and that the House is still working matters out with Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin. There is no indication of when the Senate will finally decide.

“While expansions of paid leave, unemployment insurance, and SNAP [formerly food stamps] benefits are crucial, the check will help fill the gaps for Americans that may not quickly navigate different government options,” Romney says.

How successful he’ll be at convincing his colleagues remains to be seen. But if the impeachment was any indication, you should not count on those checks until they hatch.