Potential city COVID-19 relief plan includes universal basic income for every New Yorker

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New York City faces tough economic times amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, and a solution to the financial malady might be universal basic income (UBI) for every New Yorker, according to City Council Speaker Corey Johnson.

The speaker unveiled Thursday a relief plan, estimated to cost $12 billion over six months, that includes an array of financial help for businesses and residents of the five boroughs. One of the key parts of the plan would be the creation of a temporary UBI in which every adult resident would receive $550 a month, and every child resident would get $275 per month.

It bears similarities to a program that former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang had campaigned on during his run for the White House this year. However, the UBI plan for New York would be on a temporary basis; the speaker estimated it would likely last about six months. 

Johnson’s relief plan also calls for various financial programs to help struggling businesses, including fee deferments and business tax refunds, as well as up to $250,000 per business to cover fixed costs. Unemployment protections for freelance workers and members of the gig economy would also be included.

More than 40,000 businesses and over 500,000 New York workers have been impacted thus far by the economic repercussions of the coronavirus outbreak — which have included restaurants and bars being shut down to slow the virus’ spread. Johnson said the affected businesses produced $40 billion in sales last year, and are now struggling mightily.

“The difficult steps we’ve taken to protect ourselves and others are necessary, including social distancing and mandatory closures, but they are devastating our businesses and workers in every corner of the city,” the speaker said. “The hospitality industry has been the most high-profile industry impacted, but gyms, performance venues, salons, retail shops and many other types of businesses are shuttering or close to it. This plan will provide relief not just for our economy, but also for the small businesses and workers that are the heart and soul of New York City.”

Who would pay for this $12 billion relief program?

Johnson hopes the federal government would fund it as part of its own national relief efforts. But if Washington, DC passes the buck, the speaker said the city should work with the state on a bond issue — as it did previously to assist with the economic recovery following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Bond issues, however, would require financial backing. Johnson’s plan would secure that funding through a variety of temporary measures including a payroll tax on the wealthiest corporations and New Yorkers; a temporary surcharge on the sale of high-end commercial property; and an overall tax increase on New Yorkers making $500,000 or more a year.

Ten City Council members publicly announced their support of the relief plan in a press release issued Thursday, including City Council Majority Leader Laurie Cumbo and City Council Members Daniel Dromm, Mark Levine, Carlina Rivera, Stephen Levin, Mark Gjonaj, Keith Powers, Robert Cornegy, Jimmy Van Bramer and Vanessa Gibson.

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