We set up a tent in the woods,” Bonnie said. “My husband will get money for us to eat.” We sat outside, sharing coffee and I asked how they became homeless. She begged at the off-ramp, held a cardboard sign and occasionally plucked a dollar dangled from a car window.
In New York City, the poor increasingly camp on sidewalks or in parks. In the nation at large, millions are at risk of eviction. The CARES Act, the first stimulus package during the pandemic, prevented masses of people from losing their homes and falling into poverty. It was emergency stopgap legislation whose effects have worn off. Another stimulus bill will not be enough.
We need Universal Basic Income (UBI), which is the cash transfer from the government to all or nearly all of its citizens. It is unconditional. It is consistent. In the middle of a global financial meltdown, it can stop poverty from destroying another generation and maybe repair the damage of the past.
The ongoing crisis of COVID-19 laid waste the economy. For many, life pre-pandemic was already a catastrophe. Alongside plagues are growing dangers like climate change and widening wealth inequality. It is unsustainable — sheer folly, really — to imagine society can hold up under those pressures. Yet a practical solution stares us in the face. Free money for everyone.
This spring in New York, ambulances wailed day and night to pick up the sick and dying. COVID-19 tore through the region. In February, Wall Street crashed. In March, the city shut down. Restaurants and airports, cinemas and clubs closed. The rest of the nation followed and 3.3 million filed for unemployment that month alone.
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