Most Americans have got at least three stimulus checks since the pandemic struck in 2020. Then there were the state stimulus checks depending on which state you are in. Add to that the expanded version of the Child Tax Credit stimulus checks and the Earned Income Tax Credit/ And you have what comes closest to a universal basic income for the past three years.
But what was different about the stimulus checks when compared with the basic concept of a universal basic income was the regularity and the frequency among a host of other factors. The series of economic impact payments and other support measures envisaged by the federal government were limited to bringing people out of the financial abyss caused by the pandemic and the accompanying economic downturn.
After The Stimulus Boom, Americans Face A Comedown Without Any Stimulus Check
Americans faced a darkening economy after the boom period of the stimulus check. The comedown was especially troubling as the US was yet to come out of the economic downturn triggered by the pandemic.
The end of the pandemic was marked by a second round of frustration for Americans as all-around prices shot through the roof. The increases started in the last quarter of 2021 and the relentless march has continued to this day. Despite an easing of prices in the last quarter of 2022, there has not been much improvement and prices continue to stay way above pre-pandemic pieces.
Even low and moderate-income families had over $10,000 in their accounts sometimes in the third quarter of 2021. But within a year, that boost was all gone. The end of 2021 also marked the last of the stimulus checks as the expanded version of the Child Tax Credit payments came to an end.
Americans say that their savings are again down to less than a thousand. For Americans, it was the beginning of another round of cutting back on expenses. With rent and utilities offering no scope for savings, the cutbacks hit food, groceries, and other essentials.
Across America, county executives have announced a slew of country-level basic income programs. They will partially replace the support given by the stimulus check for the past two years.
Both Cook County and Chicago have tapped money that they received through the American Rescue Plan Act signed by President Biden in March 2021, within weeks of taking over from Donald Trump. The money was sent to all local, tribal, and state governments and comprised close to 50% of the total amount sanctioned under the Rescue Plan.
Brandie Knazze of the Chicago Dept. of Family and Support Services said that it was a once-in-a-lifetime moment for us to be bold and innovative. For the ruling democrats, this concept was a wager of local governance at a time when the belief in democratic governance is at its lowest ebb.
Chicago University researchers used surveys, labor, economic, educational, legal, and criminal data, and direct interviews with people to track recipients of the money and an even larger control group not selected for the grants.
When President Biden committed to the expanded version of the Child Tax Credit stimulus checks, he had wanted it to continue till 2025. But they were the exigencies of Washington politics that he had to face. That was especially apparent when he had to bow down to the resistance of one of his own Senators, Joe Manchin, whose active non-cooperation led to the total collapse of the expanded Child Tax Credit stimulus check.
President Biden stepped up the existing Child Tax Credit stimulus check from the existing $2,000 to a maximum of $3,600. He had also planned for a 4-year extension in the first phase and had planned to make it into a permanent support system for low and moderate-income Americans.
The CTC stimulus checks were a resounding success and lifted 50% of children out of poverty for the first time in their lives. Around 4.1 million children and their families were for the first time at ease from the worry of getting their food every day and the prospect of homelessness.
There continues to be a growing groundswell of support for the concept and the initiative has come through the local initiatives that cities and counties have taken on their own. The support has generally come either through surplus funds, the Rescue Plan funds, or through the support of philanthropists.
And whether the stimulus checks go towards bringing down debts, buying essentials, or for unexpected emergencies, the money and other relief measures have opened up the world to a conversation on starting a universal basic income across the United States.
Moving From The Stimulus Check To The Universal Basic Income
For beneficiaries across several counties and cities, the monthly stimulus checks afforded by the concept of universal basic income to a select few have ensured a minimum basic standard of living. The local administration has handed over regular cash payments. The main difference with a regular stimulus check is that the universal basic income payments are periodic, mostly monthly. And though the concept has been limited to a few counties and cities, the pilot projects have been a resounding success and have proved that the benefits of such regular stimulus checks far outweigh the negatives, if any.
The concept gained nationwide attention when 2020 presidential candidate Andrew Yang brought attention to it during his campaign. He recommended giving out a minimum of $1,000 to qualifying American adults every month.
But the concept of universal guaranteed income is not new. It was proposed as far back as 1516 by Thomas Moore, the English philosopher in his book Utopia. Civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. also advocated for it in the 1960s. He said that it was the surest way to eradicate poverty.
But the concept has remained confined to theories before the pandemic struck. The federal government was forced to step in with multiple support measures. The stimulus checks were just one of them. The unemployment checks were beefed-up and also extended. The CTC stimulus checks saved millions of parents from imminent poverty and homelessness.