UBI for Pa.?: Reps. Fiedler, Lee propose sending $250 to every state resident | Tuesday Morning Coffee

May 5, 2020 7:15 am

Good Tuesday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

If you liked that stimulus check you just received (or are about to receive) from Washington D.C. as part of the massive, $2 trillion CARES Act, then the chances are pretty good you’ll want to give a listen to a plan that’s being floated by two state House Democrats.

On Monday, Reps. Elizabeth Fiedler, of Philadelphia, and Summer Lee, of Allegheny County, circulated a memo looking for co-sponsors for their plan to give every Pennsylvania adult, aged 18 and older, $250 each to spend on groceries or household bills or some other pertinent expense.

“In the face of the COVID-19 public health crisis, many people find themselves facing wildly different economic circumstances than even a few weeks ago,” the two lawmakers wrote. “People have lost their jobs completely or had their hours reduced, many families were already only a paycheck or two away from not being able to pay their bills. Now is the time to make sure financial relief gets straight to Pennsylvanians, in the form of Pennsylvania Universal Income.”

“People whose current information is in the PennDot Driver’s License or State ID database, the Voter Registration system, or individuals who have submitted 2019 PA taxes, will automatically receive a check. The funds will not impact a person’s eligibility for any other program or assistance,” they wrote.

If that last “universal income” phrase sounds familiar, there’s a good reason for that. The idea of universal basic income, or a government guarantee of a certain amount of money for every citizen, has been percolating afresh in progressive circles for a few years now.

Former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang made it one of the cornerstones of his campaign and even tried it out briefly, with a “Freedom Dividend,” that paid $1,000 a month to select recipients from campaign funds.

The idea itself, however, has been floating around, in some form, for decades.

In the 1960s, the late Rev. Martin Luther King proposed it as a way to eliminate poverty. The conservative economist Milton Friedman proposed a “negative income tax,” in which people would be exempted from paying taxes if their income fell below a certain level, according to an analysis by The Balance, a financial literacy website.

State Reps. Elizabeth Fiedler, D-Philadelphia, and Summer Lee, D-Allegheny | Pa. House photos, Capital-Star photo collage by John L. Micek

And if there was ever a need for such a program, then now is definitely the time, Fiedler and Lee wrote.

“We are facing unprecedented challenges and for the good of our communities and Commonwealth, need to provide direct and immediate aid to Pennsylvanians,” the two lawmakers wrote. “This $250 check will allow a family of four to buy groceries for a few more weeks, a homeowner to cover their utility bills an extra month, or a sick adult who is now unemployed to buy the medication they need to get well. While this universal income is a modest start, it will also create a framework for dispersing additional funds in the future. We hope you will join us in supporting this important legislation to help all Pennsylvanians.”

In a text message, Fiedler said funding for the program would come from the state’s $5 billion share of the CARES Act.

“We calculated the program based on the amount of funds that Pa. as a state is expected to get,” she said.

WASHINGTON, DC – JANUARY 21: The U.S. Capitol is shown at dusk.(Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

With the economy seemingly on a one-way path to recession, there’s been growing talk in Washington about making the stimulus checks an ongoing program.

Two U.S. House Democrats have proposed sending Americans $2,000 a month to help them ride out the storm for at least six months or until employment returns to pre-pandemic levels

The legislation, sponsored by U.S. Reps. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., and Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, would send the money to every American, aged 16 and older, who earns less than $130,000.

“A one-time payment is simply not enough to sustain most Americans for the length of this crisis. One of the most important things we can do right now is to put cash in the hands of average hard-working Americans. Consumer spending makes up roughly 70 percent of U.S. gross domestic product, so how will our small businesses survive if their customers don’t have money in their pockets?” Ryan wrote in an op-Ed for MarketWatch. “The old strategies have failed us. This is an unprecedented crisis, and it is time for government to respond in an unprecedented way.”

Speaking to the New York TimesYang said such a program is fundamental to keeping the economy alive.

“This thing is going to pass,” he told the Times. “And it’s going to pass for a very obvious reason: Money in our hands is vital to prevent our economy from collapsing.”

With another coronavirus relief package emerging in Washington, Fiedler told the Capital-Star that she and Lee envision their program running as long as the flow of federal cash continues in Pennsylvania.

The Pennsylvania Capitol building. (Capital-Star photo by Sarah Anne Hughes)

Our Stuff.
Anticipating a deluge, Gov. Tom Wolf and Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar are urging Pennsylvanians to get registered to vote and to obtain a mail-in ballot as soon as possible for the June 2 primary, Associate Editor Cassie Miller writes.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to toss a challenge to Gov. Tom Wolf’s business shutdown order filed by a trio of business owners and a state House candidate from suburban Pittsburgh, Stephen Caruso reports.

Air Force aircraft flew over Erie on Monday in salute to frontline healthcare workers. Correspondent Hannah McDonald has pictures of the experience.

From our partners at the Philadelphia Tribune: Its pews might be empty, but this city church’s early embrace of technology helped it keep its congregation together during COVID-19.

On our Commentary Page, opinion regular Bruce Ledewitz explains why the durability of precedent may not be enough to guarantee Roe v. Wade’s survival. And Rob Mercuri, the GOP candidate for retiring House Speaker Mike Turzai’s suburban Pittsburgh seat, lays out his vision for how Pa. can emerge from the pandemic.

Voters line up at a polling place on Election Day. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Experts gamed out how to avoid a disputed election in PennsylvaniaThe Inquirer has the story.
In papers filed in Commonwealth Court, officials in Pittsburgh have argued they have the authority to regulate firearms, the Tribune-Review reports.
A nursing home in Lehigh County has reported 15 COVID-19 fatalities and 23 more suspected fatalities, the Morning Call reports.
State Rep. Kris Dush, R-Jefferson, has compared the Wolf administration’s handling of the pandemic to Nazi Germany and the U.S.S.R., PennLive reports. Dush later apologized for his remarks on the House floor.

Here’s your #Pittsburgh Instagram of the Day:

Relief is on the way for Pennsylvania free-lancers and gig workersWHYY-FM reports.
Penn State has directed employees to continue working from home through the end of MayWPSU-FM reports.
Luzerne County has topped 100 COVID-19 fatalities, the Citizens-Voice reports.
The Reading Eagle runs down what you can expect in each of the reopening phases (paywall).
A new poll by GOP-friendly Harper Polling shows ex-Veep Joe Biden leading President Donald Trump 49-43 percent in Pennsylvania, PoliticsPA reports.
County leaders are looking for more leeway from home state governors to make calls on reopening, reports.
Writing in Roll Call, veteran political analyst Nathan Gonzales explains why this November could look a lot like last November and why that’s good news for Democrats.

What Goes On.
The House comes in at 11 a.m. for another day of virtual session. Here’s a look at the day’s committee action.

In the House:

Voting meeting on HB 777, HR 855 and any other business that may come before the committee.
Room 205
Ryan Office
Voting meeting on HB 99, HB 2004 and any other business that may come before the committee.
Room G50
Irvis Office
Agenda to be announced
Room 140
Main Capitol
Voting meeting on HR 687, HR 688, SB 863 and any other business that may come before the committee.
Room 60
East Wing

In the Senate:
Senate Chamber  (LIVE STREAMED), 1 p.m.

Time TBD: Daily COVID-19 briefing.

Heavy Rotation.
Here’s an old favorite from The Killers, in which they do much justice to the Dire Straits classic, “Romeo & Juliet.

Tuesday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link. 
looks at how the league’s goalies are staying fit in case the 2019-2020 regular season resumes soon.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.