Longshot 2020 presidential hopeful Andrew Yang thinks all Americans 18 and over need a raise, so much so that he’s basing his entire campaign on Universal Basic Income, or the idea that the government should provide a set amount of money to help cover the basics.
This year, Yang is testing his so-called Freedom Dividend with the Fassi family in Goffstown, New Hampshire, who will receive $1,000 a month for a year.
Two years ago, Charles Fassi lost his job as a manager at a company that services chemical dispensing equipment. He says he’d worked there for 13 years.
“And then I was just suddenly let go,” Charles says. “And it felt like it was connected between automation and companies kind of putting less value on human capital.”
Jodie Fassi, Charles’s wife, says the loss of income came at a really hard time for the rest of the family, including their daughter Janelle, who was going into her freshman year at St. Anselm College.
“He lost his job August 11th and she was starting college that week, we had to set up her dorm,” Jodie says. “I actually had this house on the market. I had his car sold. [I went into this] protective mode of okay, well, what do I need to do to keep her in college.”
Janelle was the one who put her family in the running for the dividend from the presidential candidate Andrew Yang. She filled out an online form last year. And then her family was interviewed by Yang. When they got the call they’d been picked for the bonus, Jodie says Charles was stunned.
“And he actually ended up crying because he felt like we didn’t deserve it,” Jodie says. “That’s my husband.”
Charles says he’s not entirely sure why his family was chosen.
When Yang was in Concord last spring, he explained his reasoning for the bonus, which he advertised on his website and social media.
“The goal is to illustrate the impact a thousand dollars a month can have on a family or a household here in New Hampshire and putting my money where my mouth is,” Yang explained.
The idea behind Yang’s Freedom Dividend is nothing new. It’s his take on what’s known as universal basic income, or the idea that everyone gets a set amount of money from the government. Tech executives Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk have expressed interest in the concept. And Stockton, California, will become the first U.S. city to provide Universal Basic Income, or UBI, to some residents starting this year.
“It’s five hundred dollars no strings attached,” Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs told CBS News last year. “The idea is to have a conversation about kind of the economic system of this country.”
Politicians in New Hampshire are more likely to up-play the state’s booming economy than question it altogether. Charles Fassi says, while he’s got a new job and things have stabilized financially for his family, he’s still making a lot less than before.
“The stock market’s up, businesses are raking in profits, yet people are kind of struggling more and more every day,” he says.
The Fassi family hasn’t figured out exactly what they’ll do with the extra income. Jodie says she can think of a few things. “Just the basic security of having a little extra money, so if the car breaks we don’t have to use our credit card, we can actually pay,” she says.
“It’s kind of like a scholarship, especially for college students in a way,” says daughter Janelle.
And Charles says it's making him think a little more creatively.
“Even, we were talking about starting our own business,” Charles says. “Hopefully we can do something with the money in that year to improve our lives a bit.”
Yang presented the Fassis with their first check at a New Year's Eve Party. They say Yang hasn’t asked them to provide any plan on how they’ll spend the money.
But you may be wondering how this doesn’t count as buying votes? The idea of a candidate giving money to a potential voter could raise some eyebrows.
The Yang campaign says they spent a lot of time with their attorneys checking on the legality of their plan. Because the dividend will come from Yang’s personal account and not campaign funds, it’s the campaign’s understanding that the dividend complies with election law.
The New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office says there are currently no complaints against the Yang campaign.