US Senators Michael Bennet (left) and Mitt Romney (right)
On Sunday, the 15th of December 2019, Republican Senator Mitt Romney and Democrat Senator Michael Bennet presented a plan to establish an unconditional child benefit cash transfer in the United States.
Under this plan, all parents get an unconditional benefit of US$ 1500 per year per child under 6 years pf age, plus US$ 1000 per year for every child aged 6 up to 17. There is still an additional US$ 1000 per year per child, dependent on income.
There is already a Child Tax Credit inscribed into the United States tax code, but it is strictly conditional to employment and is means-tested. Within Romney and Bennet’s new plan, considerable part of the benefit would be independent of the employment status, effectively helping the poorest parents.
This program would be funded through a reform in the federal tax code, within which inherited property would be fully taxed. That would replace the highly regressive nature of the present rules, which exempt wealthy property owners from paying taxes on the full amount of what their property is valued. This way, the new unconditional child benefit cash transfer would effectively transfer money from the very wealthy to poor and working-class American families.
Republican politicians have been, typically and historically, against any measures which expand cash programs for the poor. This initiative by Mitt Romney may lead, however, other Republicans to endorse such programs. Right-wing arguments against such welfare expansions have been mostly related to misspending – as in risks of spending the benefits on cigarettes and alcohol, for instance – or for allegedly discouraging employment, but there is already a solid body of evidence that these risks/fears are unfounded, and that plenty of benefits are to be gained from their implementation, especially in health and economic related realms.
In July 2016, the Liberal government of Justin Trudeau introduced Unconditional Basic Income to Canada and never mentioned it to anyone.
6.4 million Canadians can count on benefiting from about $500, tax-free, every month, no questions asked. It contributes $46 billion per year to GDP and adds $4 to GDP for every dollar it costs.
It’s called the Canada Child Benefit (CCB).
Why have we not heard that this program is, in fact, a Basic Income? When the Ontario government announced the abrupt cancellation of the Basic Income Pilot Project involving 4,000 low-income people after a few short months, it was all over the news. A permanent nationwide Basic Income involving 6.4 million Canadians and their parents (19 million people in total) runs for three years with stunning success and not one word in the press.
Indeed, I have spoken with many Liberal Members of Parliament who all express dismay and disappointment at the lack of visibility the CCB has among their constituents. Yet Canadians know how Basic Income works because one has existed for close to 70 years.
“In 1951, following an amendment to the British North America Act to permit the federal government to operate a pension plan, the Canadian Parliament passed the Old Age Security Act, which provided a universal pension, or demogrant, of $40 per month financed and administered by the federal government. All Canadians aged 70 and over who could meet the more liberal residence requirements were eligible, regardless of their other income or assets. Pension payments began in 1952 and were taxable.”[emphasis added]
Who was in power in 1951? Louis St. Laurent’s Liberals!
Why focus, in this discussion, on only one Party? Is that partisan politics? Some background:
The October 21st election is the perfect crucible in which to forge a new narrative about Basic Income in Canada. The centre-left Liberals of Justin Trudeau, whose father was prime minister from 1968 to 1984, swept into power in 2015 after a decade of Conservative rule. The progressive New Democratic Party is thinking about Basic Income on a 30-year timescale. The Green party is demanding more tests. Only the Liberals can point to action, although they refuse to admit it.
So, while Liberals can legitimately claim both a long history and recent accomplishments in implementing permanent Unconditional Basic Income programs (UBI), the public has no idea that here are two examples of highly successful implementations, hiding in plain sight! Both were introduced by Liberal governments and no one knows about it.
There is no mainstream recognition that Basic Income is a fait accompli in Canada. Sadly, many of the cognoscenti also resist this paradigm shift.
Yet a recent independent report sponsored by UBIWorks, shows that the CCB is not only an Unconditional Basic Income, but it is also a highly successful one for families and the economy. The report makes the following key points:
Canada has demonstrated the effectiveness of a national-scale Basic Income
6.4 million Canadians benefit from about $500, tax-free, each month
The CCB directly touches approximately 19 million people. This not a test.
The CCB is an ongoing national program that has been running successfully for over 3 years
The CCB contributes $46B annually to the Canadian economy – exceeding the economy of Nova Scotia
CCB-related spending drives $85B / year in revenues and $18B in gross profits to businesses
453,000 full-time equivalent jobs are contributed by the CCB, 2.5% of the Canadian labour force
Every dollar invested drives $2 of GDP and more than 55 cents of is recouped in taxes from economic activity
Therefore the CCB drives $4 of GDP for every net dollar it costs
The CCB has generated $27B in private capital investment and $77B in wage growth since its inception
The CCB has contributed to 3 years of economic growth, low inflation, and unemployment levels at record 40-year lows
Clearly, the Canada Child Benefit is a Canadian flavoured Basic Income which is as close as it gets to a UBI in the real world. It is a huge success hiding in plain sight. it is individual because strictly based on headcount and it is unconditional because you do not have to do anything special to deserve it, and you can do with it as you please, no questions asked. Furthermore, it is a regular, predictable, cash transfer paid monthly, for which you can sign up before you are even born. It is not means-tested. However, it is income-tested, which means wealthier families are phased out from the benefit. Does it deviate in some ways from the ideal, orthodox form of Basic Income? Of course! Where do we find ideal forms in the real world?
A similar demonstration can be made for Old Age Security. Since the facts show the economic impact of Basic Income for ages 0-17 and 65+, why not expand the programs to all those in between? Why not start right away with ages 18-19, who need the money to stay in school or get a good start in life, some other way?
As the incumbent Liberals struggle in the polls and are headed toward a minority government status in the October 21st elections, according to the latest projections, Basic Income advocates around the world can only look on in dismay at this missed opportunity to benefit from changing the narrative about Basic Income in Canada.
Although the nomenclature of Unconditional Basic Income (UBI) is notoriously anarchic, clearly the federal Liberal Party of Canada was considering such a plan. In the article, the Canadian Press reports:
“Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Social Development Minister Jean-Yves Duclos have argued that the Liberal-created Canada Child Benefit, among other measures, amounts to a guaranteed minimum income already.”
Yet not a word about this, 28 days into the campaign, as I have reported above.
According to Trudeau’s government, this new program will cover nine out of ten families with children, and will be targeted to disburse more money to low-income families than to higher income ones. The increase in child benefits will be as much as 64% for some families, since they will be eligible for up to 6400 CAN$ per year per child under six years old, and up to 5400 CAN$ per child up to seventeen years old (values on average). This is comparison to an average of 3600 CAN$ per year in previous years.
The new Child Benefit program will represent about 18% of the Canadian median income, and 58% of the poverty line (as defined by the top income of those living in poverty according to Canada Without Poverty). The program is almost universal in giving out benefits to families with children, although it is designed more like a negative income tax than a universal basic income, since the benefit value gets automatically reduced with increasing income. This, according to Trudeau, will lift about 300 000 children out of poverty, in Canada.
Like previous child benefit programs, the new grant is conditional in nature – taking into account household income and the number and age of children. However, it has been enlarged in value and in population coverage, which are definitely steps towards universality and covering basic needs. In this respect, this social security policy revamp is in line with all recent developments in Canada, which has seen increasing interest and support for social policies like basic income. Trudeau’s government and Canada’s regional authorities (especially in Ontario) are consistently showing signs of eagerness to change the social security paradigm in Canada, through both enlarging and expanding conditional benefits and preparing experiments with basic income.
The 2020 BIEN Congress was to be held in Brisbane in Australia from the 28th to the 30th September 2020. Due to the coronavirus outbreak, the event has been cancelled. BIEN’s Executive Committee and the Scottish and Australian congress Local Organising Committees have agreed the following statement: ‘The Scottish and Australian Congress Local Organisation Committees have agreed that the current plan is to hold the 2021 BIEN congress in Scotland and the 2022 BIEN congress in Australia.’
A Basic Income is a periodic cash payment unconditionally delivered to all on an individual basis, without means-test or work requirement. Read more