GOFFSTOWN — A family of three in Goffstown is heading into 2019 $12,000 richer thanks to entrepreneur and long shot 2020 presidential candidate Andrew Yang, who’s putting his money where his mouth is to make the case for a federal government-funded $1,000 per month universal basic income for every single adult American.
Selected out of a pool of dozens of Granite State applicants, the Fassi family of Goffstown will receive a no-strings-attached $1,000 payment each month from Yang’s own pocket in order to serve as a test case for a program Yang has dubbed the Freedom Dividend.
The Yang campaign also plans to select an individual in Iowa to take part in the experiment.
The Fassis first showed up on Yang’s radar in the summer of 2018, when 20-year-old Janelle Fassi submitted her father’s name to the selection pool following his unexpected layoff from an employer of 13 years.
The job loss came on Aug. 11, the same week that the family was moving Janelle into her dorm room for her first year at St. Anslem College.
“I didn’t know what I was going to do,” said Charles Fassi of the layoff.
The couple was determined to keep Janelle in school, with Jodie Fassi, Charles’ wife, arranging open houses for their home and putting one of the family’s vehicles up for sale.
“I wanted to make sure I could make the college payment, that was my number one concern,” Jodie Fassi said.
Charles Fassi would eventually find another job at a $30,000 pay cut, but the bigger news came when the family got the call that Yang had selected them as finalists for his New Hampshire Freedom Dividend.
Yang came to the Fassi home in the fall to learn more about the family, and called in December to inform the couple that he had selected Jodie Fassi as the recipient.
“My jaw was just open,” she said of her reaction to the news. “My husband broke down in tears. He felt guilty because he thought there must be someone more deserving than us.”
Charles Fassi says he had never really heard a candidate for office talk about the idea of a universal basic income. While he admits that the idea might be a tough sell with voters, he said he sees Yang’s experiment as a chance for the country to have a conversation about the impact automation is having on the workforce.
Jodie Fassi says she’s supportive of the idea, stating that a universal basic income can help middle class families to better plan ahead.
“For families like us, this would really help make us have a better life,” she said. “We can actually plan for future things instead of worrying about paying the bills every month. Not living paycheck to paycheck.”
For his part, Yang sees universal basic income as a solution for a future of increased automation, something he refers to as the “third inning of the greatest economic and technological transformation in the history of the country.”
“(Thirty percent) of the malls and Main Street stores are going to close over the next five years,” said Yang. “What does that mean to the people of New Hampshire? Working in a retail establishment is the most common job in the country and here in New Hampshire. There are almost 9 million people in America who work as retail clerks, what happens when those stores and malls close?”
To pay for the program, Yang is proposing a 10 percent value added tax that he says would serve as a tax on companies like Facebook, Google and Amazon that Yang says are disproportionately benefiting from automation.
Yang says he rejects the idea that a universal basic income is a radically liberal idea, citing the Alaska Permanent Fund, a state-funded investment fund that pays out dividends to every man, woman and child in Alaska from the state’s oil revenues.
“People can call me what they want,” said Yang of the criticism of his proposal as socialist in nature. “I generally think that the entire socialist/capitalist dichotomy is out of date. The truth is that we need to become both radically capitalist in some respects and radically socialist in others.”
Describing himself as a “serial entrepreneur,” the 43-year-old businessman turned presidential hopeful doesn’t shy away from labeling his selection of a New Hampshire family and an Iowa family as an act of political strategy. But Yang says he views the move as the best way to begin making his case for both his presidency and a universal basic income to the American people.
“In order to make the case to the American people, I need to first make the case to the people of New Hampshire and the people of Iowa. And the most effective illustration of that is to start giving the Freedom Dividend to people here,” said Yang.