News in a Number: Largest Ever Universal Cash Payment by a Government

2 min read
Mar 20, 2020
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To all Alaska residents in 2008

The proposed US stimulus package and its $1000 cash payment wouldn't be the largest.

Alaskans have received yearly payouts from the state's Permanent Fund Dividend since 1982. The program was conceived as a way to distribute revenue from Alaska’s oil reserves to all residents.

The word universal is tricky here. There has obviously never been a cash payment to everyone on the planet. But even cash payments to everyone in one country, state, or city are rare. 

The stimulus package that Donald Trump announced this week will probably not be universal. The plan isn't final, but most think it will give around $1000 to only those who earn less than a certain amount. It's unclear whether more payments will come later if the economic situation doesn't improve. The emphasis, however, is clearly on temporary economic relief.

Debates about a universal basic income, an income high enough to live on, have popped up here and there over the last few decades. Switzerland held a referendum in 2016. Finland and Canada even ran small-scale experiments recently.

Many leaders in the tech industry, such as Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk, have said that a universal basic income would help people deal with jobs lost because of advancements in automation and artificial intelligence. Andrew Yang brought the topic back into the spotlight by making a monthly $1000 income for all Americans a campaign promise in his run for president.

Despite all the media attention and debate, no universal basic income programs exist. Alaska has the only long-running universal cash payout program. The amount varies year to year. Last year Alaskans received $1,606.

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