GOFFSTOWN, N.H. (Reuters) - A New Hampshire family that received a $1,000-a-month “freedom dividend” for a year from the campaign of Democratic presidential contender Andrew Yang spent most of the money on college bills - but also on an improv class for the unemployed dad.
Chuck Fassi had lost his job as a manager for a company servicing chemical dispensing equipment when his family got the first check in January 2019. He had never heard of Yang before his daughter, Janelle, mentioned the candidate’s universal basic income plan, or UBI, and nominated her family for it.
“Janelle actually came home and said: ‘Hey, there’s this Asian guy running for president, and he’s running a platform of universal basic income,’” Fassi said at his home in Goffstown, New Hampshire, on Friday.
The timing was perfect. “When you go from making $80,000 a year to zero and not being able to take care of your family ... it affects your psyche quite a bit,” Fassi said.
During a debate last year, Yang, an entrepreneur and former tech executive, disclosed his plan to give 10 families in the United States $1,000 a month for a year as a test case.
He has argued that automation is destroying U.S. jobs and that the dividend would help insulate Americans from economic insecurity.
Political opponents slammed the plan as impractical. But Yang said granting the dividends to all U.S. adults would make society healthier by allowing people to pursue creative passions and take better care of themselves.
It is the sort of out-of-the-box idea that has won Yang a loyal following, although not enough to lift him into the top tier of 11 candidates running to challenge Republican President Donald Trump in November’s election.
The next test comes on Tuesday in New Hampshire, which holds the nation’s second presidential nominating contest.
After an hours-long interview by Yang at their home, the Fassis started collecting their monthly check - no strings attached.
Jodie Fassi said she was probably more excited about the dividend than her husband. “I mean, who wouldn’t want free money? And I pay the bills, so I know what our finances are,” she said. “I was smiling from ear to ear.”
The Fassis spent most of the money on college bills. The funds also helped Chuck Fassi pick up a new hobby - improv acting classes - and pay car bills. Eventually, he found a new job.
“Everything Andrew’s running on of the UBI, we experienced,” said Jodie Fassi. “It helped us pay for our car or that night out that we typically probably would have stayed in because we didn’t have the extra money ... it definitely put money into the economy.”
The Fassis said they planned to vote for Yang on Tuesday, although the candidate did not make that a prerequisite for taking the money.
“It probably took me about eight months of collecting universal basic income before I decided (to vote for Yang) because I didn’t know who he was,” Chuck Fassi said. “And I wasn’t just going to just because he was giving me a thousand dollars a month, I wasn’t going to commit to voting for him - nor did he ask us.”
Reporting by Vanessa Johnston and Kevin Fogarty; Writing by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Peter Cooney