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Former Obama Staffer Runs for Congress, Promises Families Up to $500 a Month Per Child

suraj patel

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    A former staffer of Barack Obama’s White House is now vying for a seat in Congress with a bold proposal: “Universal Basic Income for Kids.”

    Suraj Patel, 36, is one of the three Democrats challenging incumbent Carolyn Maloney, also a Democrat, to represent the 12th Congressional District of New York in the primary election on June 23.


    Patel, an outspoken activist from the East Village, is also an attorney, businessman and assistant professor at New York University.

    A son of immigrants from India, he grew up bussing tables, filling vending machines and changing hotel bedsheets.

    “Together as a family, we lived the American Dream, something that’s nearly impossible in today’s rigged economy,” Patel shared on his campaign website.

    To lay the foundation for “a new American Dream,” he proposes a suite of policies called the “Family Opportunity Guarantee,” which puts emphasis on home economic security and child investment.

    “I’m running for Congress on the crazy idea that every generation should be able to afford having kids,” Patel wrote in a recent tweet.

    Under “Family Opportunity Guarantee,” Patel aims to give families in New York $500 a month for every child 5 years old or younger, and $350 a month for every child between 6 and 17.

    This “Universal Basic Income for Kids,” also known as “Universal Child Dividend,” hopes to replace current programs like Child Tax Credit, which require a minimum income of $2,500 per tax year to qualify.

    Unfortunately, not everyone can avail such tax credits — particularly those living in poverty with no stable jobs.

    “This proposal also represents a major shift in budget priorities, as currently only 10% of the federal budget is spent on children,” Patel wrote. “If the fundamental promise of America is that a child born into any family can reach their potential, policies that help families with children flourish are the necessary foundation.”

    Patel describes child poverty as a “moral disgrace” and an “economic drag.” He believes the policy will slash this problem in half in just one year.

    While there are no restrictions on how families can spend their dividend/s, Patel argues that the plan would provide financial relief that eventually benefits children.

    “Let’s say the $500 comes in and people buy better food or mom takes a vacation, it doesn’t matter. It’s freeing up $500 other dollars that can go to the kids,” he told CNBC. “It’s impossible to separate those choices, and budgeting happens at the family unit in America.”

    Universal Basic Income is recently popularized by former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang, who promised $1,000 for every American between 18 and 64.

    “He contributed $1,000 to my campaign in 2018 and gave me a signed copy of his book,” Patel told CNBC of Yang, who visited him in his first run against Maloney. “He sent me a touching personal message after we came up short in the primary, and we became friends. We have kept in touch and, though he clearly got very busy, I am incredibly proud as an Asian American and non-career politician with how many barriers he broke for us.”

    Patel, however, has reservations in calling his policy “Universal Basic Income for Kids,” as it only applies to families with children — and that these kids don’t technically earn an “income.” Instead, he views it more like a “family-first policy.”

    Aside from child dividends, Patel’s campaign also hopes to provide Medicare for Kids, a public option for child care, paid family and medical leave, and nationwide pre-kindergarten.

    “Restoring the promise of New York — education, economic opportunity, and social mobility — starts with our ‘Family Opportunity Guarantee,'” he said.

    Feature Images via Suraj Patel (left, right)

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