Meet Our CEO
6 QUESTIONS FOR MAT YOUNG
Sure thing. It's hard to know where to start with these kinds of questions. Let's see...I'm a Florida native, but spent my high school and college years in San Antonio, Texas. I've always loved politics, even as a teenager. The first campaign I volunteered for was probably Governor Ann Richards re-election campaign when I was a teenager.
After getting my master's degree in public policy, I came to Washington to save the world, like so many other young people before me. (Laughs.) I quickly realized that wasn't so easy. But, I remain an optimist and a believer that real change can still happen in Washington, even in these super divisive times.
Over the last twenty years, I've been fortunate to have a lot of different jobs. I worked for a regulatory agency, for the House Financial Services Committee, for Senator Debbie Stabenow as her Economic Policy Advisor, as a speechwriter, and as a state and federal lobbyist.
Just a funny side note, you never know where policy work will lead you. When I was working as a lobbyist, handling tax and accounting issues, two of the biggest things I spent a lot of time on couldn't have been more different. One project I worked on was stopping companies from patenting tax strategies. Imagine, as a taxpayer, having to pay some company for the right to use a perfectly legal way to minimize your taxes just because they thought to patent it. Fortunately, we got that ban passed. Another issue I did a lot of work on was how marijuana legalization affected CPAs. Not an obvious issue, for sure, but cannabis businesses need accountants, they need auditors, they need all kinds of professional services. They were both really interesting projects.
Now, I'm excited to be working on UBI. There is such a need for it. And it is such a simple and obvious solution to so many problems. I'm hopeful I can bring a lot to the table as the movement continues to grow. There are so many people doing really great grassroots work on this.
2. Why is this the right time to launch a non-profit focused solely on UBI legislation & education?
Well, first of all, I was really inspired by Andrew Yang and the Yang Gang. I think it goes without saying that anyone interested in UBI realizes that he really tapped into an enormous passion for the issue all around the country. And, I am personally really passionate about it as well.
There's a quote by Lily Tomlin that I love that I've been thinking about a lot while we were getting ready to launch. The quote is: "I've always wondered why somebody doesn't do something about that. Then, I realized I'm somebody."
That sentiment has really inspired me as we've done the work to get up and running.
As I've followed and researched the issue, I was surprised to learn that there wasn't a national organization with lobbyists and a media and education team working full-time on just UBI. Other non-profits are doing great work in the area of economic justice and inequality, but they often have a broader agenda related to issues like minimum wage, workers' rights, the Earned Income Tax Credit, et cetera. Those are all very important issues, but we really need a group focusing solely on UBI.
I also think we are at an inflection point in American history. There is an emerging political window of opportunity for significant changes in the coming years. The winds are shifting. Not only do you have more and more politicians coming out for UBI, but an increasing number of billionaires are speaking out about this topic and they're willing to use their positions of privilege to talk about it.
And, while the general public is just about evenly split on UBI, the younger the generation, the higher the support for UBI. That's really encouraging. It means this is a fight that we can win, as more and more young people become voters. So, I think we start to do the heavy lifting now. We educate, we keep the issue front and center, and we work to build coalitions and political support in a very targeted and strategic way.
Finally, it's important to note that all the great UBI experiments being done right now are also helping to build momentum. UBI works. And the trials out there will really help to make our case. Y Combinator Research and Economic Security Project, for example, both have been doing great work in this area. And, I think it's really fantastic that Humanity Forward recently announced a new UBI program for upstate New York.
3. What have been your first steps in getting started?
I'll be honest, I think some of my friends probably think it's a little crazy to start a non-profit in the middle of the worst recession in our lifetimes. I think it's crazy, too. (Laughs.) But I feel so strongly that I'm willing to take that risk.
I've been in politics for a long time. So, my first priority has been to reach out to as many stakeholders as I can who are working on this. It's a lot of phone calls and emails, trying to find the right people. I really want to make sure that I show up right. That I build strong, trusting, collaborative relationships from the start. And, I also don't want to be duplicative or waste resources.
While doing that, I'm also filing out all the paperwork. We are a 501(c)(4) social welfare organization. So, as a non-profit, there are lots of various forms to fill out with the IRS, et cetera.
The next priority is obviously building a membership base and financial sustainability. We won't be a credible organization if we don't have people supporting us. It's important to me that we operate in a way where we are driving conversations in Washington and in the media, but also giving people tools, resources, and data to support their own work in their local communities. We certainly don't have all the answers, but we'll definitely be more effective collaborating with the grassroots from around the country.
My Board and I have laid out a number of budget scenarios to ramp up. With $1 million, we could do quite a bit. With $2 - $3 million we could, obviously, do a whole lot more. I'd like to see us hit 20 - 30,000 contributing members in our first year. That would really allows us to have a strong sustainable start with up to 3 full time lobbyists, a similarly sized education and media team, and the resources to support them. If things start slower, maybe we don't have any full-time staff and we hire just a part-time lobbyist while we grow. But, I'm hopeful that there is a huge amount of support for what we are trying to do and we can start doing big things from the start.
4. Talk about the group's Road Map. Why the tax code?
Well, as we really dug into the issue, one of the things that was striking is that the easiest framework for creating UBI is through the tax code. Also, there are already legislative proposals out there that would do this. I don't know if that fact is widely known. We don't need to re-create the wheel here. American politicians have actually been talking about UBI, in some form or another, since the 1960s.
With a Universal Basic Benefit, or what we sometimes call UBI for Kids, the origins of that concept have their roots in the creation of the Child Tax Credit in 1997. That was a bipartisan law signed by President Bill Clinton. There is a long history of broad support for that credit over the last two plus decades. In fact, in 2017, the Republicans supported doubling the Child Tax Credit and agreed to make it partially refundable. However, while that was progress, as structured, it still penalizes the poor. If a parent doesn't have a job or doesn't make enough money, the kid is denied the full benefit that his or her other peers get. As a matter of principle, we don't think kids should be punished based on the success of their parents. Every kid deserves a basic and equal investment. So, fixing that is important and I think there is a lot of momentum building.
What the bill we're supporting - the American Family Act - what it does is raise the Child Tax Credit from $2,000 to $3,000 with a bump up to $3,600 for kids under six. And then, of course, what's really groundbreaking about the proposal is that the credit is fully refundable and the IRS is instructed to set up an optional system so the credit can be sent to families in $250 monthly installments. That's huge for kids living in poverty. And, it's also a reliable source of financial support for working and middle class families as they raise their kids, too. It's really about our country making an investment in the success of all of our kids.
The path to UBI for adults is best represented by a piece of legislation called the BOOST Act. You know, it's interesting, because what the lead sponsor, Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, has proposed is also a $3,000 fully refundable tax credit. So, it's a lot like the American Family Act proposal, but this version is for adults. And adults could also get her proposed tax credit in monthly payments of $250.
I know some people will say $250 is not enough. Why isn't it the $1,000 a month that Andrew Yang talked about? The answer is that our long term goal is for it to be much higher. We want to be able to lift everyone out of poverty. But $250 is a good start. It'll be a lifeline to many people. It'll help pull some people out of poverty. It'll provide a monthly cushion to the middle class. For a two parent, two kid household, the two bills together would provide $250 per person or $1,000 a month.
Once we get the UBI infrastructure in place, we can discuss, in the years to come, how to increase the benefits over time. Politics is about incrementalism. Small victories lead to larger victories. Nothing happens overnight.
The other thing that I would just add as a final comment on the legislation is that what Congresswoman Tlaib has proposed is essentially the negative income tax that the economist, Milton Friedman, came up with in the 1960s. So you have a strong progressive Democrat introducing legislation based on the idea of a conservative economist. Politics is funny that way sometimes.
5. How has the pandemic changed the conversation about UBI?
As you can see in our Take Action Center, we are very focused right now on extending and expanding the emergency relief payments to every American for the duration of this crisis. This is our top short term priority. People are hurting and the government needs to stimulate the economy and help people get back on their feet. We are facing an unprecedented recession, in the months ahead, with a likely long recovery period. So, that is the first way COVID-19 has impacted conversations around UBI.
With that said, when Congress passed the $1,200 Economic Stimulus payments in the CARES Act, in March, it gave the American people some exposure to a direct payment program geared toward almost everyone. Although, unfortunately, because it was being done on the fly, there were and there continue to be a ton of problems with the implementation. In fact, many people are still waiting for their checks. Hopefully, the next round, if we are successful, will be better administered.
The second thing that the pandemic did was change the political dynamic and keep the media focused on the value proposition of direct cash payments. In fact, what you saw in the emergency relief debate, earlier this year, is that it was really a bipartisan effort. For example, Republican Senator Mitt Romney was one of the first Senators to speak out in support of relief payments. If you had asked most people, pre-COVID-19, if they thought they could envision a time in the near future where a bipartisan group of lawmakers, along with President Trump, would be willing to send direct stimulus payments to the American people, I think the overwhelming number of people would have said no. So, now, there is an interesting precedent and, hopefully, that fuels momentum.
Another thing that I think the pandemic has demonstrated, in a very compelling way, is that our country could benefit from UBI because a UBI infrastructure serves our national security. We don't know what threats are on the horizon in the years and decades to come, but it would be in our strategic interest to be able to get money to people quickly and directly in a time of crisis. In some cases, that could be a targeted payment to people in a specific area or, in other cases, the entire population. Another pandemic, an act of terrorism, a natural disaster, a systemic financial crisis. A UBI program could help with all of that.
The last thing I'll highlight, because it's so important, is that there are now a number of business people and technologists who speculate that the pandemic will speed up automation. It begs the question: how can our business best function if we find ourselves in a situation where our employees can't come to work for an extended period? So, if you're a fast food restaurant, maybe that's a machine replacing the person running the fryer. If you're the CEO of a hotel chain, maybe you start pushing app based check-ins. If you're an exec in agriculture or manufacturing, you're probably asking what can be automated next and what should be prioritized in case there is another pandemic. It's a depressing but very real dynamic that's going to speed up the elimination of many jobs.
6. What are your thoughts about the November election & its impact on the prospects for UBI?
Well, I will say, that I'm both an optimist and a pragmatist. So, I think it's important to prepare for any outcome while hoping for the best.
I think there is a strong chance that we could see passage of the American Family Act in the next year or two. About 70% of the Democrats in both the House and the Senate are already on the bill. We're going to brainstorm on how we can make in roads with Republicans. But as for its prospects, it really depends on who controls the Senate and who wins the White House. Passing the Act would be a huge milestone for the UBI movement. One study suggested the bill could cut child poverty by 38 percent almost overnight. I also think the bill would go a particularly long way right now, in helping middle class families, both in terms of coming out of the recession and in the long run. Budgets are tight and kids are expensive, but times are even tougher right now.
Passage of the American Family Act would also help more people to understand the value of UBI. They'll see that this works. It'll start making a big difference in kids' lives. There will be less poverty, better health, better grades, and so on. So, once more people start to see that, they'll understand why we should do the same thing for adults.
However, as for a UBI tax credit for adults, we have to realize this is going to take a lot of work. It involves more education, building broad coalitions, electing more favorable lawmakers, moving public opinion, et cetera. But, that's why we formed UBI Action Network in the first place and that's the work we'll be doing everyday.