Andrew Yang's 'People's Bank' to Help Distribute Basic Income to Half a Million New Yorkers

Andrew Yang, the front-runner in the race for New York City's next mayor, announced the creation of the People's Bank of New York City, which, if he wins, will be responsible for distributing cash payments to some New Yorkers.

Along with its distribution of a basic income, the People's Bank of New York City is intended to help underserved communities. Yang's goal is to use the People's Bank to expand access to bank accounts and help entrepreneurs who may be overlooked at other financial institutions.

"I wake up and I feel privileged that I may have a positive impact on the lives of other people," Yang said Wednesday. "I wake up pumped up about what I can do to help our city get back on our feet. If that's not motivating I don't know what is."

Undocumented immigrants can face barriers to opening bank accounts if they don't have a Social Security number or an individual taxpayer identification number. Yang said the People's Bank of New York will allow people to open accounts with an IDNYC card.

A recognized form of ID for interacting with the New York Police Department and providing identity for employment, that card is available to all New Yorkers over the age of 10, regardless of immigration status. Select banks in New York City already accept the card for opening accounts.

andrew yang universal basic income new york
Andrew Yang, who is running for New York mayor, speaks at a press conference on January 14. Michael M. Santiago/Getty

The People's Bank of New York will also provide microloans to small-business owners who are "being overlooked by traditional banks." The goal is to get "startup capital" to people of color who often launch businesses on a significantly lower budget than white business owners do.

"Starting on a shoestring budget makes it much more difficult to turn a profit in good times, let alone survive the economic shocks wrought by something like COVID-19," Yang said. "We need a People's Bank to ensure that our small businesses are given the chance to succeed with affordable capital and a patient lender when they need it most."

A universal basic income was a staple of Yang's presidential run, and he carried the idea over to the mayoral race. Under his plan, half a million New Yorkers with the "greatest need" would be eligible to receive an average of $2,000 per year, with the cash transferred directly from the People's Bank into their accounts each month.

The goal is to "end extreme poverty" in the city, and Yang said it would help decrease costs in other areas. It's a $1 billion per year investment, but he left the door open for the program to expand as time goes on.

"As studies of basic income programs have shown, lifting people up from the depths of poverty increases mental and physical health while decreasing crime," Yang's campaign website says. "By reducing crime, hospital visits, and homelessness, this basic income program will decrease the costs associated with these social ills and allow the cash relief program to grow over time."

On Sunday, Yang hit the donation threshold necessary to qualify for taxpayer matching funds, at a rate of 8-to-1 for small contributions. Yang is the fourth person to meet the requirement, and his campaign told Politico the average contribution amount is $84.

A poll from Fontas Advisors and Core Decision Analytics released February 10 put Yang at the front of the pack of contenders for New York City mayor. At 28 percent, he's 9 points ahead of Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams. City Comptroller Scott Stringer came in third at 13 percent. Adam Rosenblatt, president of Core Decision Analytics, said in a statement that name recognition is likely helping the top three contenders, but that could change because the "vast majority" of voters are unfamiliar with other candidates.

Yang, who first moved to New York City when he was 21, said he was running for mayor because he saw a crisis and believes he can help.

"New York City is at a crossroads, and the election of the new mayor will be a pivotal milestone in our recovery from the pandemic and the resulting economic devastation," George Fontas, founder and CEO of Fontas Advisors, said in a statement.

Correction, 2/17/21, 5:25 p.m. EST: A previous version of this story mistakenly said that Yang's basic income program would impact 55,000 New Yorkers. Half a million New Yorkers would be eligible.