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Vulnerable students omitted in relief package

Karen Edwards

Once Americans around the country begin to receive stimulus checks to help them cope with the COVID-19 crisis, millions of our most vulnerable citizens will soon realize they’re being left out. As more details about this economic stimulus come to light, the list of those who are barred from receiving a stimulus check continues to grow – including thousands of college-aged students, one of the poorest demographics in the country.

Under the CARES Act, individuals who earn up to $75,000 a year are eligible to receive $1,200, and parents will receive an additional $500 dollars for any children who are under 17. Critically, however, the bill leaves out those who are claimed as dependent on a relatives’ tax forms. This demographic is overwhelmingly college students and very young workers, along with anyone supporting a disabled adult or an elderly family member. The decision to leave these people out of absolutely necessary economic relief is a mistake.

For students from low-income families, these rules make the incorrect assumption that dependents will receive the financial relief they need from their guardian. In many cases it is simply not possible, and this problem will only get worse as unemployment continues to spike, affecting breadwinners and their “dependents” alike.

According to the Pew Research Center, nearly half of young Americans work service industry jobs—the very kind hit hardest by coronavirus quarantines. Many of those jobs are filled by college students, since eight out of ten young adults work to pay their bills. While the government calls these students dependents, the reality is that they’re often covering the majority of their expenses.

To make matters even more precarious for this group, the vast majority of universities and colleges that sent students home for the remainder of the year are not offering full refunds for room and board or tuition, and are not paying the students in work-study programs or resident assistants. Schools like Harvard, Ohio University, and UCSD are only offering a portion of the room and board fees for the days not spent on campus – but none are offering tuition refunds. With the high cost of college these days, these individuals are facing thousands of dollars in losses, with no respite from their institutions or the government.

It’s not just those who currently enrolled that are being left out, it’s recent college graduates or anyone who’s currently paying back their college loans. The relief package paused payments and interest for federal student loans for six months, but not all federal loans qualify, and anyone with a private loan is on their own. A brief respite from these payments is good – applying it to everyone, with long-term relief, is far better. As it stands right now, these policies will only delay economic harm, not prevent it.

Like the millions of parents across the country right now, I am worried about my child’s education and health during this crisis. And I also worry about the economy they are going to enter when they graduate at the end of this crisis. But unlike countless parents, I have the privilege to not worry about their financial situation. Thankfully, I can provide for my children throughout this crisis, but many parents can’t – or won’t. I worry for the millions of young people out there that this bill leaves completely behind, and I want to urge Congress to address their plight right away.

If we’re going to give out a ‘universal payment’ to assist those who need help, then let’s make it universal. These arbitrary requirements only hurt vulnerable Americans who pay their taxes and still have bills to pay, like everyone else affected by this crisis. There are countless different situations that students are finding themselves in. And while some kids are faring better than others thanks to good family the government cannot assume they exist for everyone. If it does, we risk leaving thousands of young adults out of work, burdened by debt, and with bills piling high.

 

Karen Edwards is a former media-technology executive, who volunteers for non-profit media causes. She is also a member of the Patriotic Millionaires.