• Claudia Smajlaj

Opinion: College Students Deserve Stimulus Checks

Updated: Jun 15, 2020

Opinion Editorial by Claudia Smajlaj

While the CARES Act has provided much needed stimulus checks to households and individuals, college students have been neglected despite being one of the most impacted demographics from the Coronavirus.

Image: Anxiety and Depression Association of America

On Friday, March 27, 2020, President Donald Trump signed a $2 trillion coronavirus aid, relief, and economic security act, known as the CARES Act, into law to stimulate an economy ravaged by the pandemic. The package includes a helpful one-time payment made to households impacted by the coronavirus. 130 million checks were made to those who had a Social Security number, filed taxes in 2018 or 2019 (or don't earn enough to file but receive Social Security payment), have earned less than $99,000 for single filers, $136,500 for heads of household, or $198,000 for married filers according to the most recent tax return filed, and are not claimed by someone else as a dependent. Americans who qualified for the stimulus payment also received an additional $500 per dependent child under the age of 17.

Since the CARES Act was passed, 16.9 million undergraduate students have been left without any aid from the federal government. Because of the provisions outlined in the Act, college students are stuck in a position where they are not financially considered adults or legally considered children. Thus, they get no $1,200 stimulus payment nor do their parents get $500 on their behalf, resulting in a grand total of $0 to 17-24-year-old college students. The lack of empathy for this young group of adults is unjust. College students are in a critical time in their lives where they are helplessly enduring significant financial challenges and adjusting to many sudden changes since universities shut down for the remainder of the Spring 2020 semester

Now, while some say that the CARES Act does help college students by providing $14 billion in grants to colleges and universities ($6 billion of which is dedicated to students impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic), the reality is that the amount each school receives is based on enrollment, and schools have the freedom to determine who will receive the funds. Point being, the government is not directly helping college students but is instead giving money to larger institutions that will ultimately have the power to decide how much of that money will go to its students.

Thankfully, federal loan payments and accrued interest has been suspended until September. While this was much needed for lower- and middle-income students who have received a federal parent PLUS loan or any other type of federal student loan, it is simply not enough. This is the bare minimum.

Debate has definitely sparked over this issue, with some opposers going so far as to saying that students do not need additional aid because universities have issued refunds since closing down, as well as claiming that college students do not positively contribute to the economy. These arguments do not justify leaving college students out of government support in times of crisis, and the reality is that college students have the right to receive an economic stimulus check. Here is why:

ONE. College refunds have nothing to do with a government economic stimulus.

The refund received from colleges and universities was not government aid. Some have speculated that since many students have received up to a few thousand dollars in tuition, housing, and meal plan refunds, that this could be the reason why college students ‘don’t need’ a $1,200 stimulus check. This is wrong. When a student pays for goods and services (room and board, meal plans, and other costs) and that obligation is not fulfilled by the institution, the student has the right to receive a refund from the school. The school in this case is a completely separate entity from the government, so there is no reason for anyone to think that students do not need support just because they are getting money back elsewhere. One is a business transaction, while the other is government aid. They are completely separate and should be treated as such.

TWO. College students moving back home has added costs to households.

Parents have gotten their hours and wages cut, or completely lost their jobs. Bill payments are not halted, hence why these stimulus checks were made in the first place – to help those impacted by the virus so they can make rent/mortgage payments and keep food on the table for themselves and their families. It is a known fact that parents will need to handle more household expenditures now that they have a college student coming back home to live with them. So, if college students are not receiving an individual $1,200 stimulus check because they are dependents, then why not at least give their parents the necessary $500 to take care of them now that they are home? Dependent children ages 16 and under get $500 paid to their caregivers on their behalf, so what difference does it make now that their child is a college student?

THREE. Upperclassmen and recent graduates were affected the most.

Since the vast majority of colleges and universities do not guarantee housing for upperclassmen, juniors and seniors are generally forced to find housing elsewhere in order to keep attending university. This means that these college students have the added stress of rent payments on top of their schoolwork. Because of the pandemic, many upperclassmen have also had their paid internships or job opportunities canceled, so the source of income that they counted on for living expenses and other various bills is now nonexistent. What’s even scarier is that recent college graduates are entering the worst job market in over a decade, with lower starting salaries and increased competition for openings that will leave many of them out of work. If these payments are not met, students’ abilities to maintain a good credit score, purchase vehicles, or apply for a home mortgage in the future will be hindered. A $1,200 check would have helped with these losses, prevented a snowball effect, and helped the students who worked so hard for their degrees to get back on their feet.

FOUR. Saying college students don't add to the economy and don't deserve aid, is wrong.

The argument that lawmakers don’t need to give students a stimulus check because they do not contribute to the economy is not only hurtful, but incredibly ignorant. On top of not being able to qualify for the check, many college students have lost their jobs or are unable to work if their job was near campus. Students have lost work-study jobs (which, just to point out… are federal) due to universities shutting down and sending students home. This is money that middle- and low-income students heavily relied on and are now not able to receive. Financial hardships are not going to disappear just because the government has decided college students don’t qualify for a stimulus check, and just because parents claimed them does not mean that they do not work or do not pay taxes.

FIVE. Unemployment programs don't help college students unless they were employed.

Expanded unemployment insurance (UI) through the CARES Act provides $250 billion for an extended unemployment insurance program and offers workers an additional $600 per week for four months, on top of what state programs pay. It also extends UI benefits through December 31 for eligible workers, self-employed workers, independent contractors, and gig economy workers. Clearly, these unemployment benefits do not include college students who had a federal work study award or part-time job on campus unless they were previously employed, which is not the case for most.

There is no reason why college students should not qualify to receive stimulus checks when they are experiencing the same, if not more, economic troubles as everyone else.

They have had their studies disrupted, their resources taken away, were forced to transition to a low-quality online format, and are now jobless. Hopeless and in desperate need, college students have every right to demand payment and deserve to be included in economic relief packages. The next generation of doctors, lawmakers, businesspeople, and journalists who will be in charge of this country in the decades to come cannot have their needs ignored.

Claudia Smajlaj is a rising sophomore at American University who is studying Finance in the Kogod School of Business. Claudia currently works at the Center for Business Communications (CBC) and is an on-staff writer for the DC Intervention.

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