Most college students won’t get stimulus checks—but they should

May 5, 2020, 10:00 PM UTC

To ease the financial suffering of Americans during the coronavirus pandemic, the U.S. Congress recently passed numerous stimulus bills totaling hundreds of billions of dollars. 

Yet college students were all but forgotten by each subsequent relief package. 

For instance, through the Economic Impact Payments, most individuals making under $75,000 a year have received (or will soon receive) $1,200 in stimulus funds, while married couples making under $150,000 will get $2,400. Parents with children 16 and under are eligible for an additional $500 per child, meaning that anyone aged 17 to 24 who’s claimed as a dependent on their parents’ taxes is ineligible for stimulus funds.  

College students are stuck in a position where they’re not considered adults and they’re not considered children. In other words, the CARES Act gave them no direct financial relief, nor did it give their parents any on their behalf. 

Lawmakers must change this. There are an estimated 16.9 million students enrolled in undergraduate programs in the U.S., according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Many have had their lives thrown into chaos by the COVID-19 pandemic. They’ve been asked to leave campus as colleges went into lockdown, and students who have relied on campus jobs to finance their degrees have seen those jobs disappear as campuses closed. Hundreds of thousands of students were already in debt when COVID-19 hit, and in 2018, the average college graduate in the U.S. with student debt owed about $29,000, according to a report by the Institute for College Access & Success. 

As someone who went to college on a scholarship, I know the financial struggles that students endure. When I applied for credit cards, car loans, or other forms of lending, creditors rejected me, time and again. When I moved off campus, I got rejected by landlords who wanted larger deposits than I had, time and time again. I made it through those times. 

There are many students today in similar—or worse—situations. Not every student has a safe or accessible home they can return to when their campus closes, and not every student has parents that can Venmo them money whenever they ask.

Officials in Congress have used the notion that college students aren’t responsible for their own financial well-being to justify leaving dependents out of the relief package. “Dependents, by definition, aren’t responsible for a majority of their financial support,” a spokesperson for the Senate Finance Committee, which wrote the CARES Act, told the Wall Street Journal. “The goal of the recovery rebates is to provide support for Americans who are responsible for their own financial well-being or that of another during this pandemic.”

But many college students experience financial hardships as acutely as anyone. A survey of over 13,000 students at 28 community and technical colleges in Washington State found that 41% of students reported being food insecure at some point in the last 30 days. And Pew Research Center analysis of National Center for Education Statistics data found that, in 2015 to 2016, 31% of all undergraduate students were living in poverty.

There are some promising efforts to bring relief to students. The CARES Act did set aside $6.28 billion for emergency grants to students whose lives have been upended by the coronavirus to help them cover costs of educational materials, housing, and other expenses. A group of U.S. Senators, led by Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.), also introduced the All Dependents Count Act earlier this month, which would allow the parents of college students (along with others who are in charge of adult dependents) to collect a $500 credit. 

While well-intentioned and helpful, these efforts aren’t enough. Congress should pass a version of the CARES Act that provides college students with the full $1,200 that other American adults are already receiving now.  

College students are the next generation of lawmakers, doctors, journalists, and others who will build the road forward in the coming decades. If we don’t offer them the same support we’re giving others, in the midst of this historic recession, how does that bode for the future of our country? 

Hao Liu is cofounder and CEO of Boro, a Chicago-based financial technology startup for college students. 

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