Rep. Craig, Sen. Smith introduce bill to include students in COVID-19 relief package

State lawmakers say that exclusion of college students from relief funds is unfair.

Illustration by Hailee Schievelbein. 

Hailee Schievelbein

Illustration by Hailee Schievelbein. 

by Mohamed Ibrahim

University of Minnesota students, as well as state and federal officials, are aiming to include millions of college students and their families in the largest economic stimulus package in U.S. history.

The $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act passed by Congress late last month included one-time payments of $1,200 to all adults earning less than $75,000 per year along with an additional $500 for dependent children under 17. U.S. Rep. Angie Craig and U.S. Sen. Tina Smith introduced legislation that would expand compensation to parents of college students who are dependents.

“The bottom line is students have been sent home, they’re doing distance learning [and] they are, in many cases, living back in their parents’ basements,” Craig said. “So the idea that their parents are not going to get the $500 rebate as a part of the CARES Act was just ridiculous to me.”

Craig introduced the All Dependent Children Count Act on March 31, which would expand the definition of a dependent to include children under 19, college students under 24 and disabled dependents of all ages. While payments are currently being distributed, the bill aims to retroactively send an additional $500 to parents of those individuals.

A letter from state lawmakers, authored by Rep. Connie Bernardy, DFL-New Brighton, urges the 10 members of the state’s congressional delegation to support Craig and Smith’s bill and any relief legislation aimed at assisting students. Seventy members of the Minnesota House on both sides of the aisle signed the letter in support.

Bernardy, the House higher education committee chair, said college students are the age group who need the direct payments the most, and their exclusion is “unjust and unfair.”

“Our students are investing not only in their lives but investing in the state of Minnesota to help our state be a great place for people to live and have a robust economy,” Bernardy said. “So they deserve it just like every other American deserves it.”

Bri Sislo-Schutta, the Minnesota Student Association’s government and legislative affairs federal and advocacy coordinator, said that as students contend with housing costs and food insecurity, they should be included in coronavirus relief legislation. MSA reached out to Smith’s office to offer its advocacy efforts in getting the bill passed.

While MSA is focusing its efforts on other provisions in the CARES Act, the organization is also continuing to monitor future actions at the federal level, she said.

“We are going to continue to meet with Senator Smith’s office, and hopefully with Congresswoman [Ilhan] Omar’s office soon as well, just to make sure that in upcoming stimulus packages … students’ needs are addressed in them,” Sislo-Schutta said. “Because again, we are like an incredibly vulnerable population, and sometimes our needs aren’t always addressed … in legislation.”

While Craig said she has not seen any real opposition to the bill, the logistics of carrying out the legislation may be a challenge. The congresswoman said payment distribution issues by the treasury department and the Internal Revenue Service could make retroactive payments difficult.

Though retroactive payments are her priority, Craig said as a “worst-case scenario,” she hopes to have the expanded definition in place before future relief legislation passes.

“So, the question isn’t ‘do we think this should be the definition moving forward?’” Craig said. “The real question is whether the [Trump] administration is willing to go back and make this right.”