Woodward: The stimulus package loophole

College students are being left out, again.

Woodward: The stimulus package loophole

Samantha Woodward

These past few weeks have only exacerbated the obstacles that college students face on a day-to-day basis. In response to economic turmoil caused by the spread of COVID-19, President Trump signed a bill in order to help small businesses, American workers and industries across the nation struggling with the economic disruption. The CARES Act is offering a one-time $1,200 payment to adults who earned less than $75,000 in 2019, including smaller amounts to adults who earned less than $90,000. Parents who are within a specific bracket of earnings of the 2019 tax year will receive a $500 credit for every child they have under the age of 17. 

This quick bipartisan response will help out many Americans during uncertain financial times, especially in the wake of the dramatic rise in the unemployment rates. However, this new bill leaves out an extremely important demographic: college students.

According to the National Center of Educational Statistics, in 2019, 16.9 million students were projected to be enrolled in undergraduate programs across the nation. The traditional college student’s age range is typically between 18-24. Most college students are claimed as dependents. However, this demographic is too old to be considered for the 17 and under dependent that qualifies families for the extra $500. In some ways, it makes sense why the government would only grant this package to those who are filing dependents and too young to be able to work. However, there is a silver lining to this. Those enrolled in undergraduate programs are facing extremely similar financial circumstances to those that this package is targeting to help. We’re not alone. 

Some students took to social media to express their frustration in their exclusion from the CARES Act. 

“so if college kids get claimed by their parents as a dependent they aren’t eligible for the $1,200 stimulus package and since they aren’t under 16 they don’t get the $500 child credit either, not to mention most college kids are jobless right now. how is this ok?”  Twitter user @brandonmorgs said. 

They go on to make the point, “i’m not worried about it because my parents are housing me and feeding me during this. but what about the kids who now can’t pay rent/don’t have their parent’s support and now don’t get anything from this?” 

College students face a number of setbacks from the start of their postsecondary career into their late adulthood. Maneuvering around housing payments, paying tuition — especially student loan borrowing — has put an incredible weight on students within the last decade. With the rising costs of living and tuition prices, studying for exams is not always the only stressor for our country’s young adults. 

Americans are losing their jobs every day due to COVID-19. As we see the effects of the pandemic reach its peak, millions of Americans are left without a source of income. After college campuses shut down in response to the spread of COVID-19, many student workers were laid off for the time being. 

In an interview with the Daily Northwestern, economics professor Matt Notowidigdo reflected on past stimulus bills in response to recessions. He said that the exclusion of tax dependents, like in the 2008 recession, was not uncommon. In typical recessions, “college students still attended school and had opportunities to earn income on campus, so they were not a prime target for government financial assistance and were thus excluded,” he said in the interview.

An investment in these college students would be an investment in the American future. By leaving a large demographic out of this bill, we are setting them up for failure. College students have been told their entire educational careers that they will not get a good job after high school if they do not pursue more education. Now that they are doing just that, they’re put in between a rock and a hard place. 

By trusting in a system that continually fails its students, we are discouraging future generations from pursuing postsecondary plans. This loophole was not maliciously implemented, but its clear effect on the well-being and security of our society should be a lesson our lawmakers learn from before it is too late.