Congress’ $2 trillion bill leaves out one of the country’s most financially vulnerable populations

On March 26, President Donald Trump signed a $2 trillion bill aimed at getting cash into the hands of struggling Americans and bolstering the economy. 

The stimulus package will send $1,200 to every American adult with a gross annual income of $75,000 or less, in addition to $500 per child age 16 and under. That means that a family of five with a combined income of less than $150,000 could receive up to $3,900 tax-free as soon as April 9.

That sounds great, and it genuinely is. However, the bill bizarrely leaves out one group that is particularly vulnerable in a time of financial hardship: college students.

Barring rare exceptions, an American adult is ineligible to receive a check if a parent or guardian claimed them on their most recent tax returns. Especially since tax day has been pushed back to July 15, millions haven’t filed taxes for 2019 yet. That means that the government will be left with tax filings from 2018 to decide who gets paid and who doesn’t, leaving students who may have only just started supporting themselves at a particular disadvantage.

Moreover, since the $500 per child is only allotted for children 16 and under, parents won’t get any extra help for kids who are in college. In other words, if you are a college student that has recently been claimed as a dependent, Congress’ stimulus package essentially forgets you exist.

I use the word “essentially” because the bill does contain one small provision for college students. According to Bloomberg, it allows student loan payments to be deferred for six months. That is certainly helpful, but delaying payments only goes so far for full-time students who generally make around minimum wage.

Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, college students were already among the most financially strained individuals of society. According to The Institute for College Access & Success, the average college student graduates with $29,650 in student loan debt. Many students take several on-campus jobs to make ends meet, but with students being sent home due to the virus, many of those jobs vanished. The cost of tuition did not.

I am profoundly blessed to be financially stable in this difficult time, but I know that is not true for all of my peers. What about the student who was a dependent in 2018, but is now paying his own way through college? What about the student who can’t move home, but also can’t afford new housing off campus because her last paycheck was cut in half?

It is important to note that we are not only talking about college students here. Anyone above the age of 16 who was recently claimed as a dependent is equally a victim. Does a recent college graduate who makes $65,000 per year actually need more help than a 20-year-old who just got laid off from a part-time job and doesn’t have a degree?

In Congress’ defense, they were forced to act quickly, by their standards, in this situation, and many of them openly admit now that there wasn’t enough time to work out all the kinks. The bill really will help the vast majority of Americans, from families to small businesses to commercial airlines. Nonetheless, almost completely forgetting about one of our country’s most financially vulnerable populations was a big mistake.

Fortunately, they still have time to get it right. Talk of a follow-up stimulus bill is already swirling, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell isn’t ready to move forward just yet.

I think we need to wait a few days here, a few weeks, and see how things are working out,” McConnell said on “The Hugh Hewitt Show.”

For the sake of our friends, classmates and the larger community of college students across the nation whose lives have been turned upside down, let’s hope they act soon.