Young People Left Out - Again

By Hugo Ruiz

A Common Scenario

Alex*, is a full-time student attending a local college. Alex lives at home, pays for most of her own expenses, and usually works two part-time jobs. In addition, she balances many financial, emotional and academic responsibilities while participating in campus activities and organizations for professional development. For many students, attending a university is an expensive endeavor, made even more challenging with campus closures and furloughs because of COVID-19.

This reality is common for many students. Undergraduates are responsible for personal expenses which may include rent or housing, medical needs, hygiene, and transportation. These personal expenses don’t include school activities, and the academic essentials such as tuition, on-campus meals, and course supplies such as a laptop, books, etc. This means that many students need to take on additional employment to make ends meet.

Despite this adult level of financial obligation, most of these undergraduate students are classified as dependents based on the IRS tax-filing requirements. The IRS states that a dependent college student must be between 19-24 years old, live at home or within campus range, and that parents or guardians must provide more than half of the dependent’s support needs – these are some of main requirements that most undergraduates share as a tax status. The dependent support needs include food, clothing, housing, medical care, and education. There are some exceptions or limitations such as marital status, homeless or foster care, and absence of a parent or guardian. Young college students may choose to be claimed as dependents for financial aid purposes and health insurance reasons, two things that are more likely to impact students from lower-income backgrounds.

CARES Leaves out Undergraduates

COVID-19 has changed the social, cultural, political, and economic platforms and norms worldwide, and has forced undergraduates to change their academic year as well. In response, President Donald Trump signed the Coronavirus Relief Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) to address the economic fallout of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. CARES states that individuals that file 2019 tax returns are eligible for up to $1,200 in economic aid relief with an additional $500 per child. However, there are a significant number of undergraduates left out under CARES.

Most undergraduate students do not qualify for such aid despite needing it to help them with personal needs, make essential bill payments, and provide some aid to their families while they stay home; a significant portion of students left campus and returned home to their families after the national emergency was declared. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), there are about 13.9 million students who enrolled in two and four -year institutions as undergraduates in Fall 2019, and approximately 11 million of these students are between the age of 19-24. Out of these 11 million students, 10 million students are full-time students. Undergraduate students make up about 4.2% of the US population, yet lack representation and acknowledgment in the distribution of federal aid from CARES during this national emergency.

“I've had to order WiFi and it's free for two months which is good, but I don't know what to do when summer begins and I have to pay for WiFi. I am not working and I don't know how I'm going to make ends meet.”
Our Turn California Student

“Unemployment checks aren't coming in despite completing signing up… I can't manage it, I’m just broke...Also, dorms are closed and many of my friends are homeless.”
Illinois Student

One criticism of CARES is that it outlines a form of means testing – a method that determines qualifications for financial aid assistance to obtain goods or services; this hurts those who are neither rich nor very poor because the process needs bureaucracy and it centralizes aid needed based on a cut-off. A college student who is over 18, legal resident or citizen, and/or accepts loans under FAFSA or private branch should receive federal aid from CARES - but did not.

Approximately 40% of undergraduate students work at least 30 hours a week. Recent reports from the U.S Department of Labor regarding unemployment indicate that young people are disproportionately impacted by recent furloughs and layoffs, since they also hold many service sector jobs.

Many affected a significant portion of undergraduate students, who are employed but not receiving any CARES payment. While many undergraduate students receive financial aid in the form of scholarships and loans, the aid alone is not enough to cover the financial burden of tuition and other costs to attend school (e.g., rec center, student board, etc) in addition to the costs for supplies and transportation.

Students Need Stimulus Checks Now

CARES should have an amendment acknowledging and aiding these undergraduate students. These students are the future of our country, and contributors to the economy. One solution is the creation of a midway aid point at which students directly receive a stimulus check totalling between $600 to $700, compared to the $1200 that non-dependents receive. Congress needs advocates to push for a next wave of stimulus checks that include undergraduates, while colleges and universities revise the tuition costs for the quarter or semester. A national emergency response should include everybody, yet despite hearing rhetoric that all of us are together on this, it leaves out millions of students who are disproportionately impacted by this virus. Does CARES care? We’ll find out.

*Name has been changed