Many university students don’t qualify for COVID aid

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By Taylor Haelterman

After facing university shutdowns, the transition to online classes, postponed graduation ceremonies and frantically packing their dorm rooms, many college students perked up at the idea of receiving a $1,200 check from the government.

The stimulus package is meant to keep businesses from failing and households stocked with basic necessities like food and electricity, said Charles Ballard, an economics professor at Michigan State University.  The idea is to prevent a cycle of businesses closing and employees getting laid off, he said. Laid off employees buy less, causing yet more businesses to close.

College towns could benefit if the stimulus package means students can afford rent, pay off student loans or simply buy groceries after the on-campus jobs were shut down.

But, most college students won’t receive a cent of the package. If they are between 16 and 24 and claimed as a dependent by their parents, they will not be issued a check regardless if they filed taxes in 2018 or 2019.

U.S. senators Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters, both Michigan Democrats, announced over last weekend that they’re sponsoring legislation that would allow those students to qualify.

Meanwhile, students say that it’s unfair that they don’t.

Anchal Malh, 18, a student at the University of Michigan, is a dependent of her parents and will not receive a portion of the stimuls money. Though she sees the package as helpful, Malh sees flaws with the distribution.

“We’re all kind of struggling because we were forced to move out in a week’s notice from our campus housing,” Malh said. “I know a lot of students relied on campus housing and dining as their source of a home and meals. So it kind of sucks how the government isn’t taking into account college students and how this entire thing is affecting us.”

The money may not be enough for most families to create a widespread economic stimulus, said Hallie Fox, a 20-year-old University of Michigan student who also does not qualify for the payment.

“If college students did (receive money) the burden on their parents would be much less,” she said. “They still have to pay for their rent and pay for things that they’re not going to be able to get (themselves) because they don’t have jobs.”

The stimulus package gives a family $500 per qualifying dependent child. But, qualifying children must be 16 or younger. Parents can claim their children as dependents until the age of 24, creating an 8-year age gap the stimulus package will not assist.

Michael McClellan, 55, is an East Lansing resident with a son who attends Michigan State University. His son is listed as a dependent and will not receive a stimulus check. Though he is not concerned for his own family, he doesn’t think $1,200 is enough for everyone.

“I’m dismayed that parents of students in college don’t get it,” McClellan said. “If anybody needs it (it’s them) that’s a drop in the bucket of paying for college, that’s ridiculous.”

Steve Stapert, 52, of Grand Rapids, doesn’t claim his daughter, a MSU student, as a dependent. She’ll receive a check, a good thing because people in the 18 to 24-year-old age range are the ones who need it the most, he said.

“They’re the most financially vulnerable, and a lot of them work in restaurants or other service type industries that are being shut down first,” Stapert said. “Old guys like me, I’ve got some money saved. I’ll be okay for a while, so I don’t really need it. Give it to the people that need it more.”

Parents and students seem to agree that the package is helpful, but may not be helpful enough.

“It’s still not nearly enough to support a living,” said Emily Stegmuller, 20, a former Michigan resident nows at the University of South Carolina. “The total amounts to roughly a month’s worth of minimum wage, not including extra health and grocery costs that will doubtlessly need to be factored in. The right idea is there, the execution is not adequate.”

McClellan said any amount of stimulus money is good, but he doesn’t think the money given out will be enough to make a substantial impact on the economy.

And, Stapert compares the stimulus package to chemotherapy.

“You’d never give chemotherapy to a healthy person because it’s a very deadly poison, and a very dangerous thing,” Stapert said. “But, if you’re dying of cancer will it do some good? It very well might.

“I think of the economic stimulus bill as chemotherapy; a bad poison that might be necessary for the very short term.”

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