The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which guaranteed millions of Americans stimulus payments to combat COVID-19’s devastating economic fallout, has excluded millions of “dependent” college students and thus failed American families facing serious financial difficulty during this pandemic. 

For families who suddenly have at-home college students to feed and support in quarantine, the CARES Act has left them to fend for themselves. Before the pandemic, many students under 24 were classified as dependent on their parents’ financial support for school expenses, yet under the CARES Act, families only receive additional financial support for children aged 16 and younger. Why the act does not cover older dependents who now live under their parents’ roof, and in some cases help pay bills, remains unclear. 

The current stimulus plan is disbursing $1,200 to most individual adult Americans, and eligible parents will receive an extra $500 for each of their children that are 16 years old or younger. The federal government considers dependents as those under the age of 24 whose parents pay at least half of their expenses. So, college students identified as dependents on their parents’ tax returns will not qualify for the individual payments. Further, the parents who claim their children as dependent students will not receive any additional money, which will stress families’ finances in the midst of the current economic downturn. Congress must rectify this oversight by including college students in future stimulus plans and passing the legislation to retroactively pay benefits for the initially overlooked college-aged dependents.

Stimulus checks would serve as a lifeline to millions of students and their families who have experienced sudden changes in their living circumstances or income due to COVID-19. Many who depend on service industry jobs to pay their bills have lost their jobs during the crisis, and more than 20 million people have been forced to file for unemployment in the last month. Others have seen their family’s income evaporate or have been forced to care for sick relatives. Currently, 70% of students take out debt to finance college. In the early stages of stimulus bill negotiations, congressional Democrats pushed to forgive up to $10,000 of student debt, a proposal that Republicans ultimately rejected. Instead of receiving relief, many students already mired in debt and now jobless because of the pandemic have seen little to no meaningful efforts to address their pressing needs.

We’ve detailed the myriad challenges students at Emory face from COVID-19. Hundreds of millions of other students nationwide and around the world are facing similar, if not greater, tribulations. In choosing to attend college, these students are advancing not just their futures but the well-being of our society. If the federal government will not offer meaningful student debt relief during the crisis, it can at the very least ensure college students receive some kind of payout during this public health crisis to help pay both their and their families’ outstanding bills. 

Current college students will be crucial players in revitalizing a struggling economy once the pandemic is over, and Congress must ease their hardships during this crisis. Congress must also avoid relegating college students to second-class citizenship status again by including them in a future stimulus bill. The future of our country’s economic recovery from this crisis will largely depend on us and the millions of other students soon to enter the workforce. We need our political leaders to recognize the importance of their college students and offer their support to them to make a full economic recovery possible.

The above editorial represents the majority opinion of the Wheel’s Editorial Board. 

The Editorial Board is composed of Sean Anderson, Brammhi Balarajan, Zach Ball, Jake Busch, Meredith McKelvey, Andrew Kliewer, Boris Niyonzima, and Ben Thomas.