Student blog: The Ones the Covid-19 Relief (CARES) Bill Left Behind

By Robert Laroche
Graduate Student, Department of BioSciences, Rice University

In response to the ongoing pandemic, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security, or CARES Act, a $2 trillion bill to provide relief to those impacted by the disease. While the bill helps many people hit by this crisis, one group in particular that this legislation leaves behind are university students. A central function of the CARES Act is to provide quick financial relief for immediate living expenses through a $1200 payment to all individuals earning less than $75,000 a year with an additional $500 for families per child under age 17. However, the many students aged 18-24 who were listed as dependents on their parents’ 2018-19 tax returns are considered an exception. If you fall into this category, then neither you nor the family on whom you depend will be seeing any federal funds distributed on your behalf. Disappointingly, the same is true for dependent adults with disabilities and elderly dependent individuals. As this pandemic continues to unfold, it is essential that further legislation is enacted to address this oversight, taking into account the financial burdens of young college students and other dependents across the nation.

Individuals listed as dependents often rely on their own income for survival. For example, many students work part-time throughout college to support their costs of living, and now these individuals are faced with reduced hours or layoffs. In fact, young adults under the age of 24 face a disproportionately higher risk of job loss due to Covid-19 than any other age group. In addition, as university campuses closed in response to the pandemic, hundreds of thousands of students scrambled to make last minute (often costly) travel, housing and food accommodations in lieu of the services previously covered in their room and board. All this, on top of the $1.5 trillion of debt already racked up through student loans does not bode well for any individuals pursuing a higher education in our country. Additionally, while the CARES Act does guarantee that federally-owned student loan and interest payments will be deferred until September, that debt is not going anywhere, and this pandemic certainly will not help anyone to escape it. If it can be said that there is any silver lining to this debt, it’s that it offers a very clear avenue for our government to provide relief to students burdened by it during this crisis. If the disruptions faced by dependent students do not warrant a direct $1200 check, then maybe allowing those students to apply to receive loan forgiveness of equivalent value for the 2019-2020 academic year makes more sense. There is no question that college students need government support now just as much as anyone, and loan forgiveness is a great way for the government to offer some relief.

For students, the costs of this pandemic will not just be paid up front. There will be lasting financial repercussions that manifest through cancelled study abroad programs, internships and in-person career fairs, all of which could have led to promising job opportunities after graduation. It’s a bleak future for the class of 2020, who will be applying for jobs at a time when nearly one-third of companies have implemented hiring freezes and still more are considering lay-offs. Unfortunately for the nation, the costs of overlooking students in this pandemic will not all be paid up front either; there will be lasting political ramifications as well. During an election year where the results could alter the political landscape of this country for decades to come, primaries have already been characterized by low young voter turnout, and the presumptive Democratic Party nominee for president has struggled to win young voters’ support. For young students looking to D.C. for a federal response to this pandemic, it may be more essential now than ever that they see the government does not disregard their needs in a time of crisis.

This blog post is part of the Baker Institute Science and Technology Policy Program’s Developing Civic Scientist Leaders project.