College students falling through gap in federal stimulus program

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Capital News Service

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

The stimulus package is meant to keep businesses from failing and households stocked with necessities like food and electricity, said Charles Ballard, an economics professor at Michigan State University. 

The idea is to prevent a cycle of business closings and employee layoffs, he said. Laid-off employees buy less, causing yet more businesses to close.

But most students won’t receive a cent from the package. If they’re 17 to 24 and claimed as a dependent for tax purposes by their parents, they won’t get a $1,200 check and their parents won’t receive the extra $500 allotted for dependents, according to the IRS.

The stimulus package gives a family $500 per qualifying dependent child. But qualifying children must be 16 or younger. For federal tax purposes, parents can claim their children as dependents if they are full-time students until age 24, creating an eight-year age gap the stimulus package won’t cover. 

U.S. Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters, both Democrats from Michigan, sponsored legislation to allow dependents older than 16 to qualify, meaning an extra $500 would be sent to their parents. 

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

Anchal Malh, 18, a University of Michigan student, is a dependent and won’t receive stimulus money. Though she sees the package as helpful, Malh, who comes from New York City, said she sees flaws with the distribution. 

“We’re all kind of struggling because we were forced to move out with 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,” she said.

The size of the payments may not be enough for most families to create a widespread economic stimulus, said Hallie Fox, a 20-year-old U-M student from Ypsilanti who also doesn’t qualify for a check.

“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.”

Michael McClellan is an East Lansing resident with a son who attends Michigan State University. He claims his son as a dependent who won’t receive a stimulus check. 

Though McClellan said he’s 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 of Grand Rapids, doesn’t claim his daughter, a 20-year-old MSU student, as a dependent. She’ll receive a check — a good thing because people 18 to 24 often need it 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,” he said. 

Many parents and students say the package is helpful, but maybe not helpful enough.

“It’s still not nearly enough to support a living,” said Emily Stegmuller, 20, a former Dexter resident now 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,” she said. 

McClellan said any amount of stimulus money is good, but he doesn’t think the amount per person 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,” he said.

Taylor Haelterman writes for the Great Lakes Echo. 

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