COVID-19 creates further financial burden: Will relief come?

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While Congress and the White House put overturning the election ahead of COVID-19 relief, Nate Robinson worries about losing his apartment.

Robinson, like millions of others, benefited from the $2.2 trillion CARES Act passed in the spring to assist those facing hardship during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Now, it’s winter, and the pandemic has taken its bleakest turn. Michigan has had more than 400,000 COVID-19 cases and more than 11,000 deaths. Hospitals are flooded. Restaurants and other businesses have been forced to pause indoor operations. Some have closed permanently. The need for a new relief package looks different for everyone, but all has the same question: 

When is it coming?

“Anything from the government at this point would be a blessing.”

The CARES Act sent $1,200 to most American adults and bought some time for Michigan State University student Robinson. 

“During the beginning of the pandemic, I was broke. I got laid off from my job and I felt anxious because I didn’t know how I was going to pay rent. Halfway through April, my landlord was basically threatening me with eviction if I didn’t pay my rent. Then, when I got my stimulus check in April, I was able to pay rent.” Robinson said. 

Robinson is again in a situation comparable to the position he was in back in April.

“I can barely afford my rent right now and I have some bills I haven’t paid yet,” Robinson said. “Anything from the government at this point would be a blessing.”

Robinson said he wanted to buy his family Christmas presents. The year has been rough on them, too, and he wants to provide joy to them. 

“It makes me feel good when I can make other people happy, especially my family, but right now my bank account is telling me I can barely afford to take care of myself, which is alarming.”

“It really did help because I don’t receive too much financial aid.” 

Three. 

That’s how many relatives MSU junior Aylasia Steen has lost to COVID-19. 

“It seems like everything that could go wrong is going wrong this year,” Steen said after putting the kids she takes care of at her aunt’s day care down for a nap. 

Along with the distress that came from losing three family members, Steen has run into several pandemic roadblocks. Money, she said, is at the forefront of each issue. 

With two broken laptops, poor internet service at home and uncertainty about being able to pay for the 2020 fall semester at MSU — the spring CARES Act assisted her greatly. She does not know how she would have made it if she had not received the money. 

Aylasia Steen talks over Zoom on Dec. 2, 2020, about how the first stimulus check helped her enroll into MSU for the 2020 fall semester.

“It really did help because I don’t receive too much financial aid,” she said. 

“I don’t have $4,500 sitting around (for tuition). I mean, I wish I did. We don’t have that type of money sitting around. So when they gave it (the stimulus check) to me, I used that toward my bill, which helped knock it down.” 

Some of Steen’s friends took this school year off, but she said she couldn’t because it would have put her in limbo as to when she would be able to return. 

Steen said she is in a better position to pay her bills now than she was this summer, but agreed that the sooner Congress passes a relief bill, the sooner a weight would be taken off Americans’ shoulders. 

“I think whatever disagreements they’re having right now, I think they should just set aside and think of the best interest of the people right now because the world, especially America, is out of order right now,” she said.

If a new check were to be sent out, Steen said she’d put it toward getting a new computer. 

“I don’t put a lot of faith in them (the government) that they’re going to actually help me out if I need it.” 

The disagreements on the Senate and House floors have some pessimistic that a plan will even get passed. 

Ben Hufford, a junior at Hillsdale College, is one of those people. He didn’t receive a check from the spring CARES Act because his parents claimed him as a dependent on their tax returns, but if he did this time, he said he’d put it toward school. 

“I don’t spend money on much besides basic living expenses and school expenses, so if I got $1,200 right now, that would go toward probably my student loans,” Hufford said. “I’m good right now in terms of paying off, like, this year of college, but I have loans, so I would just start paying those off early.”

Hillsdale College junior Ben Hufford. Photo provided by Ben Hufford. 

But if people were to receive another check and he wasn’t included, Hufford said that wouldn’t surprise him. 

“I don’t really count on the government for anything,” he said. “I don’t think they’re very good at most of the things that they do. … I don’t put a lot of faith in them (the government) that they’re going to actually help me out if I need it. That’s just kind of my mentality. It’s like if they sent me something … great! But I’m not going to trust them to take care of me.” 

Hufford said the new bill should be specifically targeted through local government to people who need the money. 

“I want people to be helped,” he said. “I don’t want people’s businesses going out of business because the government shut them down. But at the same time, I don’t want my tax dollars to go give $1,200 to somebody who’s just going to blow $1,200 on a new TV or something.”

We conducted an online survey that asked if people received a stimulus check a in the spring and what they used it on. Twenty-five respondents answered.
We conducted an online survey that asked if people received a stimulus check a in the spring and what they used it on. Twenty-five respondents answered.

“I currently have COVID right now. My whole family has it after my dad was exposed at work.”

Finding ways to make ends meet and pay for college essentials isn’t easy, especially when a job is lost due to the pandemic. 

Maddie Leaver, a James Madison College student at MSU, said she didn’t get a stimulus check the first time, and one would help a lot right now. 

She said it would be helpful “Especially trying to move up to East Lansing next semester and having to pay for rent and books and tuition.” 

Along with losing her waitressing job to the pandemic, Leaver said that COVID-19 has hurt her mentally more than anything. Some relief would help her get the career-related experience that has been put on the back burner. 

Michigan State University student Maddie Leaver exclaims over Zoom how beneficial a relief check would be, Dec. 3, 2020.

“I had an internship last summer that was postponed due to COVID and it’s in D.C.,” Leaver said. “Living there is incredibly expensive, so I think it would definitely be beneficial to me right now because I’m on unemployment.”

On top of it all, she said, “I currently have COVID right now. My whole family has it after my dad was exposed at work.” Leaver said. 

“I haven’t been able to see my family as much or see my friends. It’s been really, I think, more draining on a lot of people’s mental health,” Leaver said. “Not being able to connect with others and share a space where a bunch of students come together, you feel really isolated at home.”

“If I did get one, I would save it all so that I could pay for my apartment and for food that I need.”

Michigan State junior Emily Kehr would be putting a relief check toward her rent — if she gets one — allowing her to remain close to campus with her friends.

“If I did get one, I would save it all so that I could pay for my apartment and for food that I need,” Kehr said.

Michigan State University junior Emily Kehr works on her computer at her job in Berkey Hall, while hopeful for COVID-19 relief.

The Madison Heights native said a similar check would vanish quickly from households with higher occupancy. 

“People that have a child, or two kids, or however big their family is, that won’t be enough for them,” Kehr said. “That will last maybe two weeks.”