Before the coronavirus hit, Maya J. Myers worked 20 hours per week packing groceries for Amazon delivery to pay tuition and help provide groceries for her family.
Myers, 21, a second-year allied health major at Community College of Philadelphia, lives in Torresdale with her mom and two high school-age sisters, who are all immunocompromised. Although Myers is considered an “essential worker,” she has stopped picking up hours for fear of carrying the virus home and infecting her family.
“My mom already lives paycheck to paycheck,” said Myers. “Without that second income, it’s becoming a problem. I have bills to pay.”
But while millions of Americans affected by the coronavirus will receive a check of up to $1,200 from the government starting later this week, Myers will not. Like most of the 12.5 million other college students in the United States, Myers is claimed as a dependent, making her ineligible for the aid.
“The government really doesn’t understand the struggles of a college student,” she said. “Even during this time when we are going through something major, we are forgotten.”
The $2.2 trillion stimulus bill would give adults making less than $75,000 per year $1,200 each, and children $500 each. At higher incomes, the checks get smaller, and eventually phase out entirely.
Critics say the bill excludes a significant number of groups, including immigrants, people who do not file tax returns, and adults claimed as dependents. Parents will also not receive $500 for any children older than 16.
This means that most college students will not receive any money, even though many have lost their jobs, and have rent and tuition fees to pay.
“What this really does is it says to the students, ‘The government doesn’t even see you. You’re not really here,’ " said Sara Goldrick-Rab, an education-policy professor at Temple University who runs StudentReliefFund.org, which has raised nearly $100,000 for needy students during the pandemic.
“The government should be doing a lot right now to tell people, ‘We really value your education and we want to make sure the pandemic will not destroy your education,' " she said.
The $2 trillion CARES Act directs about $14.25 billion to colleges and universities. The schools are required to give about half of the funds they receive as emergency financial-aid grants to students for expenses related to coronavirus disruptions. The federal government has also suspended student loan payments and interest through September.
But Goldrick-Rab said most universities have little to no systems in place to efficiently disburse aid to students who “need that money now."
Due Quach, founder of the Collective Success Network, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit that supports first-generation, low-income students, said students are desperate for financial assistance. When students who lived on campus were forced to move, many lost their on-campus meal plans and now cannot afford to buy groceries or cleaning supplies. Others don’t have working laptops to finish their courses remotely, Quach said.
“The students are frantic,” said Quach. “There is massive financial shock across the board."
At the beginning of March, Vivian Tran, a junior at Drexel University, signed a six-month lease with American Campus Communities, Drexel-affiliated apartments, with an April 1 start date. Two weeks later, the coronavirus prompted universities to transition their classes online, vacate student housing, and close campuses. Tran had not even moved into the building yet, but ACC wouldn’t let her out of her lease.
The company still expects her to pay her rent, she said, but she can’t afford to after her mom lost her job at a nail salon.
“A lot of students were depending on this [aid],” said Tran, 21, who is living with her family in Cherry Hill. “I was going to use it to pay off my rent.”
KC Miller, a sophomore nursing student at the University of Pennsylvania, is using student loan money to help pay rent for his off-campus apartment, where he lives year-round, after his part-time job was cut. Miller is claimed as a dependent, but said he is solely responsible for all of his educational costs.
“I’m losing hundreds of dollars in income,” said Miller, 20. “The government is pretending that people age 18 to 24 just incur zero costs.”
The students felt hopeful when the aid package was announced, but they were not surprised when they found out they were excluded.
“There’s a history of them not caring about issues affecting people my age," said Miller.