us capitol

"Strolling by the Capitol" (Mike Procario/Creative Commons)

If you’re a college student, you may have heard talk of getting a one-time payment of $1,200 in the next few weeks. You probably need it to help pay rent, pay for food, or to cover a car payment or credit card bill. But more than likely, you won’t get one. 

Congress was able to pass a massive $2 trillion spending package in an attempt to prevent further damage to the economy as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of the money will go to helping airlines, which have been impacted by the shutdown, but have spent the last few years buying back their own shares to increase their stock price. (For what it’s worth, the bill prohibits companies that accept federal help from buying back their shares during the loan and for a year after it ends.) 

Some of the money in that plan will go to Americans earning less than $75,000 a year who are eligible to receive a $1,200 check, and those with children who are under 17 can receive $500 for each child they have.  

Good news for you, a college student, right? Not really. 

While the package includes help for those earning less than $75,000, it offers little help to college students other than pausing student loan payments (excluding private lenders) until September. 

Why? Those who can be claimed as dependents, such as college students, are not eligible to receive a $1,200 check. 

This is a massive mistake by Congress and it’s shameful to forget about one of society’s most financially vulnerable groups when they need it the most. 

Many college students are already living on a shoestring budget and face issues such as housing and food insecurity. A survey of 86,000 college students published in April 2019 by Temple University’s Hope Center for College, Community and Justice, which focuses on the needs of college students, found that 45% of surveyed respondents said they experienced food insecurity in the last 30 days and 56% said they had housing insecurity over the last year. 

The University of Oregon is offering some support to students through a $1 million crisis fund that UO President Michael Schill announced during Monday’s virtual town hall. Students experiencing “temporary financial hardship resulting from a crisis or emergency” may apply for relief; however, the application states that this system is “a payer of last resort” and students must have exhausted all other options, including student loans. 

Students are among the most vulnerable workers in this economic downturn, as their jobs are some of the most affected by social distancing policies. In states across the country, including Oregon, state and local governments have ordered restaurants to only provide carryout and delivery services. A 2018 study from Georgetown University found that 26% of working students work in “food and personal service occupations,” and that low-income students are more likely to work in food service than their peers who are more privileged. 

These social distancing policies are a major blow to workers in Eugene — 10.1% of Eugene’s workers are employed in the food service and preparation industries, according to May 2018 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

Go into any restaurant in college towns like Eugene and you’ll see that they are staffed by student workers who are now without a paycheck and little reassurance of a job as small businesses’ cash flows tighten.

Even with Wall Street crashing, and recovering in a matter of weeks, this does not reflect the pain and distress many American workers are feeling right now. More than 3 million people filed for unemployment last week and the president of the St. Louis Federal Reserve estimated that unemployment could reach 30% in this economic crisis. 

With this uncertainty, now is the time to put cash in people’s pockets and give them the ability to spend. Congress helped a lot of people, but forgot some of society’s most vulnerable that don’t fit inside the bill’s rigid parameters. 

But at least the airlines are getting help, right?