The $900 billion federal COVID-19 relief package — which includes provisions for individual payments, unemployment benefits, education funding and vaccine distribution — was signed by President Donald Trump on Dec. 27 after weeks of negotiations with Congress.
Though the stimulus package cites various specifications for who receives payments and how, adults still claimed as a dependent on their parents’ tax returns will not receive a stimulus check. This means many young adults and college-aged students will be left out of this round of COVID-19 relief, as they were in the first round.
Public Policy senior Ben Gerstein, former president of the University of Michigan’s Central Student Government and field operations coordinator for the Athens-Clarke County Democratic Party in Georgia, was vocal about this issue on social media. Gerstein told The Michigan Daily he thinks young people should receive the stimulus checks even if they are listed as dependents.
“A lot of college students have their own costs and should be able to access that stimulus money — they’re struggling,” Gerstein said. “Students need help, and they shouldn’t be cut out from that demographic simply because they’re not fully financially supporting themselves on their own.”
LSA junior Sam Burnstein is an LSA representative and COVID-19 task force member in the CSG Assembly. In an email to The Daily, Burnstein said he is lucky to not be financially impacted by the pandemic but strongly believes others his age should be included.
“Without a doubt, dependents should (absolutely) be eligible for stimulus checks,” Burnstein wrote. “There is the belief that someone who is a dependent must be receiving help from their parents, though that isn’t necessarily the case for a lot of people. Stimulus checks are intended for those who are most vulnerable and in need of help — many dependents fit this criteria.”
LSA junior Ryan Fisher, president of the University’s chapter of College Republicans, disagreed with both Burnstein and Gerstein. Though Fisher can understand the displeasure surrounding the relief package, Fisher said the tax benefits for individuals claiming adult dependents counteracts the benefit of a stimulus payment.
“As an adult dependent, I suppose I am personally unhappy,” Fisher said. “That said, (College Republicans) does not support the money going to adult dependents. … There are a great number of tax benefits offered to parents and other adults claiming adult dependents, thousands and thousands of dollars worth. … Frankly, the tax benefit of declaring one generally outweighs the somewhat meager cash payment, especially a one-time tax payment.”
The bill provides individuals with a $600 stimulus check if they make up to $75,000 a year. Individuals who make over $99,000 will not receive any benefits. If the individual is a head of household where the household income is less than $150,000 a year, they will receive double the amount of an individual.
A second measure aiming to increase stimulus payments to $2,000 was suggested by Trump on Dec. 17 and passed in the House of Representatives on Dec. 28. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has blocked the measure, making it unlikely to pass through the Senate. The new provision, included in the Caring for Americans with Supplemental Help Act, would still exclude adult dependents from receiving the additional aid.
McConnell explained his choice to not bring the $2,000 checks to a Senate vote in a speech Thursday, saying he thinks the extra support would mainly benefit wealthy individuals who are not in need of assistance.
“Borrowing from our grandkids to do socialism for rich people is a terrible way to get help to families who actually need it,” McConnell said. “Washington Democrats took President Trump’s suggestion and skewed it so the checks would benefit even more high-earning households.”
Like the Republican leadership, Fisher said U-M College Republicans has members on both sides of the issue, those who identify as “fiscal conservatives” versus those who are “more closely aligned with the President.”
Fisher said he personally, not speaking on behalf of College Republicans, does not support the larger payments and referenced individuals having to compensate for these payments in the future.
“I am not a fan of the $2,000 payments,” Fisher said. “I do tend to follow a fiscal conservative ideology. Generally, it seems like we’re borrowing a great, great deal of this money … Taxpayers both today and in the future are paying for this one time payment of $2,000.”
On the other hand, most Democratic politicians, such as Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., support the $2,000 payments. In a recent press release, Stabenow said she thinks the bill should have been passed by the Senate because Michiganders need the larger stimulus checks.
“Michigan families are hurting and need a survival check to help put food on the table, keep a roof over their heads, and pay the heating bill,” Stabenow said. “Democrats and Republicans in the House came together to pass $2,000 stimulus checks for the American people, but Senator McConnell just blocked the bill. Our families are in desperate need of help and Senate Republicans are standing in the way.”
Burnstein wrote that he also thinks the $2,000 payments would be more appropriate.
“$600 is laughable,” Burnstein wrote. “While many developed countries are providing regular, monthly payouts in the thousands of dollars, Americans are left debating over a one-time payout that is (a) fraction of the amount.”
Gerstein said he thinks all Americans, not just young adults, need more stimulus funding during the pandemic.
“(The stimulus check amount) should be retroactive to all the months that Congress decided to do nothing,” Gerstein said. “I’ve had experience with (people) who need this kind of help. And not just one $2,000 check, in my opinion … but serious help from a government that’s neglected its most vulnerable citizens forever, but especially since March.”
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who signed a Michigan COVID-19 relief bill two days after Trump signed the federal bill, acknowledged her gratitude for federal assistance in a Dec. 24 statement and emphasized that more help is needed.
“I’m glad Congress was able to work together to get this done, but there is more work to do,” Whitmer said. “This cannot be the last relief bill we see come out of Washington. This virus will not go away at the start of the new administration. Like President-elect Biden has said, this relief bill will be a down payment. It does not mean that Washington’s work is done.”
In addition to stimulus checks, the bill extends two key provisions of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Stability Act passed in March. The bill provides 11 more weeks of the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance — a program designed to assist freelancers and independent contractors — and the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program, which provides up to 300 additional dollars in federal unemployment benefits.
The bill also issues funding for K-12 schools and colleges and universities. The relief package will grant $82 billion to the education sectors, with K-12 schools receiving $54 billion and colleges and universities receiving $23 billion. It is unclear how much support specific universities, including the University of Michigan, will receive.
An extension of the eviction moratorium until Jan. 31 is also included, granting $25 billion in rental assistance for individuals and families who have not been able to afford to pay the bills since the start of the pandemic.
Gerstein acknowledged this bill is a step in the right direction but said he is discouraged by the general lack of aid provided to Americans during the pandemic. He said he hopes the federal government will step up and provide consistent relief to the people dealing with the ongoing effects of the pandemic.
“(We have seen) how difficult it is for folks, ten months into this crisis, to continue to go on with this kind of uncertainty and the absence of support,” Gerstein said. “The government (is) showing (the American people) that they’re more likely to fund trillions of dollars in defense spending than help them put food on the table and take care of themselves.”
Burnstein wrote he is frustrated because he does not believe the CASH Act to increase stimulus checks to $2000 and include adult dependents will be passed by the Senate. Though he is happy Democrats will have control of the Senate, Burnstein wrote he is not particularly optimistic the amount of support given to Americans will change.
“I like to think of myself as politically active … but the events of this past year leave me disillusioned and disheartened,” Burnstein wrote. “This pandemic has accelerated the growth of inequality in this country by decades and it leaves me deeply saddened and frustrated … I have no happy words, no optimism.”
Fisher also commented on issues with the political system he thinks affected the outcomes of stimulus packages during the pandemic. While he thinks certain programs such as the Paycheck Protection Program were effective, he said he believes Congress’ lack of action was unfortunate.
“There was a lot of partisan gridlock for a good duration of the summer (and into the fall), likely because an election was approaching,” Fisher said. “And I think that part is unfortunate really for the American people.”
Daily News Editor Emma Ruberg contributed to reporting.
Daily Staff Reporter Julia Forrest can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown challenges at all of us — including The Michigan Daily — but that hasn’t stopped our staff. We’re committed to reporting on the issues that matter most to the community where we live, learn and work. Your donations keep our journalism free and independent. You can support our work here.
For a weekly roundup of the best stories from The Michigan Daily, sign up for our newsletter here.