While many Americans wait eagerly for their $1200 stimulus check to come in the mail, some New Mexican college students have been left to fend for themselves.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the president of the United States signed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act into effect on March 27, authorizing $1200 payments to individual Americans, along with a number of corporate bailouts.
For 19 to 23-year-old full-time college students, however, their status as legal dependents or undocumented immigrants bars them from receiving stimulus checks, according to Business Insider.
Dylan Nelson, an 18-year-old New Mexico Tech undergraduate, is one such student being financially impacted by the pandemic and does not qualify for the stimulus payment.
Nelson is no longer scheduled for his job because of the pandemic and, in normal times, only made enough to pay his tuition and housing payments.
“I was going to make the monthly payments, with maybe about one extra paycheck to spare. But if other stuff got in the way since I can only work on the weekends because of school, I would be just barely covering the amount that I needed,” Nelson said.
Since Nelson doesn’t know when he might work again, the stimulus check would have covered his leftover debt and given his family more financial security.
“It's rough...I was hoping that I could pay off the rest of the money with it. And our house isn’t that great, there’s always the risk of a water pipe breaking, so it’s always good to have extra money on hand for something like that,” Nelson said.
Even so, the likelihood of recipients using their checks to pay off their debts raises a larger issue with the payout of the stimulus package altogether.
Philip Ganderton, a UNM economics professor, said that while the economic benefits of the CARES Act would normally be beneficial, the current pandemic will most likely undermine those benefits until it’s brought under control.
Ganderton predicted many people would use their stimulus check to pay off debt, which would not stimulate the economy. Ganderton said in order to stimulate the economy, the money would fare better in the hands of those who will spend more than they will save.
“(The idea that) students, dependents, generally have the highest marginal propensities to consume is true,” Ganderton said. “However, the issue is confounded by the fact that what’re they going to spend it on? If you look at what 18 to 25-year-olds normally spend their money on, most of those businesses are closed. The only solution to reopening the economy is to defeat the disease.”
‘Marginal propensities to consume’ is an economics term used to define the expendable income of a given person.
Still, NBC reported that the stimulus check is not meant to boost the economy, but to “feed families, keep a roof over their heads and keep the lights on.”
Dallas Blanchard, a 20-year-old Central New Mexico Community College (CNM) student, said he felt frustrated with how the rollout of the stimulus check was executed. He believes that students listed as dependents on their parent's tax returns should have gotten a check because many of them struggle to get by.
“Honestly, the majority of them would benefit from it. Just about every college kid I know has no money at all. Ever. They’re some of the most broke people I’ve ever met. And of course, there’s going to be those handful of bad eggs...but most of them would just use it for food and necessities,” Blanchard said.
While children must be under 19 to be claimed as a dependent by their parents, full-time college students can be claimed as dependents until they turn 24 years old, as long as their parents pay for more than half of their expenses.
Blanchard also felt the issue over who does or doesn’t get the stimulus check is pressing because of how difficult it already is for students to improve their financial situation while in school.
“There’s so many other people in the situation I am, where they’re just stuck because they’re going to school full time, which takes away the time to work, to make more money, to change their situation,” Blanchard said. “So if more people were able to get this kind of financial help, it might not change their situation completely but it could make it more tolerable.”
On top of the financial challenges facing the average student, undocumented students are forced to survive without any federal aid while still paying taxes to the government.
Andres, an undocumented student studying at UNM and member of the New Mexico Dream Team, said it’s unfair that undocumented students won’t get a stimulus check during the pandemic because they pay their taxes like anyone else.
“It’s pretty inhumane to exclude undocumented people in this stimulus package. There’s this narrative that immigrants don’t pay taxes, but we actually pay a lot in taxes through our ITIN,” Andres said.
An ITIN (Individual Taxpayer Identification Number) is the number that undocumented immigrants use to file taxes in lieu of a Social Security Number.
A report by the Congressional Budget Office in 2006 found that “about 6 million undocumented immigrants file individual tax income returns each year,” which accounted for half of their estimated population at the time.
Andres said many undocumented immigrants work jobs that the government has deemed “essential” during the pandemic, putting them at risk of getting sick. He said without access to federal aid programs, they would pay for medical bills out of pocket.
“A lot of us work jobs that are considered essential. Luckily that means most of us will be able to have some sort of financial stability right now, but that also puts our communities at risk. At least in New Mexico, we’re able to get tested when we need to, but when it comes to access to healthcare and financial support, we won't be getting any of that,” Andres said.
The Albuquerque Journal reported more than 28,000 New Mexicans filed for unemployment last week alone.
“(The New Mexico Dream Team is) working on a way to push the state, if they can help us because I know the federal government won’t,” Andres said. “I don’t think we’ll be able to get anything though. It feels like these communities have been forgotten by the federal government, or (that) they did this intentionally.”
Liam DeBonis is a photographer and reporter at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @LiamDebonis
Alex McCausland is a reporter at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @alexkmccausland