Tufts Students Manage Financial Struggles While Awaiting Stimulus Aid
After months of waiting and congressional debate, President Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID relief plan, which included a third round of stimulus checks for those eligible, was signed into law on March 11. The stimulus checks are intended to relieve some of the unexpected financial hardships that the COVID-19 pandemic has presented to Americans. However, it will likely not be enough for those eligible and will neglect many US residents, including Tufts students who have altered their lives during the pandemic in an effort to save money.
Financial circumstances caused by the pandemic have forced Tufts students to find innovative ways to meet their educational goals while saving money. Recent Tufts graduate Adrien Hanley was motivated to graduate last fall—a semester early—to save the money he would have paid in tuition this spring. “If it weren’t for the pandemic, I wouldn’t have felt nearly as much pressure to graduate in the fall,” said Hanley. “But I’m going to law school next year, and because it’s difficult to get a paying job right now, I felt like it was in my best interest to spare myself a semester’s tuition.”
For graduating college students, the task of finding a job after school has become even more difficult. COVID-19 shutdowns have caused a historically high unemployment rate in the US, making job loss the primary reason for many families’ and individuals’ financial struggles during the pandemic.
Biden’s COVID relief plan will provide $1,400 stimulus checks to many Americans who have experienced unanticipated struggles, such as job loss, during the pandemic. “Just by graduating early, I am luckily saving much more than $1,400,” said Hanley. “I can’t imagine that that amount would even scratch the surface for the kind of help that a lot of people need.”
The qualifications for receiving a check under the plan will remain the same for the third round of stimulus, meaning that many Americans who would undoubtedly benefit from an additional $1,400 at this time still do not qualify to receive a check. In all three rounds of stimulus check distributions, individuals had to be earning less than $75,000 per year, and couples filing jointly had to be earning less than $150,000.
Tufts has also made an effort to alleviate some of the financial hardships faced by students as the pandemic continues to affect them in unanticipated ways. The Unexpected Hardship Fund–which helps students who have been hit with an unforeseen expense–is run by the FIRST Resource Center, which serves first-generation, low-income, and undocumented populations at Tufts. The fund covers expenses for students with a family contribution under $10,000 and offers up to $500 in grant awards in total over the course of a student’s four years at Tufts. Student employees at Tufts Telefund are currently asking alumni for donations to the Unexpected Hardship Fund and the FIRST Center alongside the fund for financial aid assistance. Every dollar that is donated to the fund is matched by the university.
According to Telefund supervisor and senior Alexa Rudolph, “The fund is important now more than ever.” Because international, DACA, and undocumented students are not receiving federal assistance, Tufts provides them additional resources through the Unexpected Hardship Fund. “The fund covers expenses like technology, storage fees, travel, and food insecurity for students too,” said Rudolph, “The combination of virtual learning and limited access to campus computer labs because of safety protocols means that many more students need noise-canceling headphones and laptops with built-in cameras.” Many students who are studying remotely and have not returned to campus also still have their belongings in storage, and the fund can be used to cover that cost.
Though Rudolph recognizes the benefits of the fund, she feels that $500 in aid over the course of four years is not nearly enough financial help for struggling students. “It seems like such a small amount of money for people who might really need the aid,” said Rudolph. “I doubt $500 covers all the unexpected expenses that could rise throughout someone’s four years—especially when you include a global pandemic.”
Unforeseen financial challenges convinced junior Victoria DeJoy to stay in her home state of New York this semester to avoid housing costs. “My decision to stay home was almost entirely about not having to pay for housing,” said DeJoy. “I receive financial aid from Tufts but don’t qualify for things like the Unexpected Hardship Fund—and to be honest, I didn’t feel like I was going to be missing out on much of the fun of campus life.”
For Americans who do qualify to receive a stimulus check under Biden’s plan, they can expect a slightly larger dollar amount than in past rounds. The IRS began sending out the first round of stimulus checks, authorized by the CARES Act, in April of 2020. Single individuals received $1,200 each, and joint filers received double. Parents of eligible children were also given $500 per child. The second round of checks authorized in December 2020 were $600 for single individuals and double for joint filers, as well as $600 per eligible child.
During the first round of stimulus checks that were issued under the Trump administration in April 2020, people waited two weeks for the federal government to begin distributing the money after approval. Checks were distributed beginning three days after the president signed the bill for the second round. While most people received the money automatically, very low-income individuals and couples who do not typically file tax returns often had to take an extra step to register online or file a 2020 tax return. Roughly 8 million eligible people did not receive their first stimulus check. The third relief check will arrive just as extra unemployment assistance and prior pandemic aid expires.
While many Tufts students will not be eligible for a stimulus check as dependents, Biden’s plan hopes to alleviate pressure on some of their families. However, it remains uncertain as to whether the third round of stimulus checks will benefit those who need it the most during this time of economic hardship.