By Payton Gift
The first wave of stimulus checks began distribution on April 13, according to CNBC’s website. The distribution of these checks has caused a bit of controversy over the criteria Americans need to meet to be able to receive this financial help.
According to the IRS’s website, recipients of these stimulus checks must be filing as an independent on their taxes, and for each dependent they care for under the age of 17, they will receive additional compensation.
Who gets left out by this criteria? Many college students still claimed as dependents by their parents are being left without this financial assistance. Their families that support them aren’t being compensated for the added financial strain of their child.
Camile Madrigal, a first-year at Western, said that despite being claimed as a dependent, they still recieved a stimulus check.
“I’ve been claimed as a dependent by my mom both in 2018 and 2019,” Madrigal said. “But for some reason I still received a check in the mail. I contacted my accountant and she said that the IRS has been making a lot of mistakes, but it is too much of a hassle to have someone pay back the money they received so anyone who gets a check can keep it.”
Madrigal said that they were happy to receive the check because it granted them the ability to help their mom out with the bills and rent.
Due to the pandemic, Madrigal said they moved out of the dorms and back into their childhood home in Camas. This relieved some financial stress because they no longer had to pay for housing, but the pandemic has put a strain on a college fund that their late father had set aside for them in the form of stocks. Madrigal said the losses on their college fund totaled roughly $60,000.
Madrigal may have received a stimulus check by mistake, but that does not mean that they were not in need of financial assistance because of the pandemic. For other college students being claimed as dependents, their families are being left without help because their children are considered too old to get even a reduced rate of assistance.
Just because a dependent is technically an adult does not mean that their family does not deserve compensation for supporting them. Subsidizing someone’s living costs outside of your own home can put a financial strain on many families, and the difficulties they face are only being further exaggerated during this time. So why are these families being left behind?
Mikhal Jensen, a third-year student at Western, said that she had been claimed as a dependent and did not receive any financial help either directly or to her family from the government.
“My mom technically claimed me as a dependent and since I’m older than 16, I don’t get money for me and she doesn’t get money for me,” Jensen said. “I’m kind of in the sweet spot of getting absolutely nothing.”
Jensen said that the assumption that parents do not need assistance for providing for their children over the age of 16 years old is unfair. She said that if someone is a dependent, it should follow that the person they are dependent on should get a share of funds for the added financial stress of supporting another person.
One of the many things being overlooked in the criteria for receiving a stimulus check is that according to the IRS’s website, a dependent is anyone receiving help with 50% or more of their finances. Many technical dependents are still responsible for their own financial obligations, and the ability to meet those obligations has been impacted for them, just like Americans who are deemed independent of their taxes.
Jensen said that she is lucky enough to have assistance from her family but she is still expected to pay for half of her rent along with day to day necessities like groceries and gas.
Kaylene Raftis attends online classes while doing yard work to earn money in her spare time. She said that she did qualify for a stimulus check, but due to money she has saved up from working as a wildland firefighter in the summer, she is in a unique and privileged position because she doesn’t need the check to pay her bills.
“I’m really fortunate because I’ve been able to pay for my rent and tuition because of my work as a wildland firefighter,” Raftis said. “So I was like cool I got this $1,200 but I’m not really one of the folks who desperately needs it. So I put some of it in my savings account and then donated a portion of it.”
Heidi Olson, call center director for Whatcom Love Inc., said there is a large gap in the amount of people receiving help from stimulus checks and those who qualify for it. Whatcom Love Inc. is a nonprofit coalition of local churches working to provide assistance to members of the community.
Olson said that stimulus checks are a good resource for those in need, but certain hurdles like lacking an address or a bank account make accessing this aid difficult for homeless members of our community.
“For people struggling with homelessness, $1,200 can make a world of difference,” Olson said. “But without filing taxes or being notified that they have been granted this money how are they going to access it?”
Olson said one of the struggles Whatcom Love Inc. has been facing is a rise in those who need assistance and a decrease in organizations being able to provide it. She said that with the closure of our local Habitat for Humanity, those who are being placed in housing are lacking a bed to sleep on.
According to Olson, she has been receiving an influx of calls from people concerned not about their current financial situation, but when the moratoriums on evictions and utility end and they will have to pay back multiple months of rent.
The reality is that there are many people in desperate need of support but due to limiting factors such as home insecurity or not quite meeting the criteria, those people are left without help. Yet there is also an opposite issue with some receiving assistance and feeling like they don’t need it. For those who are uncertain what to do with this influx of money, donating to local nonprofits could be the answer.
Jensen said that while she thinks everyone is entitled to the help they are receiving during this time, those who may not be in need of financial help can redistribute some of their check by donating to local organizations.
Everyone has different financial situations depending on so many different factors, there is no simple way to categorize those who need and don’t need their stimulus check. However, working under the assumption that people over the age of 16 simply don’t factor into the financial strains of their families leaves many people struggling to pay for basic necessities behind.