Congress’ economic relief bill fails undocumented immigrants, students

May 21, 2020

The outbreak of the novel coronavirus has caused businesses to close, students to finish the school year at home, and over 36 million people to either lose their source of income or face reductions in their salaries during shelter-in-place guidelines. The national economic shutdown resulted in a need for the government to support families and businesses with stimulus checks. But Congress’ federal relief bill, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, does not factor students and thousands of other individuals into its aid. 

Aid during COVID-19 should not be based on age or citizenship status. Future economic packages should be amended to provide financial help to all families, without discriminating against nationality or age range. 

The CARES act is the largest rescue package passed in history, offering $2 trillion to help Americans suffering the economic impacts of COVID-19.  As the U.S. unemployment rate climbs to 14.7 percent, the highest it has been since the Great Depression, and with small businesses closing their doors to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, the aid package was supposed to make shelter-in-place guidelines economically bearable. The relief package fails, however, to support those who need it the most. 

The bill sets aside $250 billion for immediate stimulus checks, yet families can only qualify with a Social Security number. The package excludes those without Social Security numbers, affecting undocumented immigrants and mixed-status households, in which one or more family members has an undocumented citizenship status. Even if they pay taxes, these families are ineligible for relief checks despite a likely disproportionate need for economic aid.

Georgetown Law’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection filed a lawsuit against the CARES Act for intentionally discriminating against the children of immigrants because it fails to provide financial relief for children who are U.S. citizens. If the purpose of the CARES Act is to provide emergency relief for those most economically vulnerable, it must include tax-paying immigrants and their children. 

Considering anyone with an individual tax identification number (ITIN) has paid the taxes that help fund this economic package, it ought to provide for all households regardless of citizenship status. Instead of requiring Social Security numbers for eligibility, subsequent relief packages should be based on ITINs for tax-paying families to receive aid. 

The requirements on the relief bill not only exclude undocumented immigrants and mixed-status families, but university students who still qualify as household dependents. The stimulus bill provides checks of $1,200 to adults earning incomes less than $75,000, with an extra $500 for every dependent under the age of 17 in the household. While university students are no longer children, all 18-24 year-olds can remain filed as dependents on their guardian’s tax forms leaving them ineligible for government aid. 

Many students and young adults require an income to provide for their basic needs or to support family members back home. Some university students work multiple jobs not only to help pay their way through college, but also to help out laid off, disabled, or chronically ill parents or guardians. 

The distinction that households with under 18-year-olds receive added funding leaves another age gap. Most 18-year-olds are finishing their senior year of high school and still live with their families. They may be legal adults at the age of 18 nominally, but this does not mean that they have found employment or are living independently. 

Future legislation packages should recognize the nuances of every student’s situation. Though young adults may be classified as dependents, this does not recognize the economic hardships an individual household may suffer and the role that students may play to financially support their family members. 

The CARES Act also provides $14 billion to educational institutions to aid university students. The bill also offers student loan relief by delaying all monthly payments and reducing interest rates to 0 percent through Sept. 30 of this year. 

Georgetown will be issuing approximately half of the $6 million it was granted to undergraduate students with expected family contributions below $15,000 by May 15. $300,000 of the fund will be reserved for graduate students. 

While this funding will aid students who have lost their sources of income from work-study employment, it is being allocated months after COVID-19 began spreading through the United States. The CARES Act prevents undocumented students from receiving federal aid, therefore Georgetown is distributing $2,600 to all ineligible students with families with an expected income below $15,000.

Everyone is suffering during the COVID-19 pandemic. During the current crisis, a family’s ability to financially survive during shelter-in-place guidelines should not come down to their citizenship or dependency status. 

The House of Representatives passed the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Omnibus Solutions (HEROES) Act on May 12 which allots $1200 to a maximum of three dependents per household. The HEROES act would also extend the CARES student loan forgiveness through September 2021 and would cover all federal student loans. The aid package would also cancel up to $10,000 in federal and private loans  relieving economic distress. 

Unlike the CARES, HEROES would require the ITIN number of one individual in the household rather than the social security numbers of both married partners. This bill would open up aid to mixed-status families and the children of immigrants. 

While the new bill is unlikely to be approved by the Senate, its language is essential for future aid packages. 

Congress may have tried to support Americans struggling with financial challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic through the CARES Act, but the bill has ultimately failed to account for millions of individuals, either undocumented, from mixed-status households, or young adults still classified as dependents. While we hope that the pandemic does not create a need for future economic relief bills, this editorial board urges lawmakers to support those excluded from the original act. 

Editorial Board
The Editorial Board is the official opinion of the Georgetown Voice. Its current composition can be found on the masthead. The Board strives to publish critical analyses of events at both Georgetown and in the wider D.C. community. We welcome everyone from all backgrounds and experience levels to join us!

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