Spring 2020 was supposed to be a very exciting semester for my two closest friends and me. Hannah, Haley, and I are all students at Roanoke College, and we decided that for spring semester of our junior year we would all branch out. Hannah and I took internships in D.C., hers with a non-profit law firm and mine with the nonprofit, youth advocacy organization Generation Progress. Haley would be studying abroad in Cork, Ireland.
The first three months of 2020 were amazing. Hannah and I worked during the week and explored a new part of D.C. every weekend. Haley went to Irish pubs and visited new places across the UK. At the end of March, however, we were all abruptly (and reasonably) sent home due to concerns about COVID-19.
I was fortunate to be allowed to continue my internship remotely from my parents’ home in Fredericksburg; most people in my program had to leave their internships for good when they left D.C. I feel extremely lucky to have been able to keep my source of income since most college students have not been so lucky.
Around 11 million college students work in total. Seventy-five percent of us work twenty hours or more per week, and over 4.4 million of us work over thirty-five hours. A large number of these jobs are on-campus. Before I got my internship, I was one of these students: I worked at the front desk in our library and as a research assistant in the English Department. Student-workers depend on on-campus jobs for income, and many use these funds for tuition and living expenses. When college campuses closed, those jobs went with them. Everyone depending on an on-campus job for income was, and likely still is, out of work.
Despite this difficult financial situation, most current college students were not included in any of the relief provided by the CARES Act. Since my parents claim me as a dependent, I was not eligible for the $1,200 that most other adults received. However, since I am over 16, my family was also not eligible for the $500 that many families with young children received. Like most other college students, I was completely excluded from this relief package. And I’m not alone—even though many of my unemployed college friends need to help buy groceries or pay bills, the CARES Act cut them out of any relief package too.
Students struggling to afford basic necessities will be hit by another obstacle when they graduate and must begin making payments on their student loans. Student loan debt is already a crisis in this country, but it will become an even larger issue as students graduate into an economy where it is increasingly difficult to get a job. Recent college graduates are facing rescinded job offers and limited opportunities, all while trying to pay off an average $30,000 of student debt per borrower. Without intervention, the crisis will get much worse.
The HEROES Act, proposed and passed by Democrats in the House of Representatives, would have helped on both of these counts. It stipulated that up to three dependents, regardless of age, would be eligible for $1,200 stimulus checks and would continue the pause on suspended interest and payments for most people with federal student loans through September 2021. The student loan relief in the package would also cancel up to $10,000 for some federal and private loan holders in financial distress.
Unfortunately, the Senate has still refused to take a vote on this legislation, and recently decided to go on recess rather than committing to helping vulnerable Americans—which led President Trump to issue a memo for an executive order that would continue the loan payment pause and zero-interest rate for federal loans until the end of the year. Unfortunately, this memo still excludes 8 million borrowers, conflicts guidance from the Department of Education Sec. Betsy DeVos, and still does not go far enough to help students or borrowers. Which means we’re still depending on the Senate to pass legislation that includes a payment pause beyond the end of the year and student debt cancellation.
College students are struggling to adjust to this new reality just like the rest of the population—and we are doing so while facing the prospect of graduating into a job market that is vastly different from what we’ve spent our college careers preparing for. The government must respect that by taking us—and our futures—into account.