A new bill being considered by the U.S. Congress seeks to revise the eligibility rule for stimulus checks, allowing low-income college students to collect them belatedly. According to a report by CNBC, Rep. Bobby Rush of Illinois introduced the RELIEF Act to the floor last week, proposing that certain college students be given the $1,200 checks now. So far, the bill has seven co-sponsors.
The Student Recovery Eligibility for Low-Income Individuals to Exact Funds Act of 2020 — or RELIEF Act — would help cover a glaring gap in the stimulus check program. Back in March, the CARES Act created stimulus checks for American taxpayers, but not for adult dependents. Rush's bill would essentially revise those eligibility rules so that college students who have received Pell Grants would be included, even if they were claimed as dependents.
Federal Pell Grants are need-based scholarships given to low-income students, whom Rush argues are in need of a stimulus check right now. He pointed out that many Pell Grant recipients lost on-campus housing and meal plans when their colleges shut down and returned to their families with no means of making money.
"Colleges and universities across the country have shuttered to limit the spread of COVID-19," Rush said in a public statement on the RELIEF Act. "While these closures have protected students from illness, they have also forced many students to return home to families who simply cannot afford the unexpected financial burden of suddenly having one, two or even three additional mouths to feed."
So far, Rush's bill has been co-sponsored by Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas, Rep. Jimmy Panetta of California, Rep. Eleanor Holmes Nortan of Washington, D.C., Rep Andre Carson of Indiana, Rep Nydia M. Valezquez of New York and Rep. Filemon Vela of Texas. All of the co-sponsors, along with Rush, are Democrats.
The IRS has sent out over 160 million stimulus checks since the CARES Act was passed, but there are still a significant amount to go. This week, the Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS) warned that these remaining delays would be the most stubborn, and many would not be processed until 2021.
Among these cases are many issues with taxpayers' dependent status — if an individual claimed themselves as independent in 2019, but their parents or guardians claimed them as a dependent in 2018, the IRS will need to process the guardians' 2019 taxes first to recognize the discrepancy and issue a stimulus check. With the agency understaffed and overworked, this will not happen quickly.