Millions of American college students were left out of the last two rounds of pandemic stimulus checks. This time, they’re on the cusp of a serious payout.
Or rather, their parents are.
Democrats’ $1.9 trillion economic rescue plan includes language that, pending all-important final details, would add $1,400 per college student to the stimulus checks of qualifying parents for the first time.
That’s because the draft passed by the House on Saturday extends benefits to so-called adult dependents—meaning those over the age of 16 who are claimed as dependents on someone else’s tax returns. If the Senate agrees, then millions of college students and older kids in high school, along with disabled adults, will now all qualify as plus-ones when the government tabulates the checks for eligible recipients.
The Senate will start debating the immense stimulus package as soon as Thursday, and Democrats are hoping to push the package through the chamber by this weekend. A year into the pandemic, many are still struggling. The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits rose to 745,000 last week as many employers continued cutting jobs.
College students raised howls of protest after they were left out in the cold during the first two rounds of stimulus checks, while suffering through a downright bizarre educational experience involving Zoom classes and dimmed job prospects. Plenty vented their spleen on Twitter and elsewhere.
But here’s where the plan for new checks stands, who will probably qualify, and how much you might actually get.
The new plan generally envisions distributing $1,400 to adults earning less than $75,000 and couples earning less than $150,000.
This round of checks follows an initial series last spring that distributed about $1,200 to individuals, and a second round that sent out $600 per person in December.
In those previous rounds, younger dependents were included in the tabulations. In the first series, recipients could claim an extra $500 as a flat rate for every dependent 16 or younger. In the second round, dependents 16 and under added $600 to each check.
Disqualifying adult dependents meant leaving some 13.5 million people—including 7 million students—out of the program, according to the People’s Policy Project.
The rules for declaring someone as a dependent on your taxes are nuanced, but generally speaking, parents can claim children as dependents until they turn 18, or until they turn 24 if they’re full-time students. If a family member is disabled, they may count as a dependent at any age.
Now for some politics
The Senate is expected to keep fighting over the bill through the weekend, however, meaning it’s conceivable the goalposts could keep moving. Some last-minute changes agreed to on Wednesday cut the number of eligible people at the upper end of the income bracket.
That’s because moderate Democrats in the Senate have pushed for a package that focuses relief on lower-income Americans.
On Wednesday, President Joe Biden and Senate Democrats reached a deal to lower the upper earnings limit to $80,000 per year, down from the $100,000 level previously agreed upon by the House. For joint filers, the new plan lowers the earnings cap to $160,000 from $200,000.
In other words, if you earned $90,000 last year, then your prospects for getting a new stimulus check seemed to vanish this week in the political horse-trading.
According to the new plan, checks will be gradually phased down for individuals earning more than $75,000, and couples earning more than $150,000, until they reach the upper bracket.
Yet for qualifying families with a couple of kids in college, or those taking care of a disabled adult dependent, prospects look a good deal brighter than they did in the previous two rounds.
For example, a couple that earned a combined $135,000 per year while putting two kids through college might now expect to pull down checks for four people, or a total of $5,600. By contrast, a year ago, that same family would have qualified for just $2,400.