Doug Mills/The New York Times

President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the American Rescue Plan in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, March 12, 2021.

April 5, 2021

Students Express Relief and Confusion as Stimulus Checks Hit Campus

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Since President Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act into law on March 11, eligible Cornellians have seen their balances rise by $1,400 as stimulus checks have begun to roll in.

Students have used the additional cash to catch up on bills, while others have been frustrated by the bureaucratic hurdles and social stigma that have ensued. 

Students who aren’t registered as dependants of their parents have received their payments, while those marked as dependants have seen their parents receive the payments instead. 

The $1.9 trillion piece of legislation featured hundreds of billions of dollars in local and state government aid, vaccine distribution aid and stimulus checks for individuals making under $80,000. 

The individual payments have been arriving over the past few weeks, with payments before March 24 being made by direct deposit and those since being mailed rather than direct-deposited, while some are still being processed.  

For some, the process of getting the check has been fraught with misunderstandings. Adam Ziccardi ’22 said he still doesn’t know if he’ll receive a payment from the most recent stimulus bill, an issue he encountered with the first and second bills, too. 

“[The IRS was] sending them to my parents instead [of me] because I was a dependant, and I only found that out about two weeks ago when I called my parents,” Ziccardi said. “[I] couldn’t find a clear answer on the internet… I couldn’t find a government website that said exactly who was getting it and how.”  

The checks have helped stabilize some students’ budgets at a critical time. Ahmed El Sammak ’21 said that, in addition to helping his family pay for food and bills, he had to stay in Ithaca past when his meal plan ended last semester, forcing him to pay for food on his credit card and rack up a higher credit card bill. He spent part of his stimulus check paying that bill off.

El Sammak said that, despite the year’s continued uncertainty, the check allowed him to worry less about how much money he was saving from his job or how much he was spending when going out with friends. 

“It has more impacts than just the bills that you pay or even the immediate peace of mind, because that peace of mind transfers to other areas of life where, like, my relationships with other people aren’t as stressful, my schoolwork is easier — I have to worry about less things,” El Sammak said.

Others are saving their stimulus money. David Wang ’23 is expecting a check, and said that after he pays off his credit card debt, he’s putting the remainder towards next year’s rent.

Sam Rosenblum, grad, a Ph.D. student in the government department, said his check would be factored into his bank account like any other payment, and would go to things like rent. 

But Rosenblum said that conversations regarding the checks have been scarce. He assumes his fellow graduate students are receiving checks, but said that, in many cases, he never talked to them about it.

“There’s this weirdness of talking about money collectively, as if there’s some commonality related to one’s class position that’s defined in terms of things like income and assets and that is taboo to talk about,” Rosenblum said.

In part, Rosenblum attributed this to the stigmatization of government welfare programs, adding that the hesitancy to discuss finances might be cultural.

Johanna Richter, grad, a masters student in the school of Industrial Labor Relations, also said she’d save her check. But for Richter the checks send an important political message.

“I support [universal basic income], so I’m pretty happy about [the checks], and I think a shift to direct cash transfers is a good direction for the US to go in,” Richter said.