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‘My heart kind of just broke’: One student’s struggle without federal stimulus check


Since the federal government passed the CARES Act — an economic stimulus package that would allow US citizens to qualify for up to $1,200 in federal aid — on March 26, millions of Americans have received checks with amounts dependent on their previous year’s income. 

But the package hasn’t fixed things for everyone. For Sarah Baumgartner, a Miami University senior, finding financial stability during the pandemic has been a struggle.

On March 15, Sarah, finished up her cleaning tasks and chatted with her coworker as they waited for someone to enter Left Field Tavern, an Uptown bar and restaurant.

Over the next two hours, Sarah only remembers one customer, a regular, coming into the bar. She and her coworker agreed that Sarah would leave early, deciding it didn’t make sense for them both to be there. 

“I had no idea that would be potentially my last shift at Left Field Tavern,” Sarah said. 

Later that day, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine ordered all restaurants shut down to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. The staff, including Sarah, was informed later the Tavern would only need managers to continue business. 

Sarah was out of a job. 

In fall 2019, Sarah began living in an apartment just outside campus. To pay rent and other personal expenses, she worked as a server and bartender at Left Field Tavern. 

The coronavirus has made things hard for many students. Sarah, a strategic communication and professional writing double major, was relying on her off-campus job to support her through the school year.

After losing her job, Sarah decided to continue living off campus, relying on a loan and her tax return to pay for her rent and other expenses. 

But that won’t last forever.

Sarah said her loans and tax return will help her through the end of the semester. After that, she will need another form of income.

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When Sarah first heard about the federal stimulus check, a weight was lifted off her shoulders. She believed she would be receiving the full $1,200. 

“I know that student loan payments are going to kick in in six months,” Sarah said. “I was just relieved that I was going to be able to get something. I wasn't even going to file for unemployment.”

But there was a clause that disqualified many students, including Sarah, from receiving any federal money. If students were claimed as dependents on their parents’ taxes, the student would not get any money. 

“As the information came out that pretty much all students are left out of the stimulus check, my heart kind of just broke,” Sarah said. “I ended up filing [for unemployment] as quickly as I could.”

Sarah said her experience filing for unemployment was incredibly difficult. Besides the technical difficulties of logging onto the site, Sarah said the questions were hard to understand.

“I was sitting there with my boyfriend, asking him the questions,” Sarah said. “He was also a senior graduating from university, so I'd argue he's intelligent as well. And we couldn't even figure out what they were asking.”

Three days after filing, Sarah received a message saying there was an error on her application. She fixed the error and resubmitted her application.

Ten days after that, she was sent another message with another error. Sarah reopened her claim and resubmitted it.

After a month of being unemployed, she hadn’t heard anything from the unemployment office, and her application was still pending. 

“I've tried to call, I would say, upwards of 50 times over the course of the past two weeks,” Sarah said. “Nobody will answer the phone, you just get a robot. And if the robot doesn't answer your question, it just hangs up on you.”

On Wednesday, April 15, Sarah said she received notification that her unemployment application had been accepted. 

“I got lucky with a pretty big tax return,” Sarah said. “I was going to save that, but that ended up going into immediate living cost.”

Sarah originally thought she would use her tax return to pay for her housing for an internship with Golin, a public relations firm in Chicago. But that changed on April 2, when her phone buzzed with an unexpected email. 

As she read the lines of the email, a wave of sadness came over her. 

“It was a pretty simple email,” Sarah said. “It pretty much just said, ‘We're sorry, but we're canceling the internship program for the time being. We'll keep your resume on file.’”

Her heart sank. The opportunity she had been waiting so long for had suddenly been ripped away. 

“I cried so hard,” Sarah said. “Job prospects for people in my field are already a little challenging.”

After her lease expires, Sarah plans to go back home to Leipsic, a small farming town in northwest Ohio. She said she plans to go back to work for the same farm she worked for in high school. 

“It kind of breaks my heart to have to do that,” Sarah said. “All this time springboarding into your career and investing in yourself and getting a good education, to have to come back, it feels like a loss.”