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After House and Senate Republicans passed sweeping tax legislation last week, some graduate students say they are worried the new laws will make them unable to continue receiving their educations.
Trisha Crawshaw, a graduate student in sociology, is one of these. The GOP tax rewrite, she said, could be devastating for her.
“I don’t know how I would [get] groceries, pay bills, pay my rent, feed my dog,” Crawshaw said. “These things that seem maybe easy to other people are things that are actually jeopardizing me.”
The Senate bill passed Friday and, much like the House bill that passed last month, it had no public hearings. Senators — mostly Democratic ones — complained that the process was rushed, that they didn’t have time to read the almost 500-page bill and that handwritten, last-minute amendments were confusing and sloppy.
Because House and Senate Republicans passed different bills, the differences between the two must now be reconciled. Of particular concern to students is a provision in the House bill that strips many tax benefits for those obtaining undergraduate or graduate degrees or those in the process of paying off student loans.
Crawshaw, a first-generation student, said this will make it harder for low-income students — who she said are already underrepresented on campuses — to pursue advanced degrees.
“We have been excluded from the production of knowledge,” Crawshaw said. “That’s why this tax bill disgusts me, because it continues to perpetuate this idea that only the wealthy can go to college and can afford it.”
Korey Phelan, a graduate student in the sociology department, said the tax rewrite “disgusts” her.
Opponents of the legislation criticized it for being full of provisions unrelated to the tax code. Significantly, the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate was repealed. The individual mandate was meant to distribute risk on the insurance market between the healthy and unhealthy so costs are shared.
With the repeal of the individual mandate, those who get health care subsidized by the federal government will likely stay in the system, while those healthy people with unsubsidized care will leave the markets as premiums go up and healthy people leave the ACA system to purchase less expensive policies. The average cost for those left in the system will skyrocket.
Phelan has insurance under the ACA, and with the individual mandate gone, she said she is scared she won’t be able to afford health care.
“The tax bill benefits the wealthy so much at the expense of people who can already barely afford to make it,” Phelan said.
Emily Humbert, a philosophy graduate student, said the tax bill is “ridiculous” because it follows a model called trickle-down economics that has never worked.
Trickle-down economics is a tenet of Republican ideology that was famously advocated for by President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. It basically says if the wealthy receive tax breaks, they have more money to spend and invest, which should then create jobs for everyone else.
This has not been the case in the past.
In fact, according to historian Robert McElvaine, the Great Depression was caused by a decade of Republican lawmakers giving tax breaks to the rich. This created the greatest concentration of income to the richest 1 percent of Americans since World War I.
The next time this concentration of wealth happened, McElvaine said, was in 2007 when President George W. Bush’s trickle-down policies — along with legislation passed by Republicans in Congress at the time — again led to a recession.
“I just don’t understand who is consulting [the GOP] about this,” Humbert said.
Humbert, who works a part-time job and teaches three classes as an instructor of record, said she and her fellow graduate students fear this tax bill will discourage future students from enrolling because they won’t be able to pay for it. She said she will have to get another job if student tax benefits are stripped.
“It’s ridiculous that we need to be paying this much to be educated,” Humbert said. “We know what education provides: informed, humane individuals who want to do better in the world.”
Staff writer Amelia Blakely can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @AmeilaBlakely.
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