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Financial stress among students at a high during pandemic

April 9, 2020
Photo by Annie Barker | The State News

Before the COVID-19 outbreak, advertising management sophomore Hannah Bloomfield was working up to 29 hours a week at two on-campus jobs in order to pay for her food, rent and tuition bills. Now, she's down to one job, and transitioning to working remotely has left her with significantly fewer hours.

"It’s definitely stressed me out," Bloomfield said. "My plan for this and next month (was) to make that money, save and not have to worry about next semester. And now, it’s got to the point where I’m wondering if I can move back to school in the fall and live off-campus again ... I’m just stressing about next semester already.”

The global pandemic has proven to be challenging for students in more ways than one. Ever since in-person classes moved online and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's “Stay Home, Stay Safe” executive order was implemented, many Michigan State students have faced a distressing change in their employment status.

Bloomfield worked at the cafeteria in Snyder-Phillips Hall as a food assistant and at the MSU Broad Art Museum as a gallery guide. Bloomfield said only full-time employees are currently working in the dining halls, and that they’ve been mostly shut down for student employees.

Now, Bloomfield is living with her family in Livonia, completing small assignments for the Broad Art Museum while at home.

“All the things I need, I paid for myself." Bloomfield said. "Thankfully I have a family that’s supportive and they understand the situation, but it’s definitely affected me financially.”

Comparative culture and politics junior Jessie Cohen was an instructor at Goldfish Swim School in Okemos, which was closed temporarily on March 15 to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“I love my job, I love going and teaching the kids every day," Cohen said. "It’s just sad that it’s my only source of income, and it’s not like I lost my job and I can go out and get a new job ... those are all closed too. It’s not something I can fix, so I feel very trapped inside.”

In recognition of many East Lansing residents’ inability to work during the COVID-19 pandemic, Cohen started an online petition calling for April rent forgiveness.

"With all MSU classes being moved online, and their workplaces being shut down, MSU students have no reason to stay in East Lansing, and many have no income during this time," the petition reads. "As college students, we cannot be expected to have a huge safety net of savings to dip into when we cannot work, and the stress of having to pay rent for an apartment … when you are unable to work is substantial."

The petition is directed at East Lansing Mayor Ruth Beier and several apartment complex management companies in the city, including DTN Management and Community Resource Management Company.

“I (used to) work about 25 hours a week and that’s how I pay for my rent, my food and for my school,” Cohen said. “So it was really stressful hearing about the shutdown. Obviously it’s for the health and safety reasons, (but) it’s just financially super stressful.”

Mayor Pro Tem Aaron Stephens said he is currently looking into ways to help students with rent. He said Cohen sent him an email regarding her petition and they've discussed it and whether any other communities in the country have taken a similar step.

"During these tough times, we have city inspection fees for a lot of the rental properties and I’m looking into the possibility of giving a discount on those fees if there is a discount concurrently on the rent for those properties,” Stephens said. "This is an idea that I’m really just exploring right now. I’ve only had really one conversation with a landlord that I know.”

The university is also exploring ways to help students financially during this time.

MSU President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. said during his interview with The State News Editorial Board that his goal is to keep as many students working as possible. Over the last pay period, there has been a significant decrease in employment on campus, he said, so he is working with senior leadership at the university to develop a policy to help.

"There will be money coming from the new stimulus package that was passed, there will be money coming to the university," Stanley said. "We haven't gotten a check yet, but the estimate would be, there'll be about $17 million that would be targeted toward students to help students who are in financial need. ... But again, I think we want to work with students to find creative ways that we can help them work and stay employed."

Computer science senior Carlisle Jenkins is a level-one service center representative for MSU's Residential and Hospitality Services in Brody Neighborhood. Jenkins said he is still working and receiving full hours.

“That’s pretty cool.” Jenkins said. “They allowed us to work 40 hours a week now opposed to the alternative of 29 hours a week.”

Jenkins said his job has mostly shifted to helping students with checking out of their dorms and updating them about COVID-19. He said the only thing about his job that's changed is that they're now more strict with sanitation.

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“Maybe if a lot of students were here, (my job) would be something I would’ve stepped back from because I feel like I’d have a higher chance of getting infected,” Jenkins said. “But since it's lesser people here, I look forward to it."

Jeff Beavers, executive director of the Career Services Network at MSU, said they're being informed by a number of employers that they're canceling internships due to COVID-19, and some are switching the format of the internships in response.

"So I think ... there are a number of available options that still allow (the) employer and the student to connect, but maybe don't require that level of investment," Beavers said. "In that case, we're advising students to explore options for doing a late summer job shadow."

Beavers said the Career Services Network's career fair has been rescheduled for April 23 and April 24 and moved to a virtual format. Students and employers will connect via an online career fair platform where students can chat with recruiters and submit questions live. Recruiters can also conduct job interviews with students immediately using the integrated video-interviewing technology, Beavers said.

"With students that are graduating and looking for full-time employment, there's a different sense of urgency," Beavers said. "So we would encourage them to reach out to one of our advisers and schedule a virtual advising appointment because we are ... receiving a number of job postings, ... and we can help direct them to those opportunities."

Still, financial worries among students are at a high. Cohen said she has spent a lot of time trying to find alternative sources of income so she can pay rent and afford summer classes.

"I don’t know if that’s going to be able to happen ... I don’t know how I’m going to be able to pay for that," Cohen said. “I’m just overwhelmed. There is a lot changing and a lot that I have no control over."


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