Bethan Shipway fears she may have to move back to England if U.S. senators pass a new tax reform bill.
The 24-year-old UF health education and behavior doctoral student helps teach five sections of a UF medical terminology course online. Shipway said she fears the proposed tax reform bill would add about $30,000 to her current income, taking her from a tax bracket of about $20,000 to about $50,000.
The proposed reform was passed by the House of Representatives on Nov. 16 and is moving to the Senate, according to The New York Times. It will require graduate teaching assistants to pay taxes on the value of the tuition waivers they receive as a subsidy for their work, said Paul Duncan, the senior associate dean for the UF Graduate School.
“I’ve been in America for eight years,” Shipway said. “I have a life here, and if I can no longer afford to go to school, I will be going back to England and leaving my life here.”
Duncan said the proposed tax bill will jeopardize about 4,000 graduate teaching assistants at UF. The bill will make it look like graduate teaching assistants have a higher income than they do, he said, which means they have to pay more in taxes.
“This would be a disaster for graduate students,” Duncan said. “Along with other research institutions, the university is actively trying to make known its understanding that this is a very bad policy. It’ll have a very bad impact on our graduate programs.”
A half-time graduate teaching assistant is currently given nine credit hours in tuition waivers for Spring and Fall semesters and six credit hours for the Summer, Duncan said. The current value of these waivers at UF is about $12,000 for the academic year and about $16,000 for the full calendar year, he said.
“The proposed tax bill would treat the dollar value of the tuition waiver as if it was income, when it clearly is not income,” Duncan said. “The dollar value of the waiver cannot be spent on other things, so treating it as income seems nonsensical.”
Duncan said if the bill goes through it could cause a reduction in the number and quality of graduate students.
“I think students would consider this as part of their decision as to whether or not to go to graduate school,” Duncan said.
Mary Roca, a co-president of the UF Graduate Assistants United union, is urging students to write letters to their representatives opposing the bill.
Earlier this month, GAU negotiated an increase in minimum stipends to $16,000 for nine-month employees and $21,333.33 for year-round employees, according to Alligator archives.
However, Roca, a UF English doctoral student, said she doesn’t believe the raise will do much if the proposed tax reform passes.
“We fought really hard for those stipend increases, but ultimately if they’re seeing their taxable income go up by thousands of dollars, I don’t think it’s going to be enough to balance things out,” the 27-year-old said.