UW student government attempts end-around to establish emergency housing fund, despite System policy

Friday morning, ASM Student Council voted unanimously to pass an amendment to the recently-approved legislation that would create a fund to be administered by the Tenant Resource Center (TRC) for students experiencing housing insecurity.

UW System and UW-Madison officials said that fund would not be allowed under System policy that doesn’t allow segregated fees to provide direct financial aid for students.

The amendment, created and proposed by the ASM Nominations Board, would allow ASM to offer students applying for the COVID-19 Student Relief Fund a position as an ASM Mask Ambassador. Mask Ambassadors would be required to follow University mask guidelines, as already required by every student, and would be eligible for a stipend.

ASM Chair Matthew Mitnick noted that the new amendment will allow students to be recipients without ASM violating University System Administrative Policy.

“If a student is a Mask Ambassador and is a recipient from the Tenant Resource Center, they would be eligible to receive this funding as a direct financial aid, as a scholarship, because they’re a student government leader,” Mitnick said.

The amendment comes after a decision communicated via email from UW Vice Chancellor for Finance & Administration Laurent Heller to Mitnick denying ASM authorization to carry out the COVID-19 Student Relief Fund, citing System Administrative Policy 820.

“It is clear that the COVID-19 Student Relief Fund as outlined in ASM Legislation 27-0126-04 violates System Administrative Policy 820 (SAP 820),” wrote Heller. “SAP 820 prohibits the use of student segregated fees for rent and utility support for individual students, and it further prohibits the TRC from allocating the segregated fees. Consequently, I am required to deny the expenditure of student segregated fees for the proposed fund and purpose.”

However, although system policy prohibits “direct financial aid to an enrolled student such as scholarships, tuition, room, and board,” direct financial aid can be awarded to “student government leaders.”

Mitnick has called an emergency Reserve Board meeting for today to seek approval of the amendment by the board. 

“There is the possibility that someone from the Reserve Board to say, ‘I want to appeal Student Council’s decision’ and they could overturn it, so I mean ultimately then, the power is in the Reserve Board,” Mitnick said.

UW System representative Mark Pitsch said in an email to Madison365 that UW-Madision administrators were reviewing the amended legislation.