In their first student council meeting of the year on Tuesday, the Associated Students of Madison (ASM) passed legislation to create a $2 million COVID-19 relief bill and a budget placeholder to fund a crisis response team, as well as a proposal to move towards updated grading policies for the spring semester.
The $2 million COVID-19 Student Relief Fund will be distributed by the Tenant Resource Center, a nonprofit organization that has operated and offered housing counseling and information for Dane County residents in Madison for 40 years. ASM passed legislation to establish the fund over the legal objections from university administrators, who claim the plan violates UW System policy.
On Campus, TRC has an office in the Student Activities Center that helps students with housing-related issues. Due to circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, this office has been temporarily closed. With the newly delegated funds, students will be able to fill out an online application that addresses student housing needs depending on their demographics and financial situation. TRC also offers group presentations that address eviction prevention, rental rights and housing plans.
Multiple students who attended the council meeting spoke in unanimous support of the COVID-19 Relief Fund legislation and the other legislative pieces.
The proposal, ASM Legislation 27-0126-04, cited a study authored by sociologist and former UW-Madison professor Sara Goldrick-Rab that found that 70 percent of students who attend two-year institutions and 61 percent of students who attend four-year institutions suffered from either homelessness or housing or food insecurity within the subsequent year.
This legislation will directly benefit students who are experiencing housing struggles, some of which are heightened due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to ASM Representatives who attended the Zoom council meeting, University Recreation & Wellbeing and other administrators attempted to lobby ASM leaders to spend the money for the COVID-19 Relief Fund on other ventures instead of students in need, such as RecWell and the Wisconsin Unions. The university has denied those claims.
In a statement released by UW on Monday anticipating ASM’s vote, the University claimed that the proposal violates UW System Policy 820 against direct financial assistance to individual students and that “the fund cannot legally move forward.”
The Student Council and Reserve Board promised that if these funds do not go directly to housing insecure students they will take legal action against the university.
Council approves CAHOOTS, grading policy teams
ASM also passed legislation to place a budget placeholder for the funding of Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets. CAHOOTS is a crisis response team consisting of medical and crisis workers that provide 24/7 service for mental health-related emergency calls. Each team consists of a medic — either a nurse or an EMT — and a crisis worker who has at least several years of experience in the mental health field.
Grant Allocation Committee Chair Samuel Jorudd stated, “I’m happy to see that my peers passed legislation as important as this. With this legislation, we can properly handle mental health crises and I am looking forward to working out the details.”
Under this model, mental-health-related emergencies will be dispatched to CAHOOTS instead of UWPD. They currently operate in Eugene and Springfield Oregon. These services have not been implemented yet and will require further discussion.
The last legislation passed was a request for a Spring 2021 Pandemic Policy Task Force. This task force will have student representation as well as influence over academic policies this spring. Some of the policies under this task force include pass/fail options and inclusive accommodations with an emphasis on equality. This legislation is a request and has not yet been implemented by UW-Madison.
All of the legislation passed intends to directly help students in need and affected by COVID-19. While CAHOOTS and the Pandemic Policy Task Force still need time to be implemented and worked out, the $2 million going into TRC for housing support will directly benefit students with housing insecurities.