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Tuesday, December 07, 2021

ASM Approves Amendment to COVID-19 Student Relief Fund

The Associated Students of Madison (ASM) continued to fight for approval of their COVID-19 Student Relief Fund at an emergency meeting on Tuesday night. The student council voted unanimously to pass legislation creating the Mask Ambassador position — opening a possible loophole for the fund to be enacted despite university concerns over its legality.

Last week, ASM passed legislation on a $2 million relief package to aid students who are not eligible for the newest distribution of federal stimulus through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. In doing this, ASM, in partnership with the Tenant Resource Center, would help students pay rent and any other living expenses. The University, however, blocked their attempts. 

Because of a legal issue that conflicts with UW Systems Policy 820, which does not allow the use of segregated fees for rent and utility support for individual students, the University did not approve of ASM’s legislation. 

Frustration with the University’s block was evident in many ASM members and students in Tuesday’s meeting. 

“It’s bullshit, we shouldn't need to do this,” said Representative Jack Phillips. “We have been demanding that something happen for the past year.”

The position of Mask Ambassador was created as an amendment to the COVID-19 Student Relief Fund in a direct effort to avoid any legal challenges and blocks from the university, as a loophole to UW Systems Policy 820. If a student is a Mask Ambassador, and therefore considered a student government leader, they are eligible to receive aid via the COVID-19 Student Relief Fund. 

The position’s responsibilities consist of “Adhering to the Campus Guidance on the Use of Face Coverings for the benefit of the Madison community” as stated in the job description.

The position passed in a unanimous vote yesterday, but ASM still has their work cut out for them.

Dean of Students Christina Olstad sat in on ASM’s meeting and was asked to speak on any of her concerns with the COVID-19 Student Relief Fund and position of Mask Ambassador. 

“I share your goal,” Olstad said to the council, but she did not approve of the new legislation. 

“The Mask Ambassador, I have concerns about that, but I have the same goals as you do and I want to work with you to achieve that goal,” said Olstad. “Can we explore a different way? Yes.”

Despite Olstad’s concerns, the legislation passed and ASM continues to work towards making the COVID-19 Relief Fund a reality. 

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In a recent press release, ASM Chair Matthew Minick promised that the council is prepared to challenge the university in court if the relief fund is further blocked. 

The next Student Council meeting will be held via Zoom on Feb. 9, 2021.

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