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Friday, February 26, 2021

ASM introduces $2 million COVID-19 student relief referendum

The Associated Students of Madison unanimously adopted the COVID-19 Student Relief Fund Referendum at a special meeting on Monday. 

ASM held the special meeting in order to introduce the referendum so ASM members would be able to take a vote of confirmation at their regular meeting scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 9. If passed on Tuesday, the referendum will go to the student judiciary. 

If the referendum—crafted by ASM Chair Matthew Mitnick, 10 other representatives and chairs and the UW-Madison BIPOC Coalition— receives a vote of confirmation at Tuesday’s meeting, the general student body will be able to show their support for or against ASM’s COVID-19 Student Relief Fund when they head to the student government ballots in March. 

ASM hopes that putting this referendum on their ballot will show the UW administration that students support the relief fund. The fund received pushback from the UW administration since its introduction, citing issues with legality. 

“[Housing assistance] really is keeping students housed and safe during a global pandemic,” UW-Madison and ASM Alumna Brooke Evans, a student who has dealt with homelessness, said at the meeting. “And there’s nothing more important than that.”

If passed, the COVID-19 Relief Fund would allow ASM to distribute $2 million aimed to help students who did not receive a payment from the CARES Act to fund housing costs. Sponsors of the bill, including Grant Allocation Committee Chair Sam Jorudd, have continuously maintained their support for the legislation and hope that passing this referendum will generate a display of student support. 

“One of the reasons we think this is going to pressure admin is because it will give them specific numbers of support from students,” Jorudd said. “It’ll show the administration that it isn’t just the sponsors that support this, it’s the student body. It’s thousands of students who are either struggling or support those who are struggling.”

The relief fund was initially passed by a unanimous vote on Jan. 26. However, it conflicted with UW System Policy 820 that bans issuing segregated university fees to individual students. 

ASM tried to sidestep the policy by creating the Mask Ambassador program, a position that students in need of aid can apply for in order to receive aid. 

“The language in the proposed referendum does not accurately reflect the legal issues that plague the relief fund,” UW-Madison Director of News and Media Relations Meredith McGlone said. “It’s unfortunate that some in ASM, rather than working with the university to provide aid to students in lawful ways, continue to pursue an impossible effort to misappropriate $2 million in student funds.” 

UW administration continues to push against the relief fund. Vice Chancellor of Finance and Administration Laurent Heller sent an email to ASM Chair Matthew Mitnick urging the student organization to instead work with the Office of Student Financial Aid in order to provide students financial relief. 

In response, the student council plans to take up a vote of “No Confidence” in Heller at their Tuesday meeting, again escalating their clash with administrators over the fund.

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“The divisive tactics that some in ASM are using this year do not serve the best interests of students or the principles of shared governance” McGlone said. 

UW administration and ASM are at odds. While the administration argues against the legality of the COVID Relief Fund, ASM has moved forward with a referendum that they hope will garner student support. 

“They are trying to find an excuse for not implementing something that they don't want to implement,” Rep. Jack Phillips said. “So, we're pretty confident that having the support of the student body to show the administration that trying to block a perfectly legal piece of legislation by claiming that it is not legal is not a popular stance to take.”

ASM will continue to push for the Student Relief fund at their virtual meeting on Tuesday.

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