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Sunday, January 23, 2022

ASM to vote on workaround to University legal concerns over relief fund

 In an attempt to avoid legal challenges from the UW System, the ASM Reserve Board unanimously recommended an amendment to the COVID Student Relief Fund Friday morning, creating the position of “Mask Ambassador” pending the student council’s approval. 

But what will this legislation do?

The $2 million COVID-19 Student Relief Fund, passed by ASM last week, would be distributed by the Tenant Resource Center, a nonprofit organization that offers housing counseling and information. The amendment to the relief fund legislation, introduced by Chair Matthew Mitnick, would serve as a loophole to allow ASM to disperse those funds. While UW Systems Policy 820 prohibits the use of student segregated fees for rent and utility support for individual students, an exception is given for direct financial aid to student government leaders.  

By creating a student government position for aid recipients, the updated COVID-19 Student Relief Fund may circumvent the administration’s legal concerns. 

“If [a student] is selected to be a recipient of the COVID-19 Student Relief Fund, and happen to also be a Mask Ambassador, per system policy 820, they would be considered a student government leader and therefore would be eligible to receive this aid,” Mitnick explained. 

The fund application, managed by the Tenant Resource Center, would require all applicants to apply to the Mask Ambassador position. These positions would be open to all students, though the funds themselves would prioritize students who are not eligible for federal aid.

The position would entail “adhering to the Campus Guidance on the Use of Face Coverings for the benefit of the Madison community.” Mask Ambassadors, as the job description states, are considered student government leaders, though the role is considered voluntary and is unpaid.

“[The ambassadors] would not be receiving a wage, and instead, would be receiving a direct scholarship, which is pertinent and permissible per the ASM constitution and bylaws,” Mitnick said.

The amendment, which was sponsored by several ASM representatives as well as Ald. Max Prestigiacomo and Supv. Elena Haasl, came with wide support from student leaders and students alike. Dis. 8 alder candidates Ayomi Obuseh and Julianna Bennet, Dis. 4 candidate Reez Bailey and UW BIPOC Coalition co-founder Tarah Stangler were present and spoke in support of the relief fund and against the University’s efforts to reject the legislation.

“We’re talking about people’s livelihoods. We’re talking about people’s lives,” Bennet said. “It doesn’t surprise me that the University is pushing against the wellbeing of students.”

Rep. Jack Phillis echoed the student constituents’ statements. “With all these lawyers, [UW] could defend the legislation that we have passed to help students, using funds collected from students. Instead, they have chosen cruelty,” they concluded.

Reserve Board Chair Tessa Reilly and Vice-Chair Aerin Leigh Lammers raised concerns regarding the legality of the amendment, but ultimately voted in support of recommending it to the full student council. 

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It was suggested by students that spoke in the open forum that members of the board were considering revoking their support for the fund following Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration Laurent Heller’s letter to student leaders blocking the fund. Mitnick’s amendment served as a solution to these suspicions.

“I am very appreciative for how my colleagues Chair Reilly, Chair Jorudd, Vice-Chair Lammers, and Vice-Chair D'Souza stood in solidarity with students today,” Mitnick told the Cardinal following the meeting’s conclusion. “The amendment that was unanimously approved clearly addresses the policy concern outlined in Vice-Chancellor Heller's letter. We look forward to bringing this amendment to Student Council so we can get this fund implemented as soon as possible!"

ASM will vote on the Mask Ambassador amendment in an emergency student council meeting this Tuesday.

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