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Monday, March 01, 2021

UW Administration: Moving forward with ASM relief fund “is still not possible”

Vice Chancellor of Finance and Administration Laurent Heller told Associated Students of Madison (ASM) Chair Matthew Mitnick that the student government cannot move forward with their COVID-19 Student Relief Fund.

The announcement comes after ASM tried to aleve UW administration’s legal concerns by creating a Mask Ambassador position during their emergency meeting on Tuesday. 

At the ASM meeting on Jan. 26, representatives first presented and unanimously passed the $2 million relief fund. In partnership with the Tenant Resource Center (TRC), this relief fund would help give cost of living aid to students who may not have benefited from the most recent round of Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act stimulus payments. 

Since the initial meeting, ASM has faced obstacles including UW System Policy 820, a policy which prohibits the distribution of segregated fees to individual students. 

On Tuesday, ASM passed an amendment to their relief fund legislation, which allows for a Mask Ambassador Committee and an indefinite amount of Mask Ambassadors. 

The Mask Ambassador, a student government leadership position, allows for students who apply for this position to be eligible for ASM funds allocated from segregated fees. 

On Thursday, Heller shared his concerns with the relief fund legislation in an email exchange with Mitnick, citing that the UW System and the Office of Legal Affairs (OLA) raised concerns that prevent ASM from moving forward with their plan.

Heller says that along with legal issues, there are also challenges concerning the income taxes that students who benefit from the relief policy would have to pay, along with employer payroll taxes and fringe costs that ASM would be responsible for. 

The OLA pointed out four issues in their legal review of the ASM legislation and amendment. The first issue being that UW’s contract with TRC expired in June 2020 and has not been renewed, so the distribution of $2 million in segregated fees to students based on TRC’s allocation is not authorized. 

The second legal issue concerns the Mask Ambassador position as described in the legislation, as that position is not eligible to receive compensation because of ASM bylaws that require positions with monetary compensation to work for an hourly wage with set responsibilities and recorded hours worked. 

OLA’s third legal issue that they found notes how all students are already required to follow the responsibilities of a Mask Ambassador, for all UW-Madison students are mandated to follow the university’s face covering guidelines.

The fourth legal issue concerns ASM’s requirement to adhere to System Policies, and TRC’s ineligibility through UW System Policy 820 to delegate the allocation of segregated fees as a third party. 

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The email went on to encourage Mitnick and ASM to work with the Student Affairs professional staff and the Office of Student Financial Aid to help ASM follow through with their policy goals. 

In an ASM press release from Wednesday, Mitnick said that ASM is prepared to challenge the administration in court if the COVID-19 Student Relief Fund is blocked. 

ASM oversees the allocation of approximately $50 million in segregated fees each year. The next ASM Student Council meeting will be held virtually on Tuesday. 

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