The University of Wisconsin Reserve Board approved an amendment to the COVID-19 Student Relief Fund Friday in an attempt to subvert the university’s legal arguments against the legislation.
The COVID-19 Student Relief Fund — which passed Tuesday in an Associated Students of Madison student council meeting — would aid students with housing costs through the distribution of segregated fee reserves.
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In response to the official blockage of the fund by Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration Laurent Heller when ASM tried to authorize the funds’ transfer, ASM Chair Matthew Mitnick and several ASM sponsors proposed an amendment to the Reserve Board which they believe will overcome the university’s legal arguments.
With the university citing its main concern that direct payments to students are not a permitted use of segregated fees, Mitnick said the proposed amendment would work around this legal stipulation by creating student government positions called mask ambassadors. Policy 820 states an exception for direct financial aid to student government leaders.
Mitnick and other sponsors maintain this amendment would undermine the university legal argument because students selected to become mask ambassadors would be in a position of student government leadership, permitting them to receive funds from segregated fees.
The COVID-19 Student Relief Fund application — run by the third-party Tenant Resource Center — would prompt applicants to apply to the mask ambassador position. These positions would be open to all students, though the funds themselves would still prioritize students who are not eligible for federal aid and the positions’ hiring process would reflect this contingency.
Reserve Board member Tessa Reilly raised questions about the purview of the student council to create the position, and several members asked about the qualifications that constitute a student government “leadership” position. Reserve Board member Aerin Leigh Lammers questioned the longevity of the solution to challenge the pillar of UW’s legal argument.
“I see this as a way to get around their argument … but I am just concerned that UW legal is still going to have issues with that and it’s not going to happen,” Lammers said. “I want students to be able to get paid and get the help they need. I’m just concerned that it’s not going to happen.”
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Mitnick argued the position would constitute a leadership position through which providing “direct financial aid as scholarships or stipends to student government leaders” falls within the bounds of 820. Mitnick also said student government has the right to make student government positions as they see fit.
Despite the questions raised about the proposed amendment, the Reserve Board unanimously approved recommending the amendment to the ASM student council. ASM will vote on the amendment in an emergency student council meeting next Tuesday.