As Associated Students of Madison tries to move forward with the COVID-19 Student Relief Fund, the University of Wisconsin blocked the legislation’s newest amendment due to continuing legality concerns.
In a memo sent to Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration Laurent Heller from the UW System and Office of Legal Affairs, administrators raised new challenges to the recently amended fund intended to aid students facing housing insecurity.
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Despite the addition of the Mask Ambassador amendment designed to work around UW System policy 820 — which dictates how student segregated fees can be spent — Heller said in an email to ASM leaders obtained by The Badger Herald that the fund still cannot go forward.
“ASM’s proposal still does not address the significant statutory and policy concerns raised by UW System and the Office of Legal Affairs and communicated to you previously,” Heller said in the email. “These concerns are still blocking issues and this means that moving forward as you propose is still not possible.”
The latest OLA legal analysis cites issues with the contract with the Tenant Resource Center in charge of distributing the funds, monetary compensation for the Mask Ambassador position under ASM bylaws and additional violations of existing state and federal law and Board of Regents and UW System policies regarding segregated fees.
The OLA also noted that all students must comply with UW’s public health guidelines, which includes wearing a mask. In addition to asserting that ASM does not have unlimited authority to create positions, Heller said the positions pose potential tax obligations and fringe costs that ASM would have to pay.
“I do not think this is a good solution for the problem you are trying to address,” Heller said in the email. “I again urge you to work with our professional staff in Student Affairs and Office of Student Financial Aid who are available to help you achieve ASM’s policy goals within the unique constraints we face as a public university.”
In a statement of response from ASM Chair Matthew Mitnick and the UW BIPOC Coalition to a later email from Heller, they offered an alternative proposal for the university to help aid students facing eviction and housing insecurity.
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The statement proposes UW use money from the $3.185 billion Wisconsin Foundation endowment to create a $20 million fund to serve students not eligible for the $9.9 million in federal dollars from the CARES Act.
“If you continue to demonstrate a lack of willingness to work with us and continue to put all your efforts and resources into finding ways to dismantle our efforts to provide aid to those most in need, we will have no choice but to move forward with our original plan by whatever means necessary, with or without your support,” the statement said.