As most campus institutions have moved to online platforms like Zoom due to COVID-19, ASUSF Senate has done the same. In their first public online meeting on March 25, Senate passed legislation authorizing $10,000 to be allocated from the ASUSF Reserves to the USF Emergency Fund.
The primary purpose of the USF Emergency Fund, which is operated by the Dean of Students’ office, is to provide financial support to students who are impacted by emergencies, such as the COVID-19 outbreak. Students can apply for and receive up to a one-time $600 grant to cover the cost of essential expenses. The fund includes the Student Emergency Disaster Relief Fund and the Student Assistance Fund, which includes the USF Food Pantry — all under the purview of Dean of Students Shannon Gary.
Most Senate legislation sits in a committee for one week before being voted upon. However, for this particular resolution, Senate voted unanimously to suspend its bylaws in order to immediately adopt and transfer funds to the emergency fund.
At the meeting, ASUSF President Hector Bustos told senators that the purpose of the resolution was to help students who are in financial trouble due to the pandemic. Officially titled “Support for the USF Emergency Fund,” the resolution states that Senate would allocate up to $10,000 from the ASUSF Reserves to the fund, as canceled events due to the closure of campus left them with more leftover funds than they had anticipated.
According to Gary, the emergency fund was established in 2016 and has been solely funded by donors. Due to limited funding and an overwhelming number of applications in the days following the University’s announcement to move the remainder of the spring semester online, the Dean of Students’ office cut the maximum amount a student could receive in half, from $600 to $300.
That is where Senate decided to step in. Cassie Murphy, ASUSF vice president for internal affairs, said in an email, “The Dean’s Emergency Fund legislation was drafted to provide immediate, targeted help to students that need financial support related to COVID-19 emergencies. We knew our community was hurting and wanted to help. The Dean’s office had previously been stretched incredibly thin to provide for the increase in request, forcing them to lower the maximum amount available.”
Murphy also explained that any student who previously applied and was capped at $300 can reapply to the fund to qualify for an additional $300, returning their grant amount to the original $600 maximum.
Both graduate and undergraduate students are eligible to apply for the fund due to the additional funding created by Senate’s legislation, as well as from outside donors who directly donated to it. In addition to Senate’s $10,000 contribution, the Graduate Student Senate passed a similar piece of legislation, allocating $20,000 to the fund.
Applicants need to demonstrate financial need, and they must be enrolled in classes at the University in order to qualify — which would make students who are suspended from the University ineligible. However, unlike other funds or programs at the University, like the student laptop program, the emergency fund does not take into account a student’s academic standing or prior conduct history.
Bustos addressed possible concerns with the fund only being available to students who are experiencing financial hardship, saying, “We understand that this might not be able to impact the lives of every undergraduate student. We wanted to provide the financial support that we can at this moment because this is the most that the Senate can do within our purview.”
“In accordance with our Jesuit values and principles the purpose of our fund is to offer assistance to our students most in need,” Gary said. “Students who have had issues academically and/or with conduct continue to be a part of our community. They also deserve assistance if we are able to provide it in some way.”
Currently, the fund is advertised through word of mouth and campus departments such as the Center for Academic Success and Achievement (CASA), the various deans’ offices, and the Department of Student Life, along with different partners, according to Gary.
“The ASUSF donation was a significant gesture and a phenomenal example of us all working together to address the needs of our community,” said Gary. “That along with the generosity of many other members of the community; friends of the University; and the University itself has allowed this fund to exist as a means of support for our students most in need.”
In addition to the $10,000 contribution, Bustos said that he initially wanted to give students a partial refund of the Student Activity Fee, a $121 per semester fee paid by all full-time undergraduate students, since they would no longer be benefiting from it. However, he told senators that partial refunds would be a “logistical nightmare.” Furthermore, Bustos said in an email statement, “The University decided that tuition and fee payments, including the Student Activity Fee, will not be prorated or reversed.”
Bustos explained that the ASUSF Executive Board still wants to use the remainder of the unused fee in its reserves to support students.
Students who wish to apply for the fund can contact the Dean of Students’ office by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.