Undergraduate Student Government Tempe unanimously passed a resolution Saturday during a special session calling on ASU President Michael Crow to distribute all of the University's CARES Act funding to students.
The CARES Act resolution asks the University to distribute all $63.5 million to students, including those who graduated in May, and find other internal resources for students who are not included under the legislation, like undocumented and international students.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act passed in March and was signed by President Donald Trump to help "the American people from the public health and economic impacts of COVID-19," according to the Department of the Treasury.
ASU received $63.5 million from the Department of Education, more than any other University, half of which must go to students. According to the DOE, the amount given to all universities was determined by a formula based on the number of full-time students eligible for a Pell Grant, a school's size and the number of students who were not online students prior to COVID-19.
The senate also passed a resolution redefining job descriptions for the chief of staff and senate clerk, described the function of two new departments and created a new article describing how virtual meetings and voting will take place under certain circumstances. In addition, three senators were confirmed after being appointed by their respective college councils.
CARES Act resolution
Senate Resolution 1 is a "resolution on ASU’s failure to acquire and distribute CARES Act funding." It asks the University to use all of the funds given to them and distribute them to students based on need.
It also asks for students from the spring and summer 2020 semesters to be made eligible to receive aid and asks the University to find internal funds to support students not included by the original legislation.
The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Senator Daniel Lopez introduced the symbolic resolution that passed unanimously, with all 14 senators present voting yes.
ASU has announced it will wait to distribute the funds until the fall semester. The University has yet to submit the final plan for distribution to the DOE. Only students currently enrolled would qualify to receive the funds.
In a previous meeting with The State Press, President Crow said the University thinks the real need for distribution of the CARES Act will come in the fall semester, and said "the CARES Act is not a transfer of money to anyone that needs money, it is a transfer of money to anyone that needs money to finish college."
The act states that an institution of higher education "may reserve any amount of an institution's allocation" from the CARES Act for up to a fiscal year to assist students who have faced "unexpected expenses and unmet financial need" due to the coronavirus.
USGT President Jacqueline Palmer and Vice President of Policy Kajol Kapadia both voiced concern over the resolution. They said they supported the resolution but told senators the University may be reluctant to act on it because it is facing its own economic insecurity.
"While ASU has been allocated (around) $64 million … there is nothing written in the legislation that says that all of the money has to go to students," Kapadia, a senior studying economics, said. "I'd just like to remind everyone that there are other costs that ASU is incurring."
But Lopez, along with The College Senators Alexia Isais and Bridget Saidu, pushed back against the executives playing devil's advocate.
"We're asking for more than we can get, not because this is an impossibility, but because of my pessimistic outlook on the University," Lopez said. "Whatever the University does at the end of the day, is not going to be affected by how much CARES Act money they spend or do not spend."
For weeks, Jessica Antonio, a 2020 graduate with degrees in business administration, American Indian studies and nutrition and dietetics, has led student meetings to call on the University to distribute the CARES Act immediately and to send cash grants to Spring and Summer 2020 graduates.
Friday, University officials met with the students over Zoom to discuss the topic and allow students to share their financial troubles that have occurred over the last three months in the wake of COVID-19. USGT senators Lopez, Isais, Saidu and Teacher's College Senator Yamilet Nunez Ibanez, have joined and listened to the students in these meetings and feel it is their job to help.
"There's been a lot of students that came forward saying, I've been skipping meals, I am months behind on rent, I couldn't move home or I had to move home," yet the University's lack of action has left many disappointed and frustrated with ASU, Lopez said.
Lopez said senators take positions in USG to advocate for students and legislate on their behalf and to push administration as much as possible, rather than dictate resolutions and other actions based on what the administration might say in response.
Redefined job descriptions, new senators and confirmations
Amendments to USGT bylaws include a redefinition of the senate clerk's role, clarification of the chief of staff's office hours, the creation of a Department of Finance, Department of Government Affairs and a new article for how to conduct virtual business.
The senate clerk is responsible for recording the minutes, establishing a live stream and record at least five hours of office hours. The chief of staff must oversee the accountability of the organization by working with legislators and executives.
The Department of Finance assists appropriations and finance committees, already established, with training for clubs on the appropriations process, managing the budget, presenting a monthly report of financial activities and recording at least five office hours a week.
The Department of Government Affairs will effectively be a liaison between USG, Tempe City Council, state government and police departments. Their responsibilities will include engaging students on how public policy impacts their lives at ASU and working with the Maricopa County Recorder to allow students to participate in voting. In addition, the appointed director will lead ASU Day at the Capitol, town halls and voter registration training.
A new article allows USGT to hold meetings over Zoom and vote through Google Forms. The senate can call a virtual meeting with the approval of the senate president if the health and safety of members are at risk by meeting or if the University or government officials restrict in-person meetings.
Saturday's meeting is USGT's first, and their first special session. Senators and executives were sworn in prior to the meeting, but Marco Huerta, Rachel Caldwell and Izaac Mansfield were appointed to senate positions by their respective college councils.
Wyatt Myskow is the project manager at The State Press, where he oversees enterprise stories for the publication. He also works at The Arizona Republic, where he covers the cities of Peoria and Surprise.
Piper Hansen is the digital editor-in-chief at The State Press, overseeing all digital content. Joining SP in Spring 2020, she has covered student government, housing and COVID-19. She has previously written about state politics for The Arizona Republic and the Arizona Capitol Times and covers social justice for Cronkite News.