SGA redirects unused funds to support students, staff

By ABIGAIL CHANG

COURTESY OF JOHN SCHURER
The SGA senate at a March 29 Zoom meeting.

The Student Government Association (SGA) will give $320,000 of its reserve funds to the administration to aid community support efforts amid the Covid-19 pandemic — $200,000 for supporting college staff members and $100,000 for the Student Emergency Fund, according to a bill passed on March 29. The SGA is still considering various uses for the remaining $20,000 in reserve funds.

The $320,000 is this year’s reserve money from the SGA budget, which comes from the student activities fee. Budget money is allocated to various campus organizations, which then return remaining funds back to the SGA at the end of the year so they can be rolled over into the following year.

SGA Treasurer Kenshin Cho ’20 said the reserves were unusually large this year for a number of reasons, including an eight-dollar increase in the student activities fee, a smaller Middlebury College Activities Board budget and very high returns from organizations. Cho said he believes the switch to Oracle last spring might account for the higher returns, since organizations no longer received budget reports and may not have known how much money they had remaining. Cho said SGA’s reserve money is usually around $120,000.

Cho and SGA President Varsha Vijayakumar ’20 worked to bring the bill before the student senate.

“I think it definitely started as much more directly student-oriented. We were trying to find ways to pool more money into the Student Emergency Relief Fund,” Vijayakumar said.

However, the SGA decided to expand the scope of the fund’s recipients after communicating with administrators and receiving an email chain from students concerned about supporting staff. The new bill designates $150,000 for financing staff wage continuity.

The other $50,000 of the sum allocated to supporting staff has not yet been put towards a specific purpose. It might go to the Scott Center’s Chaplains’ Fund, to which staff members can apply for grants or loans, or it could also go toward wage continuity. The SGA is waiting to see if other resources for supporting staff arise before they make any decisions, according to Cho, and want to remain mindful of how some staff are disproportionately affected by the crisis.

“We don’t know the extent of that yet, because I think for a lot of people, the financial impact hasn’t hit yet,” he said.

The fact that the reserves come from the student activities budget was a sticking point during senate conversations about how to use this year’s reserve money throughout the spring. Cho made clear in earlier meetings that, given the source of the money, the reserves should be put towards student activities in some way. Vijayakumar explained why the SGA believes this usage supports student activities.

“I think the way that we considered it was that staff are so critical to the functioning of our college and also to the maintenance of student activities and student programming, and supporting them in any way possible is integral to making sure that we have a smooth environment when students do get to come back,” Vijayakumar said.

The $100,000 that the SGA has pledged to the Student Emergency Fund will help support extra travel, housing, food and other costs students have incurred as a result of Covid-19. In addition to the money from the SGA’s reserves, the college had also raised nearly $49,000 at the time of publication of this article for the fund from donors. It also aggregated money from two preexisting student emergency funds and the Seizing Opportunities Fund, Cho said. 

Students must contact their deans to apply for funding from the Student Emergency Fund.

Cho and Vijayakumar mentioned a few possible plans for the flexible pool of $20,000 yet to be allocated. The money may eventually be given to the staff wage continuity effort or the Student Emergency Fund, but could also be used to support the local businesses that are taking a hit this spring. However, none of those options has been finalized, and Cho said the SGA will continue conversations to determine the most responsible use of that portion of the money.

“From the very beginning, I just wanted to make sure that we were cognizant of the impacts that this crisis might have, and I wanted the SGA to help all of the members of the college community in the best way possible,” Cho said. “And I’m pretty satisfied with the bill as it stands.”