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Stipend raise, increased applications reduce SOOF allocations

By amanda schallert

Oct. 30, 2013 1:13 a.m.

The original version of this article contained an error and has been changed. See the bottom of the article for additional information.

Student groups are set to receive less funding this fall from an undergraduate student government fund dedicated to supporting them, following a spike in student group demand for funding and a drop in the amount of available funds.

The Undergraduate Students Association Council fund for student group operations was cut by about $35,000 this year because money that would have supplied the fund was instead used to pay for USAC members’ stipend increases, said Jacob Ashendorf, USAC budget review director.

At the same time, the number of student groups who applied for funding from the Student Organizations Operational Fund, commonly known as SOOF, increased from 178 to 232 this fall, Ashendorf said.

As a result, student groups who requested funding from SOOF received about $110 less on average this fall, and average funding allocations dropped from about $480 per group last year to about $370, Ashendorf said.

Students can use money from SOOF to pay for supplies, advertising and retreats for their organizations, among other expenses. USAC officials distribute SOOF funds to student groups during fall and winter quarters.

SOOF is a typically underutilized fund. In recent years, surpluses have racked up to tens of thousands of dollars each year because student groups typically do not claim all of the funds available to them or spend all the money USAC allocates to them.

To adjust to the changes, Ashendorf allotted about 80 percent of SOOF funds this fall and left just 20 percent of funds for winter quarter allocations – a decision that could lead to further reductions in average allocations next quarter.

Ashendorf said he decided to allot more money for this quarter because more groups typically apply for SOOF funding in fall, which he expects will happen again this year. Last year, Ashendorf said he allocated 60 percent of total SOOF funds in fall.

The shortage is due in part to councilmembers raising their own stipends from $355 to $672 with a 8-1-0 vote during August. Along with councilmember stipends, some USAC staff members also saw pay increases because the vote raised stipend caps proportionally for a number students – including leaders of officially registered student organizations, USAC chiefs of staff and project directors.

General Representative Sunny Singh, Financial Supports Commissioner Lauren Rogers and Academic Affairs Commissioner Darren Ramalho did not vote as they were not at the meeting. USAC President John Joanino did not vote because the president customarily does not vote unless there is a tie.

Internal Vice President Avi Oved voted against the increase because he said he did not want to use money that could potentially go to student groups.

He added that his office and other USAC offices launched a campaign to publicize SOOF this quarter and met with numerous student group leaders to educate them about the funding resource. Oved said he thinks the effort contributed to the increase in student group applicants this year.

USAC administrative representatives brought the stipend increase proposal to councilmembers and urged them to raise their pay at meetings over the summer, saying that stipend rates could prevent students with unstable finances from serving in USAC.

USAC administrative representatives and councilmembers also noted that funds that cover stipends have racked up surpluses of more than hundreds of thousands of dollars in recent years.

Though stipend caps for student group leaders who receive funding from SOOF increased from about $275 to $521 this fall, some student group leaders said they will not see the effects because they do not receive stipends. Additionally, funding for student group leader stipends typically comes from SOOF allocations, which decreased this year, Ashendorf said.

Funding for USAC stipends comes from mandatory student fees. After councilmember stipends and other administrative costs are subtracted from the total budget, the money left constitutes the funds that can go toward USAC office budgets, including USAC staff stipends, and student groups.

Swipes for the Homeless, a group that delivers food to homeless people and to people on the streets of Los Angeles, was one of the groups that received about $100 less from SOOF this year, said Benjamin Boodaie, a fourth-year neuroscience student and the co-president of Swipes for the Homeless.

The student leaders of the group do not receive stipends, Boodaie said.

Boodaie added that he is grateful for the funding his group received, but he thinks USAC councilmembers should not have raised councilmember stipends and other USAC member stipends because the decision shifted the distribution of USAC funds in favor USAC members rather than student groups.

“There are plenty of student groups that have very meaningful causes and do great work and student leaders (who) put in up to 20 to 30 hours a week, and they would never ask for a penny,” Boodaie said.

The Pediatric AIDS Coalition is another student organization that saw its funding allocation decrease.

Holly Finertie, a fourth-year economics student and Pediatric AIDS Coalition finance director, said she thinks it is disappointing that her student group received less funding from SOOF this year, but she is still thankful for any money her group can get. Student leaders in the Pediatric AIDS Coalition do not receive stipends for their work.

Finertie said she thinks that the Pediatric AIDS Coalition will likely be able to fundraise to offset the smaller allocation. She added that students in the Pediatric AIDS Coalitions put a large number of hours into their work and do not receive stipends, but she understands the USAC stipend increase decision.

“(USAC members) put in so many hours that I won’t criticize or judge,” Finertie said.

Some student group leaders said they do not think the change in funding allocations will have a large effect on their student groups.

Gayan Seneviratna, a third-year cognitive science student and treasurer for the Regents Scholar Society at UCLA, said his group’s allocation dropped about $70 this year, but that the decrease in funds will not significantly hinder the group in any way.

USAC Student Wellness Commissioner Savannah Badalich voiced her support for the stipend increase more than some other councilmembers.

Badalich said she thinks the decrease in average SOOF funding allocations is unfortunate. She said she made the decision knowing that SOOF was underutilized and did not predict that the number of student group applicants would increase by 30 percent this year.

She added that she thinks that councilmembers should stick by their vote because much of this year’s USAC budget is already set, but that councilmembers must find a way to alleviate any extra financial burden placed on students.

“We have to lie in the bed that we made,” Badalich said. “I don’t know any other way of putting it.”

Correction: Benjamin Boodaie’s name was misspelled.

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