The undergraduate student government passed a budget Monday that reduces allocations for a fund intended to support student groups by about $30,000, while increasing spending on officer stipends by more than $13,000.
The council allocated $35,857 for the Student Organizations Operational Fund, known as SOOF, down from $68,745 last year. The amount of funding for SOOF is calculated from leftover funds in the budget after administrative and program expenses are accounted for, and has decreased for three consecutive years.
Student groups can use money from SOOF to pay for supplies, advertising and retreats for members, among other expenses. To apply for funding through SOOF, student groups must submit multiple forms and send a representative to a hearing with the Budget Review Committee.
Officer stipends will increase to $840 a month starting in January, up from the current school year stipend of $756 a month, because bylaws tie stipends to the California minimum wage. The stipend is based on a 20-hour work week.
ASUCLA Director Roy Champawat said one major reason for the decrease in SOOF funding is inflation, which reduces the fees USAC receives. Champawat added administrative costs for this year are increasing because the California minimum wage will be raised to $10 an hour starting in January, up from the current $9 an hour.
Heather Rosen, president of the Undergraduate Students Association Council, said there is not much the council can do regarding the increase because it is mandated by the bylaws.
She said in order to make up for the decrease in SOOF, the council cut $9,520 from the Election Board’s advertising budget and the budget for office telephones in Kerckhoff. Rosen added SOOF is typically underutilized, with only 40% of the student groups last year actually spending the money they were allocated.
The council reallocated $6,000 to the Contingency Programming Fund. Student groups can also apply to receive funding from the Contingency Programming Fund, which intends to cover student groups’ event costs rather than operational ones.
Stephanie Wong, Finance Committee chair, said they are looking into ways to make the process for students group funding more efficient. Wong said one option they are considering is eliminating SOOF and moving all of its funds to the Contingency Programming Fund, which she said is much better utilized.
The Contingency Programming Fund has a stable amount of funding every year, as opposed to SOOF, which fluctuates depending on the rest of the budget. Wong said SOOF often has funds leftover when student groups don’t utilize their allocations, but contingency funds are always used because organizations apply to fund specific programs.
Kevin Casasola, a third-year engineering student and executive vice president of Samahang Pilipino, a cultural group, said he thinks part of the reason why SOOF is underutilized is because the process is too bureaucratic and difficult for many groups to navigate.
“I know many engineering groups that have no idea how to apply for USAC funding, and rely mostly on outside funds,” he said. “I think USAC needs to make the process more transparent and reach out to groups.”
Rosen said the Internal Vice President’s office is assembling a universal funding application to simplify the process for student groups .
Jacob Kohlhepp, president of Bruin Republicans, said he thinks the increase in USAC officers stipends are waste of money and come at the expense of student groups.
“Students complain a lot of about rising tuition costs, but they need to start looking at where their fees are going,” he said.
Rosen said the council will later discuss whether to tie stipends to the Los Angeles minimum wage, which is set to increase to $15 by 2020. She added tying the stipends to the Los Angeles minimum wage would require a change in the bylaws.