SOFC refunds expenses for student organizations amid COVID-19 crisis

Wednesday, April 8, 2020 - 5:58pm

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Design by Jonathan Walsh

The Central Student Government Student Organization Funding Committee distributes $500,000 to student organizations every semester on a refund system. With student organizations canceling all in-person events following Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” Executive Order and the University of Michigan's recommendation that students return home, it has pivoted to refunding as many organizations as possible for non-refundable expenses. 

“In cases where expenses related to a cancelled event were already paid for and cannot be refunded, SOFC will reimburse these expenses with valid documentation according to our Proof of Payment guidelines,” reads a statement on the SOFC website. “This policy change applies only to expenses that are ‘non-refundable’ and have already been incurred.” 

SOFC distributes its funds in nine waves over the course of the fall and winter semesters. The committee decided to maintain funding for waves seven through nine, for which student organizations must apply by March 23, March 30 and April 6 to be eligible for SOFC funds. 

Business senior Crede Strauser, outgoing chair of SOFC, said roughly $50,000 is available for the last three waves. Strauser said many student organizations are applying for funding for expenses not typically covered by SOFC.

“Organizations are circling back and applying for expenses they maybe hadn’t applied for earlier because of their experience knowing that SOFC is extremely competitive and they wanted to apply for the things they were most likely to get funds for at the time,” Strauser said. 

Typically, leftover SOFC funds rolled over into CSG’s fall budget. For the first time, funding will be available during the summer through a SOFC process, rather than requiring applicants to apply through the Summer Assembly and present their plans in person. Strauser projects $7,000 to $8,000 will be left over for the summer term.  

“I think that those kinds of decisive actions just helps for a lot of organizations to not have that additional concern about their organization potentially having a negative account balance or potentially not being able to carry out their activities once they get back to normal because they don’t have the funds to do so,” Strauser said. 

Michigan Movement, a student-run non-profit focused on combating homelessness and poverty in Washtenaw County, had to cancel its in-person events. Instead of pausing operations, MIM adjusted their work amid the pandemic. 

Though MIM’s seminal MIMKit event, which partners with Ann Arbor’s Mercy House to create more than 100 care packages, had to be canceled after the governor’s stay-at-home order, MIM decided to instead directly provide Mercy House with items it needed most. 

LSA junior Lindsay Calka, vice president of MIM, said the community that benefits from their work is particularly at risk during the pandemic. 

“It was kind of like a double whammy, where not only is this group already going to be suffering effects from decisions made for social distancing and shelter in place, but we couldn’t do the things that could potentially help them in this scenario,” Calka said. “We really didn’t have the option to just stop. We had to pivot what we were doing.”  

Because the items differed from the long-term care items that typically fill MIMKit care packages, MIM had to apply for wave nine SOFC funding. SOFC granted MIM only half of what they requested, even though this exact amount applied for during the eighth funding wave was granted in full. 

“I think priority-wise, we should be seeing how we can be using our money the best way to serve people who need it right now,” Calka said. “I know there’s a lot going on (in the greater CSG budget) but it would have been nice to have that exact award met that we were guaranteed beforehand.” 

Calka said MIM is working on plans to continue serving vulnerable communities with less money than anticipated. They plan on filling funding gaps left both by SOFC and canceled fundraisers by writing grants and applying for funding in other areas. 

Engineering senior Zeke Majeske, a former member of CSG, said the best way for SOFC to support student organizations during this time is for them to improve their process with the newly freed time usually spent reviewing funding applications. 

“(I hope SOFC) spends as much money as they can on organizations and try to come up with improvements in the process so next semester when it gets rolling again, it works even better for students,” Majeske said. 

Reporter Julia Rubin can be reached at julrubin@umich.edu