September 18, 2015

Students Helping Students Fund: Under the Microscope

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The Student Assembly will vote on a plan to finance the proposed Anabel’s Grocery by withdrawing $360,000 from the Students Helping Students fund at its meeting next Thursday. However, some have questioned whether this fund, usually reserved for emergencies, is an appropriate source of revenue for the store.

Originally created by the S.A. in 1985, SHS is a fund managed by the Student Assembly Financial Aid Review Committee. According to Gretchen Ryan ’97, associate director of financial aid and student employment, SHS was created “to assist registered Cornell undergraduate students with emergency funding and funding for summer internship expenses that they otherwise could not afford.”

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Despite the criticism, Matthew Stefanko ’16, S.A. vice president of finance and also co-founder of Anabel’s Grocery, said that food insecurity, which Anabel’s Grocery is aiming to combat, is an example of what the SHS exists to fund.

“Food is the third highest expenditure of students after tuition and rent,” Stefanko said. “High cost of living is one of the reasons SHS exists in the first place.”

Emma Johnston ’16, executive vice president of the S.A. and co-founder of Anabel’s Grocery, said that “with the rising cost of tuition, books, and rent, food is often the first thing that students skimp on.”

“The fact that [the SHS fund] has been vastly underutilized over the past several years is inefficient on a campus where many students could be benefiting from the fund,” she said.

From 1985 until 2009, SHS received between $1 and $5 annually per student from the required undergraduate student activity fee, according to Ryan. According to statistics reported by the S.A., undergraduates w tion for the student activity fee in 2014.

“In September 2009, the committee decided to forgo byline funding [from the activity fee] as the economy was in a recession and the committee recognized that byline funding was critical for other organizations to survive,” she said.

According to Ryan, the endowment had become large enough to sustain its annual emergency spending.

“The endowment balance at the end of August was $1,500,358.73,” said Ryan. She added that SHS receives a monthly income of $6,001.97 in interest payout from the endowment, and that nothing has been spent from the operating account thus far this fiscal year.

Despite receiving just over $70,000 per year in interest, in the past nine years SHS has had total annual expenses in amounts not exceeding $32,000, with the exception of in amounts not exceeding $32,000, with the exception of the 2014 fiscal year, during which time the SAFARC rekindled the internship expense program and spent approximately $47,000, Ryan said.­­­

Ben Bacharach ’18, current chair of the SAFARC, said that the SHS is typically used to fund student emergencies and internships. The most recent large drawing from the fund was in April following the Chapter House fire in Collegetown when the fund divvied out on average over $1,000 per student who suffered losses, according to Bacharach.

In order to ensure proper use of the SHS fund, the SAFARC has an application process for those seeking access, according to Bacharach and Ryan.

“As a part of the SHS application [for funding], the student gives written consent for the Office of Financial Aid and Student Employment to contact the provider to confirm the expense,” Ryan said.

In response to criticism and skepticism regarding the usage of SHS to fund the grocery store, Johnston said that even if money is drawn from SHS for the store, “the fund will still be able to provide internship stipends to students and will still be accessible for students seeking funding for other emergency situations.”

Still, publications on campus that include The Cornell Review and The Cornell Progressive oppose the funding of the grocery store.

“A grocery store is expensive. In order to fund the immense start up costs … the proponents of the store thought it wise to raid the ‘Students Help Students’ fund of $360,000 or roughly 25 percent of its principal,” reads a Sept. 12 editorial published by The Progressive.

“The fund also helps financially needy students in emergency situations, such as financing relocations last year after a fire burnt down student apartments, or to pay for airfare for a student to fly to a family member’s funeral. Depleting the principal by such an amount is likely to jeopardize these important programs.”

Franklin Yang ’17, former chair of the SAFARC, said that last year, the resolution for the grocery store came before the SAFARC and was approved. If the S.A. approves the resolution to fund Anabel’s Grocery next week, the store will not need to receive approval from the SAFARC again.

“We had some reservations that we put into the resolution,” Yang said. This included the provision that ‘In order for the money to be given out, they must have a comprehensive business council that is approved by 4C and President Garrett’s office,’” he added.

“We’ll be working to be ready to present to the 4C committee in November, so we hope to solicit approval from the Student Assembly before then,” Johnston said. She said that if the proposal is approved by the S.A., President Garrett will then need to give her final approval.