ASUC Student Advocate’s Office creates Cal-Pays Copay Fund

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The ASUC Student Advocate’s Office, or SAO, has received nearly 60 applications to its Cal-Pays Copay Fund, which supports students with chronic conditions and disabilities, since its launch April 3.

The $30,000 fund, which was created with a grant from the Basic Needs Center and is in its pilot stage, provides awards directly to students, according to Stephanie Chang, grievance division director at the SAO. Chang added that 21 awards have been approved and are in the final stages of processing, for a total of $12,916.62. Applications for the fund are open until May 18.

According to Student Advocate Nava Bearson, the SAO has been collaborating with Katie Savin, a doctoral candidate at the School of Social Welfare, since last spring to create the fund in response to changes to the Student Health Insurance Plan, or SHIP.

“We were concerned about the impacts of this policy change, especially its potential to disportionately harm students with chronic conditions and disabilities,” Bearson said in an email.

According to Chang, the fund may also be used to support students with emergency medical costs they cannot afford due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Chang added that the fund aims to help students with rising out-of-pocket health care costs, especially those with recurring expenses.

Bearson said in the email that due to the number of applications the SAO has received and the “significant financial need” students have in light of the pandemic, the fund is expected to be depleted by summer. She added that the Basic Needs Center will provide at least one more year of funding and the ASUC will allocate some of its remaining funds from this year to the Cal-Pays Copay Fund.

“In the future, we plan to use the insights, data, and partnerships developed through this fund to advocate for SHIP policies and campus resources that provide necessary financial support to students with higher medical costs related to chronic conditions and disabilities,” Bearson said in the email.

COVID-19 has also affected the SAO’s Students with Dependents Fund and Rental Assistance Fund, according to Joyce Huchin, SAO chief of staff and student advocate-elect. She added that the $30,000 Students with Dependents Fund was developed last year, and the $60,000 Rental Assistance Fund was developed in 2016.

According to Huchin, applications for these funds have dramatically increased since early March due to COVID-19.

“The funds were depleted to meet the emergency needs that students were facing at the beginning of this pandemic,” Huchin said in an email. “SAO was awarding students before the Financial Aid and Scholarships Office was able to disburse CARES Act funding and before campus launched the COVID-19 Student Relief Fund.”

Although the Rental Assistance Fund was depleted, it was institutionalized by the Basic Needs Fee, which was passed by the student body last spring, according to Huchin. Its funding will return next year.

“As for the Students with Dependents Fund, we hope to do something similar,” Huchin said in an email. “One of my goals for SAO next year is to explore possible options for how to obtain recurring funding and institutionalize this resource.”

Contact Maya Akkaraju at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @maya_akkaraju.