Many student groups ended the year with thousands of dollars in remaining Student Activities Council funding that they were unable to use during the spring semester, after on-campus activities were canceled due to the pandemic.
SAC President and rising College junior Grayson Peters said groups have until April 30 to use their funding, with unused money going back to the SAC reserve account. Peters added that he does not yet have an estimate for the total SAC funds that are going into the reserve fund, but he expects to have more information by the end of the fiscal year.
The reserve fund is administered by the Office of Student Affairs, and can be used by Penn Student Government to make large one-time purchases, Peters said. PSG leadership works with the Office of Student Affairs to disperse the funds in a manner that “benefits the whole student body,” Peters added.
Of the groups funded by SAC, Sports Club Council receives the largest yearly budget — receiving about a third of the SAC’s budget. SCC then divides this funding among the 35 Sport Clubs it directs, 2020 Wharton graduate and 2019-20 SCC Executive Board member Katie Fazio said.
In an uninterrupted school year, the SCC usually spends all of its allocated budget, but this year about $35,000 went unused, Fazio said.
“Some teams that do most of their competition in March and April were unable to do so,” Fazio said. “So they didn't have the expenses of things like getting a rental car, or getting plane flights or whatever else they'll be using it for.”
She said SAC funding makes up two-thirds of team budgets and is traditionally used for travel expenses — including transportation and lodging. Some teams also use it to cover rental costs such as ice time for the Ice Hockey team and time on ski slopes for the Ski team.
Like the SCC, the Performing Arts Council, which represents over 46 student-run performance organizations — such as Bloomers and Mask and Wig — also receives money from SAC and then divides it among its members.
PAC Financial Coordinator and Rising College senior Hannah Paquet explained that groups typically allot the budget in a range of areas from performance costumes to production costs, and said that various groups had already started buying materials in preparation for production.
“We were ready to go, to start getting into actual production phases and then [coronavirus] hit,” Paquet said regarding Front Row Theatre Co., a theatre company she is in that is represented by PAC. Once this happened, Paquet said, an email from SAC was sent advising them not to spend more of their budget.
She said this was done in order to make sure the University's student groups were not “crazily spending," as groups were still permitted to pay personnel and other expenses they accrued at the beginning of the semester.
The UA, which funds SAC, receives its funding through a portion of the General Fee that is included in each student’s annual cost of attendance. In the 2019-20 academic year, the general fee was $5,136 per student, and the UA received $2,652,036.81. This funding is then distributed by the UA to various student government branches, including SAC which received $1,349,590.30 for the 2019-20 academic year.
Each spring semester, SAC-funded groups submit an annual budget request to SAC to secure funding for the upcoming academic year. SAC then applies its funding guidelines to the requests, and if granted, the group receives the funding they requested at the beginning of the fiscal year — July 1. They can also request funding throughout the academic year from SAC’s contingency fund.
SAC's reserve fund totaled about $1.1 million heading into the 2019-20 academic year. About $700,000 of this was surplus from student groups — money that groups had made on their own through sales —and about $300,000 of it was excess rollover money from past SAC budgets, UA treasurer and rising College senior Kevin Zhou said.
Although the Student Government is unable to use the money earned by student groups, it is able to use the excess rollover money, Zhou said.
Recently, excess rollover money from the reserve fund was used by the Vice Provost for University Life to help with renovations in ARCH. The Social Planning and Events Committee has also recently used the reserve fund in order to help cover costs related to events it is holding. According to Zhou, VPUL used a “couple thousand” from the reserve fund, but was not aware of how much was used by SPEC.
Zhou said the UA is currently discussing various ways to spend the remaining reserve fund from the previous semester.
“There's a lot of possibilities, but basically we were thinking of it like a one-time capital expansion project," Zhou said. Spending the reserve fund on one-time purchases is more practical since the reserve fund consists solely of excess rollover money and is not directly funded, Zhou added.
Along with discussions of a capital expansion project, Zhou said the UA has talked about using the fund to establish “some sort of a refund for students” after the tumultuous spring semester.
In January, the UA and SAC were in discussions to use the SAC reserve account for on-campus rentals by student groups, but in February, SAC decided to use money from its own million-dollar budget to do this.
“We have to be careful what we spend it on,” Zhou said. “We don't give false promises to the student body.”
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