The COVID-19 pandemic has left Penn Student Government’s reserve fund with more than $900,000, allowing it to spend more money than usual on new initiatives this year — many of which are intended to benefit first-generation, low-income students and students of color.
After students evacuated campus last March, many Student Activities Council-funded clubs did not use much of the money allocated to them, resulting in an unusually high amount of money left to the reserve fund. College junior and SAC Chair Grayson Peters said that, although the size of the reserve fund, an account that holds unused funds that have been allocated to PSG branches by the University, was due in part to COVID-19, money has been accumulating in the fund for years.
Now, PSG is working with the Office of Student Affairs to use the money to make large, one-time purchases or endowments, including an endowed fund for public service internships and a grocery delivery pilot program for highly aided students.
College junior and Undergraduate Assembly Vice President Mary Sadallah said that OSA approached PSG this fall about the large amount of money in the reserve fund and encouraged PSG to spend it on projects to help students. If PSG Steering, a group made up of the heads of all six PSG branches, does not vote to use the funds, the University can also use the money for projects, Sadallah said.
“It’s student money, so we wanted to jump on that opportunity and use it in ways that we saw fit,” Sadallah said.
College senior and UA President Mercedes Owens said PSG decided to fund five new initiatives out of the reserve fund to help FGLI students and other marginalized communities on campus. One will be a grocery delivery pilot program for highly aided students, which will use $150,000 of the reserve fund. Owens said that she is still working with a vendor to determine the logistics of the program, but she expects to see it running within one month.
Sadallah is leading a $100,000 COVID-19 care package project for students living in Philadelphia, which will include items that help students socialize outside safely, including picnic blankets and beanies, to encourage students to spend time together outside, even in colder weather. Packages will be free for students living near or on campus and all items will be distributed by early April.
PSG also contributed $18,600 to the shipping costs for P sweaters — which are traditionally sold by the junior Class Board each year — for the Class of 2022. Owens said the 2022 Class Board faced unusually high costs for P sweaters this year because of the need to ship to students away from campus.
Another $150,000 will go towards a social equity fund for social events for minority groups on campus. Owens said that, while funding exists for speakers and programming for minority groups, some of these groups lack the independent funding for social events that predominantly white Greek organizations or other clubs have. The social equity fund aims to bridge that gap, Owens said.
PSG will also allocate $320,000 towards an endowed fund for public service research and internship positions that are often unpaid or underpaid, Peters said. PSG is working with the Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships and the Civic House to set up this program.
In August, PSG contributed $250,000 of the reserve fund to fund Black student programming through UMOJA, Makuu: The Black Cultural Center, and the Center for Africana Studies. PSG also called on Penn to match the donation — but the University would not commit to doing so, maintaining that it has increased funding for Black student groups over the past several years.
Owens said that, although not all of these projects will be launched this year — especially the public service internship funding — they all have received approval from OSA to be implemented.
“If [the initiatives] are not implemented this year, the plans, and the infrastructure, and the allocations have already been made, so they will be implemented eventually,” Owens said. “If something doesn't immediately pop up, it takes time to have it be approved and actually implemented.”