SU secures funding for Mental Health Fund

Noah Slaughter | Contributing Reporter

Student Union Treasury and Senate voted unanimously to approve a plan that will guarantee $210,000 in funding for the Student Union Mental Health Fund for five years Tuesday night.

This measure will allow low-income students to continue to receive money for off-campus mental health care through at least the 2024-2025 school year.

The mental health fund gives low-income students the option to apply for money to fully cover the cost of co-pays, testing, medication, transportation and specialized treatment at off-campus mental health facilities. Since its inception in October, 57 students have used a total $21,000 of the initial $32,000 SU contribution to the fund.

According to Treasury Representative junior Shelly Gupta and SU Senate Health and Wellness Committee Chair freshman Gaby Smith, the continuation of the fund will help address current problems with Student Health Services, which they say can be overworked and focus on short-term care. The fund will also remove financial barriers to mental health care.

“We want this to send a message to the student body and to potential other sources of funding, that this is a priority for SU and that we care about mental health,” Smith said. “We care about making sure that mental health is accessible to our students and that it’s a sustainable option to ensure their well-being on this campus and their ability to enjoy their time here to its fullest.”

The five-year plan includes $210,000 from SU guaranteed through fiscal year 2023. The plan also encourages SU to apply for matching funds from donors and University administration. In the event that they cannot raise enough money through matching donations, SU has secured a further $190,000 for fiscal years 2024-2025, for a total of $400,000.

Besides bringing in donors and administration contributions, SU will create an endowment to grow the fund going forward. Currently, only students who are below a certain income threshold set by Student Financial Services are eligible to receive money from the fund, but Gupta and Smith want to continue to raise that threshold so more students are able to get free off-campus mental health care.

“I think it sends a good message to the University that Senate, whose goal is to advocate for student interests, and Treasury, whose goal it is to allocate our student activities fee, can come together and see eye-to-eye on how important this is for the student body,” Gupta said. “I’m hopeful that maybe one day, like five or 10 years down the road, any student who needs mental health care can appeal to this fund.”

Now that the plan has passed Senate and Treasury, Smith and representatives from SU, the Office for Student Success (OSS) and Student Affairs will sign a formal memorandum of understanding that will be in effect for fiscal years 2021-2025.

Gupta and Smith worked with former SU senators senior Tyler Tran and junior Carolyn Perlmutter to develop the plan, which also involved coordination from the Office for Student Success. OSS is responsible for reviewing and granting the mental health fund requests so that students can appeal for money without worrying about other students viewing their personal information.

“The Office for Student Success has been honored to be a partner with Student Union in this regard and is willing and will be able to continue to partner and advance this objective going forward,” Assistant Provost for Student Success Anthony Tillman said.

When SU holds its general budget meeting for fiscal year 2021 next February, money for the fund will already be included and will not be up for a vote.

“We just really wanted to get that memorandum of understanding and have this pass both bodies just so it was very secure,” Smith said. “With the nature of mental health, continuity in care is so important. We took on this initiative and provided this funding for students, and we want to make sure that a student who walks in next year and starts [receiving] this funding is able to receive that funding for all four years. That was definitely just something that’s really important to us.”

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