Student government denies a mandatory per diem for traveling student groups

On Wednesday, the ASUO Senate voted not to approve a mandatory per diem food costs for student groups’ travel expenses.

The bylaw, which failed 15 votes to four, required per diem food stipends to be provided to any student group that asks for it. Under the current bylaws, the Senate approves or denies per diem requests on a case-by-case basis.

Per diem expenses cover food costs that student encounter while traveling to conferences and retreats. The standard rate for per diem allocates traveling students $57 for three meals a day while the high cost per diem allocates $68 for the same amount of meals. The differences between standard and high cost localities is meant to account for price changes in different cities.

The vote comes after Senator Luis Pablo Alvarez expressed his concern for underrepresented students’ access to food to the Senate via a post on its Facebook page. Alvarez wrote that the Senate has an obligation to the student body to grant groups per diem.

“Food Security is a platform most of us ran on last year and the year before,” he said. “Here we have a clear opportunity to actually influence the system and make significant change and very little of you seemed to want to do so.”

Senator Cali Hodge said that she is open to providing per diem to student groups but is concerned with the language in Alvarez’s amendment because it would take away the Senate’s discretion to allocate funds.

“Each group has the opportunity to request per diem or to not request per diem” she said.

Other senators, such as Arian Mobasser, said that the language in Alvarez’s bylaw could have unintended consequences

“The bylaw changes as proposed could have unintended consequences of draining our incidental fee budget without creating additional learning opportunities for students who need the most support.” Mobasser said.

Alvarez said that “these are real people on campus” who need assistance from ASUO.

“Most people who ask for funding ask for it because they truly need it,” Alvarez said. “In my opinion it makes no sense that paid professional staff with careers who could probably pay for their own food are guaranteed per diem when they go to conferences on behalf of the University but struggling college students are not.”

In Alvarez’s post, he said that many students told him that food costs were an obstacle to attending events.

“Multiple underrepresented students on campus have repeatedly told me that they do not go to conferences because they depend on food stamps, food pantries or eating cheaply at home — something they can not do while on retreat.”

Wednesday was not the start of the per diem debate in the twenty member Senate. Alvarez said that they discussed a “moderate compromise” on per diem last week with little success. Alvarez’s compromise kept the status quo, but he added that “no negation of per diem shall interfere with a students ability to participate in any ASUO program.” Alvarez said that he believes it gives the Senate the discretion they requested.

The Senate sent the bylaw back to a working committee for revision but according to his Facebook post he received no help from fellow senators.

As a result of the gridlock, Alvarez revised the bylaw and included language which requires that all students be granted per diem.

While the status quo on per diem remains, Alvarez hopes that the Senate will “elevate the needs of students.”

Correction: This post was updated to correct minor grammatical errors 

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Michael Tobin

Michael Tobin

Michael is one of the Emerald's associate news editors. In his free time, he enjoys rock climbing and going to house shows. Drop him a tip via email at [email protected]