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SGA to revive once rejected health referendum

UMKC’s Student Government Association discusses issues and proposals impacting the campus community in recent meeting.

A health and wellness referendum that failed to pass in Spring 2020 is making its way into the Student Government Association (SGA) chambers once again.

Speaker of the Senate Caroline Moriarty says that a health referendum is a priority of hers for the spring semester.

“I think the failure of the fee referendum last year was less about the issue at hand and more about the delivery and structure of the referendum itself,” Moriarty said.

During the 2019-2020 SGA administration, the Ables-Austin Health and Wellness Referendum was introduced to increase UMKC’s Counseling and Student Health Services Fee. According to the proposed referendum, students would be charged a flat rate of $95 per semester, an increase from the current fee of $4.45 per credit hour that caps at $53.40.

The referendum was anticipated to help increase staff members, lengthen service hours and give students better access to appointments.

It was rejected in an online vote by students last spring, with over 55% voting no.

Now, a year after the referendum proposal, Moriarty says that, although nothing can be promised, the Senate is working on how to make the referendum better.

SGA President Mahreen Ansari said that she recognizes the importance of counseling services during the pandemic, but the services on campus have been underfunded.

“We’re in a time where getting that kind of help is more vital than ever, so that’s why legislation around supporting this service is vital,” Ansari said.

However, Ansari says that because a fee increase would be involved in the referendum, the legislation might not garner enough support while students’ finances are strained during the pandemic.

According to UMKC Chancellor Mauli Agrawal, the demand for counseling services on campus have nearly doubled in the past five years. 

Dr. Arnold Abels, the director of Counseling, Health, Testing and Disability Services at UMKC, previously said that the department has still seen staff shortages and a limited budget to create competitive wages for healthcare workers.

Ansari says that taking feedback from students will be critical if the referendum is pursued by the Senate, especially because it will change student fees.  

Health science student Elena Le says that during the original attempt she didn’t know the referendum was being proposed or how it would impact her.

“I think if it were to be brought up again, I think that SGA should have more of a solid set plan in place where they can accurately explain what it is and how the fees would work,” Le said.

Leidy Venegas, a junior political science major, says that although she voted in favor of the 2020 referendum, the SGA could do a better job of describing the referendum.

“SGA could thoroughly explain this referendum in a more timely manner, by displaying the current state of UMKC’s counseling services and display how it would look like,” Venegas said.

Both Le and Venegas said that they believe the department deserves more funding to better serve current and future students, especially during a pandemic.

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