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This school year, the MSU will be launching their inaugural Emergency Bursary program.

Spearheaded by current VP Finance, Daniel D’Angela, and a group of representatives, the SRA Finance Committee worked to develop a feasible and flexible program that would provide emergency dollars to students with short-term cash-flow issues.

“A lot of schools have some sort of resource dedicated specifically to short-term financial assistance — whether that’s loans, or grants — that was one of the things that we realized isn’t really offered at McMaster,” said D’Angela.

The bursary program was initially suggested during a 2013-14 SRA meeting. The 2014-15 Finance Committee, an Executive Board sub-committee, worked towards completing the program. At the Feb. 22, 2015 meeting, D’Angela announced that the plan would be taken to the Executive Board for approval.

The new program allows students to request up to $500 in financial assistance. There is no limit as to how many students can apply, but the overall budget for the program allots $8,000 from the MSU’s Executive Budget. Students may not receive their full request, but can continue to submit applications until they have reached a cap of $500.

“This isn’t going to solve student financial assistance and accessibility on campus, but I think it’s good that the MSU is offering one tool to help,” said D’Angela.

Created independently of The Financial Aid Office, the program will be fully mandated by the MSU, with one SRA member, one MSU employee and the MSU comptroller, Maggie Gallagher, assessing all of the submitted applications.

The Finance Committee chose to exclude any information about applicants’ OSAP statuses on the application form, as many of them know from personal experience that the OSAP process often has gaps.

“The classic example is that your parents can make enough money that you don’t qualify [for OSAP], but you won’t receive funding even if they aren’t supporting you,” said D’Angela. “Putting an OSAP requirement could be a barrier.”

The new program was not modelled directly after any financial assistance programs, but the committee looked at both Brock University’s Emergency Bursary Program, and the University of Alberta’s student union-run Supplementary Bursary Program for inspiration.

The committee attempted to reach out to community partners who may have been interested in contributing to the bursary budget, but unfortunately did not get much of a response.

This year will be the first run of the program, and hopefully not the last. The Emergency Bursary program is a step in the right direction for financial assistance, and comes at a time when the provincial government has also recently released modifications to the OSAP application process. Students now have the ability to withdraw OSAP funds at different times instead of all at once, are not required to claim their vehicle as an asset, and can exempt the first $3000 of their assets from their financial assessment.

Students can access the Emergency Bursary application through the MSU website, and are required to fill out their general information as well as details about their living and commuting expenses.

While the application does not ask any income-related questions to assess a person’s financial need, they instead focus on living and commuting expenses — things that can be considered day-to-day costs. The program chose this criteria as they think it is a better determinate of short-term cash-flow needs such as money for rent, groceries, or transportation, among other necessities.

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