Saturday, May 18, 2024

Spartan Strong Fund mental health reimbursements remain inaccessible

November 17, 2023
A vigil sits outside the fence of the Union on Feb. 20, 2023. The day before, 'Spartan Sunday' was held on campus where students and the community came together to take back the campus after a mass shooting took place on Feb. 13, 2023.
A vigil sits outside the fence of the Union on Feb. 20, 2023. The day before, 'Spartan Sunday' was held on campus where students and the community came together to take back the campus after a mass shooting took place on Feb. 13, 2023.

About a quarter of the $2 million raised following the campus mass shooting in February remains in limbo, as the university has yet to announce how individuals can access the money. 

The funds come from the Spartan Strong Fund, which raised $2 million from approximately 4,200 donors in the wake of the shooting. 

On June 9, MSU announced that $500,000 of the proceeds would be used to reimburse or directly pay for first responder and mental health care services for students, faculty and staff. According to the press release, "additional information will be shared soon about how to seek reimbursement for these costs."

However, five months later, that information has not yet been shared with the MSU community. 

Michigan State University plans to release information in early 2024 about how individuals can apply for reimbursement for mental health care services used in the wake of Feb. 13, MSU deputy spokesperson Dan Olsen said. 

"The university is carefully and meticulously creating a process by which funds can be accessed for mental health services to ensure we are safeguarding individuals personal information," Olsen said.

Olsen said that while the university has been developing the process of applying for reimbursement through the Spartan Strong Fund, the university has supported students seeking reimbursement through a different fund called the Support Our Spartans Fund

According to the fund’s website, the Support Our Spartans Fund was "created to provide students with immediate financial support to cover educational costs and unanticipated expenses during crises such as accidents, illness, death of a family member, fire damage or need for temporary housing."

The university sent a letter to students in the spring of 2020 providing information on how students could apply for a one-time grant of up to $500 through the fund, recognizing the economic burden brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic for many, according to an MLive report from April 14, 2020.

The university did not widely communicate information on how to apply for reimbursement from this fund following the shooting. 

However, Olsen said the university did direct students who had various needs in the wake of the shooting to the Office for Resource and Support Coordination, which connected students with financial needs to the Support Our Spartans Fund. 

The Office for Resource and Support Coordination was established following the shooting as a best practice for universities that experience mass shootings, Olsen said. 

Olsen said nearly $50,000 from the Support Our Spartans Fund has been distributed to students since February. Then, part of the Spartan Strong Fund's $500,000 allocated to mental health reimbursement was used to replenish the Support Our Spartans Fund. 

Olsen said that MSU students, faculty, staff and community members have also been referred to and are receiving mental health reimbursement support from the Michigan Division of Victims Service via its Michigan State University Response page

The remaining $1.5 million

Of the $2 million raised through the Spartan Strong Fund, $1 million was designated to support those most directly affected by the shooting, including the five injured, the families of the deceased and approximately 50 individuals who were physically uninjured and present in one of the two first-floor Berkey Hall classrooms or the food court kitchen inside the MSU Union.

Olsen said the 50 individuals received institutional grants this fall. He also said the university continues to be in conversations with the families of the deceased to identify additional needs that are unmet by state and federal victim compensation. 

According to Olsen, the university is still in the process of distributing funds to the injured. 

"It’s important to remember that some of this funding will support the cost of tuition, fees and room and board for the remainder of physically injured students' undergraduate careers," Olsen said in an email to The State News Wednesday. 

$200,000 of the $2 million was designated to fund healing and resiliency programming through the Office for Resource and Support Coordination for students, faculty, staff and first responders. 

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Olsen did not provide any details about this programming or name any specific healing or resiliency programs that have been established using these funds. 

$300,000 of the $2 million was designated to fund a permanent memorial on MSU’s campus. 

Olsen said a committee made up of students, faculty and staff is currently in the planning process for the memorial. The committee is planning public engagement opportunities during the spring semester. 

Olsen said communications about these engagement opportunities will be coming at the start of 2024. 

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