ASB continues to fight for better financial aid packages

Student Senate President Naomi Dasari and Director of Legislative Affairs Jacob Couch push for more affordable college by lobbying for SB 291


ARC Student Senate President Naomi Dasari (pictured, right, on Sept. 13, 2019) has been lobbying for SB 291 and more affordable college since last semester. (File photo by Alexis Warren)

Early last year, California lawmakers introduced Senate Bill 291, which would alter financial aid packages so that they include the cost of living while attending a community college. Since then, Naomi Dasari, the newly-appointed Student Senate president at American River College, has made it a priority of hers to get the bill passed and make community college more affordable for her fellow students.

“This was a bill that ASB lobbied on in the Capitol Building last semester. As a legislative analyst, this is the topic that I pushed for in our student senate,” Dasari said. “Then our president [at the time] brought it to the board of trustees, and that’s when they eventually decided that this was the bill that was chosen.”

Dasari points out that current financial aid packages for community college students don’t provide the same kind of assistance that it would for students attending a university. SB 291, if passed, would amend that disparity. 

“The current community college financial aid packages do not include the cost of living, like transportation, food, housing,” Dasari said. “It doesn’t include the price of those items when giving financial aid packages. But for students who are going to CSUs and UCs, it is already included, so oftentimes with these financial aid packages, community colleges can actually be more expensive for low-income students because of the help that UC and CSU students get in that area.”

Since Jacob Couch, ASB director of legislative affairs, is in charge of lobbying efforts for the student senate, he was also involved in advocating for the bill. 

“A lot of the motivation behind [us lobbying] is the fact that there’s just a lot of laws in the current financial aid system, one of those being that [financial aid rewards are] not based off of expected family contributions,” Couch said. “So let’s say you’re an 18-year-old student and your parents are giving you absolutely no help and your parents are well off. You still can’t get financial aid, regardless of the fact that you’re not getting a penny from your parents.”

Due to the state government’s “budget shortfalls,” Couch said he is certain that the bill won’t see any progression for at least another year, if at all. 

“A lot of these programs that are going to be costing the state money are just getting totally wiped out,” Couch said. “And on top of that, a lot of bills that aren’t a necessity are not even getting looked at. So I don’t think the bill will go anywhere this year.”

Couch says the fight for more affordable costs is “far from over”, and that he and the rest of ASB are looking for possible alternatives.

“A lot of our funding comes from the lottery, and we were pushing to get the acceptable uses of the lottery funds expanded so that we can also spend that on basic needs expenditures, but I can’t give an [indication] of how close that is to passing,” Couch said.