Today in New York, lawmakers passed a bill that denies Gold Star family members from receiving free tuition to their City University of New York (CUNY) and State University of New York (SUNY) schools. The bill, does, however, allow for a budget of $27 million for free college tuition for undocumented immigrants.
New York Governor Cuomo stated his disappointment in lawmakers, stating that “We have a moral obligation, a social obligation to help those families who lost their provider, their loved one, in service to this nation.” However, Democrats who voted against this Bill shot back after backlash from the community, stating that this Bill was only meant to expand on the state’s current Military Enhanced Recognition Incentive and Tribute (MERIT) program, which offers free tuition to any Gold Star family member whose service member was killed in the line of duty in combat zones and was originally from New York for SUNY schools.
The bill denied by lawmakers earlier this week was meant to give free tuition to any CUNY or SUNY schools for family members of any branch from any state of residency, not just New York, as well as any open the eligibility to service members killed or severely injured in non-combat zones. Democrat leader Mike Whyland stated that, “It’s a worthy program, but this bill would have expanded the eligibility beyond that scope and should be considered within the context of the budget.”
Leading Republicans disagree. They said the newly expanded MERIT program under the new bill would affect 500 or less New York students, costing the state an additional $6 million dollars per year in addition to the $27 million already paid through the current MERIT program. “We aren’t talking about a huge number here,” says Republican Will Barclay.
Governor Cuomo says that there is a chance the bill could come across his desk this summer, and he would do whatever he could to ensure that it passes. “It requires a legal change but I would support that legal change,” he told New York media outlets.
Many people are frustrated as to why lawmakers would allow a significant increase in a budget for undocumented immigrants free college tuition, but would not pass a bill for family members of military service members who paid the ultimate price for our country. “I think they are trying to justify the unjustifiable in my mind,” Assemblyman Barclay said.
Although this bill was denied by New York lawmakers, there are several other scholarships and grants available to Gold Star family members both nationally and state-based.
Gold Star families are left with huge holes in their hearts when a service member passes away or is severely injured. Many military families rely on the income of our service member especially since military spouse careers are dismal, at best. When they lose that income because of the death of their service member or a severe injury, their whole financial world is flipped upside down in addition to the emotional toll it takes on the entire family. Programs like MERIT and other national and state-based scholarships help relieve some of the burden for families who are just trying to pick up the pieces of their family. Although the number affected by the expanded bill in New York may not be large, those are real families with real children suffering real pain. Many believe that if you can pay for non-US citizens to go to school, you should be able to pay for families whose service members paid the ultimate sacrifice to go to school.
WANT TO READ MORE?
Check out this article on New GI Bill Parameters: What Do They Boil Down To?