Free tuition for Gold Star kids on hold

April 11, 2019 07:22 PM

ALBANY - You'd be hard-pressed to find any members of the New York State Legislature who wouldn't do anything and everything they can to help Gold Star Families.

"When I first saw the bill, I said, "What a great idea," Assemblyman John McDonald (D - Cohoes) said. "Any family member who's lost their parent serving our country, whether at combat or during active duty, deserves to have this opportunity to higher education."


That's the same way Assemblyman Robert Smullen (R - Meco) feels.

"For me, as a Marine, this is an issue to stand up and fight for to get vets and their kids what they need," Smullen asserted. "This is a case where clearly, we just need to reprioritize, reprogram money, and reapportion the existing budget. We're not asking for new money, we're asking to use the money that's already been appropriated in a better way to show our value and show our priorities."

When the bill was up for consideration in the Higher Education Committee this week, it was put on hold much to the chagrin of its sponsor, Assemblyman Stephen Hawley (R - Batavia).

"To slap veterans in the face by laying this aside with Democrat and Republican support is mindboggling," Hawley stated.

However, Democrats who control the Higher Education Committee feel they had no choice given the timing of the bill's introduction (after the budget session ended), and without any financial estimates attached to the bill.

"When I see "to be determined" on a bill, that says to me the sponsor is doing this more for political posturing and not for any sincere purpose," McDonald stated. "Gold Star families, they lost somebody and we shouldn't be using them as pawns on political discussions."

"We're not even 10 days out from the budget, the ink isn't dry and this kind of came out of nowhere," Assemblywoman Pat Fahy (D - Albany), pointed out. "We have the utmost respect and care for fallen service men and women who have in so many cases paid the ultimate sacrifice. It saddens me that this gets played out in a political theater in a very unfortunate way."

McDonald goes further.

"It's probably trying to throw red meat on the grill," he said.

Meanwhile, Smullen reiterates his belief that holding the bill at this time illustrates both misplaced priorities and a bit of hypocrisy.

"We did vote in the budget process for the Dream Act," Smullen pointed out. "(We gave) college for undocumented immigrants."

Fahy calls that argument an "unfair comparison."

"I think the federal government should be doing more and I'm very proud of the fact that even where they don't step in, New York state has stepped up and given scholarships, full rides to the extended family of dead soldiers," she said. "I think this has turned into a political attack and it's very unfortunate to pit our esteemed veterans against the families of undocumented residents. I don't think we should be partisan about the way we treat our veterans or their families."

It's true, there are a variety of federal programs through the VA and GI Bill which offer tuition assistance to children of service members who die, but they have to be applied for and in some cases other benefits have to be forfeited in order to claim them.

Several lawmakers seem to think with the end of the legislative session still several weeks down the road, Assembly Bill A-2911 could be revisited. Governor Cuomo agrees.

"I believe these families should be shown the same respect and we have a moral obligation and a social obligation to help those families who lost their provider, their loved one in service to this nation," Cuomo stated. "I would support providing free college tuition to SUNY schools for children of people who are lost in service with the military. We have many more weeks of legislative action, the legislature isn't going anywhere, so there's plenty of time to pass that law and I support it.


Dan Levy

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