New York state will grant free state tuition and room and board to the families of New York military members killed or disabled while on duty, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Wednesday.
The move comes after President Donald Trump and Republican state lawmakers criticized a decision by Democrats in the state Assembly to block legislation that would have expanded an existing scholarship for Gold Star families.
The state had already covered tuition for dependents and spouses of service members killed or disabled in combat or in training — but that didn’t cover all military deaths of injuries.
Cuomo said Wednesday that there was no need to wait for lawmakers to act, and he had already directed state higher education officials to expand the existing Military Enhanced Recognition Incentive and Tribute scholarship program immediately.
The expanded scholarship will offer children and spouses free tuition and room and board to public colleges and universities — or an equivalent scholarship to attend private schools. The MERIT scholarship offered recipients living on campus a maximum of $24,250 and commuting recipients $15,750 for the 2018-2019 school year.
The expansion is expected to cost “several million dollars,” according to Cuomo, who said it was a small price to honor the sacrifice of fallen service members and their families.
“We owe them everything because they pay the price for our freedom,” Cuomo said.
Republicans blasted the Democrat-led Assembly last week after a GOP bill expanding scholarships for Gold Star families was blocked by a legislative committee. They noted that Democrats had already passed legislation extending state financial aid to students brought into the country illegally as children.
Trump tweeted his way into the debate Friday, two days after Cuomo said he supports making attending a state college or university free for the children of service members who died while performing their official duties.
“In New York State, Democrats blocked a Bill expanding College Tuition for Gold Star families after approving aid for illegal immigrants,” Trump tweeted. “No wonder so many people are leaving N.Y. Very Sad!”
In response, Democrats highlighted the existing scholarship for Gold Star families and asserted Republicans should have pushed for the expansion before lawmakers passed a new state budget April 1.
Assemblyman Phil Palmesano spoke on the matter saying:
I want to thank Gov. Cuomo for listening and doing the right thing for our heroes, the brave men and women who serve to protect us and our freedoms. The governor’s actions today help correct the Assembly Democrats’ egregious error. When they blocked our bill to provide cost-free tuition to the children of service members who die or become severely disabled in the line of duty, it was an insult to our values and an example of politics at its worst.
Make no mistake, though, this should not have taken eleven years, and it shouldn’t have taken a public outcry to get this done. I want to thank Assemblyman Steve Hawley, the chief sponsor of this legislation, for his perseverance and steadfast leadership. I also want to stress to residents the importance of signing our petition and urge them to voice their support for this important legislation and tell Assembly Democrats to finally pass it and permanently codify this into law. I’m very pleased that the governor supports this action and has found the resources for this year, but let’s not make this dependent on who’s in the governor’s mansion. Let’s pass this bill, get it signed into law and do this right.
Above you can also see the full video of Governor Cuomo’s statement.