Lawmakers look to ease tuition for servicemen, women

Automatic federal spending cuts could mean suspended college aid for servicemen and women. A bipartisan group of New York state lawmakers hopes a new bill will help lessen the potential impact of those cuts.

Members of the state Assembly introduced the Commitment to Military Education Act this week, a measure that aims to reduce tuition for active-duty servicemen and women, many of whom face suspended federal education aid due to sequestration.

Assemblyman Dan Stec, R-Queensbury, is part of a bipartisan group of lawmakers pushing for passage of the bill. Stec is a veteran of the armed services, reaching the rank of lieutenant in the Navy.

“Our servicemen and women shouldn’t be punished by Washington’s political game of sequestration,” he said in a press release. “They put their lives on the line for our freedom every day and deserve the tuition assistance we promised them when they joined the military. Our state should be the leader in ensuring that these heroes receive the aid currently denied to them at the federal level. I urge the governor and the Legislature to take up this bipartisan legislation and show our troops the same commitment they show us every day they serve our nation.”

U.S. Rep. Bill Owens, D-Plattsburgh, told the Enterprise that he’s aware that the Army has decided to suspend tuition assistance for active duty soldiers. He said some other military branches are not taking a similar path, although he wasn’t sure which ones.

“The Army is the one that has the most impact on the district because of Fort Drum,” Owens said.

Owens said the House hasn’t taken any action on the matter. The Senate, meanwhile, passed a measure Wednesday urging the Army, Air Force and Marine Corps to reinstate tuition assistance.

“We certainly will be going back to the Army to suggest to them that we don’t think that this is appropriate,” Owens said. “We’re hoping that the Army will reverse itself and get itself in line with the other services.”

Federal departments and agencies are dealing with across-the-board cuts brought on by the sequester. Each must implement its own cuts. Owens said the Army had to prioritize its spending, which may be why the tuition assistance was suspended.

Paul Smith’s College spokesman Ken Aaron said that according to Amy Tuthill, the college’s director of veteran and transfer services, G.I. Bill benefits aren’t impacted by the sequester. He said tuition assistance benefits through the National Guard and the Army Reserve are frozen.

“We don’t currently have any students using those Tuition Assistance benefits (they’re using the GI Bill benefits),” Aaron wrote in an email. “(Amy has) had a couple of students ask if they’d be affected, and the answer, so far, is ‘no.'”