Families of all fallen or disabled military members will now be able to get free state tuition and room and board in the state of New York.
An existing program only allowed these benefits to relatives of those killed in a training or combat zone, but Democrat Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Wednesday that he has ordered benefits to extend to survivors of those who suffer all line of duty deaths, according to the Associated Press.
Amid disagreement in the state legislature, Cuomo acted on his own to order the expansion of the existing Military Enhanced Recognition Incentive and Tribute (MERIT) scholarship program, which provides financial aid to all spouses, children, or other dependents of New York-based military service members who either died or became 100 percent disabled in combat or training operations after Aug. 2, 1990.
Under the new program, benefits will be expanded to provide free tuition and room and board at public colleges for children and spouses of fallen service members for any line of duty death. An equivalent amount will be provided via scholarship for those who attend private colleges.
The MERIT scholarship currently provides up to $24,250 for students living on campus, or $15,750 for commuting students.
Cuomo said the cost for upgrading the program will be “several million dollars,” and added, “It is a small price to honor the sacrifice of fallen service members and their families.”
The expanded scholarship will offer children and spouses of fallen servicemembers residing in New York free tuition and room and board to public colleges and universities — or an equivalent scholarship to attend private schools. https://t.co/uziFiL1kql
— Stars and Stripes (@starsandstripes) April 18, 2019
Cuomo said, “To our military families we express our gratitude, our respect and our admiration. We owe them everything because they pay the price for our freedom.”
Cuomo’s announcement comes during the Month of the Military Child and follows shortly behind accusations from Republicans who said the Democrats were blocking legislation that would offer benefits to the military families.
Republicans criticized Democrats last week after a bill expanding scholarships for Gold Star families was blocked by a legislative committee, but they passed an expansion of state financial aid for illegal immigrant children, ABC 7 News reported.
President Donald Trump criticized the blocked legislation, tweeting last week, “In New York State, Democrats blocked a Bill expanding College Tuition for Gold Star families after approving aid for illegal immigrants. No wonder so many people are leaving N.Y. Very Sad!”
In New York State, Democrats blocked a Bill expanding College Tuition for Gold Star families after approving aid for illegal immigrants. No wonder so many people are leaving N.Y. Very Sad!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 13, 2019
Democrats argued that there is already a scholarship program offered to Gold Star families and Republicans may have had more success if they would have tried to expand the current program before the new state budget was approved on April 1.