A bill extending higher-education benefits to the children and spouses of Pennsylvania National Guard members who re-enlist for six years was signed into law by Gov. Tom Wolf on Monday.
House Bill 1324, also called the PA GI Bill for Families, creates the Military Family Educational Program to entice Guard members to re-up after serving their first enlistment. The bill unanimously passed the House in May and did the same in the Senate, but with amendments, on June 27, before the House unanimously approved the amended version on June 28.
The program will offer family members 10 semesters of tuition-free education at state schools, such as Clarion, Slippery Rock, Indiana and Edinboro universities.
“This is a great day for our Guard, which is one of the strongest in the nation, and a great day for Pennsylvania, which is now a model for other states seeking to offer similar programs,” state Rep. Chris Sainato, D-9, Union Township, Lawrence County, who co-introduced the bill, said in a statement.
“Best of all,” Sainato said, “the new law is a triumph of bipartisanship. It shows what we can accomplish when we work together.”
State Rep. Stephen Barrar, R-Delaware County, the chairman of the House Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee, was the other prime co-sponsor.
A companion piece was also introduced in the state Senate. Wolf had called for such a benefit in his budget address.
“I would like to thank my colleagues in the House and Senate who unanimously supported my bill, which is the first of its kind in the country,” Barrar said in a statement.
“Also,” Barrar said, “because of advocacy of groups like the Pennsylvania National Guard Associations, we are able to offer another attractive benefit that will be crucial as we recruit 2,300 new members in the next year to replace Guard members who either completed their initial commitments or retired.”
Sainato, the minority chairman of the Veterans Affairs committee, said the law rewards Guard members and their families for their service and provides an incentive for re-enlistment.
“We needed a way to boost Guard retention rates,” Sainato said, “and we also needed a way to meaningfully thank the many families throughout the state for the sacrifices they make each time they say goodbye to a loved one leaving for duty.”
Guard members became eligible for the benefit on July 1. Family members can begin claiming the benefit on Aug. 1, 2020.
© 2019 the Beaver County Times (Beaver, Pa.)
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.