Democrats set aside $27 million in tuition assistance for the children of undocumented immigrantsin the new state budget— but wouldn’t add hundreds of thousands of dollars to expand a similar program for kids of deceased and disabled veterans.
A bill that has twice passed the state Senate — but never made it through the Assembly — would have added funding to a program that provides free tuition, room and board at any SUNY or CUNY college to children, spouses and financial dependents of “fallen soldiers” who died, became severely disabled or were classified as missing in action while serving in the military after 1990.
Such a program already exists and serves 145 students at a cost of $2.7 million — but only for relatives and dependents of vets who served in combat zones.
The Assembly Higher Education Committee voted 15-11 against allocating more funds to the program as part of the state budget.
Assemblywoman Deborah Glick (D-Manhattan), who chairs the committee, said budget constraints weighed against the program expansion, which she estimated would have cost several hundred thousand dollars.
“We will make every effort to ensure going forward, we have some additional resources allocated to the program so that as an entitlement, it is not falling short of the needs of our military families,” she said.
But State Sen. Robert Ortt (R-Niagara), a sponsor of the measure, said the Assembly’s failure to act sends a distressing signal to military families.
“Assemblywoman Glick should be ashamed of herself,” said Ortt. “We set aside $27 million dollars for college for people that are here illegally… Apparently $2.7 million is all that the families of soldiers who are killed, get. If you’re a child of a fallen solider, you do not rank as high and you know that by the money.”
Glick called the criticism a “cheap shot” on Twitter.
“The bill-though laudable-had a budgetary impact which the committee routinely doesn’t consider post-budget. We did promise to see funding in the future [that] considers potential additional eligible individuals. Cheap shot,” she wrote.
Assemblywoman Judy Griffin (D-L.I), one of four Assembly Democrats who voted in favor of the bill, said it should be a priority next year.
“I voted for the bill because I think it’s important,especially after that FDNY firefighter was killed in Afghanistan, so heartbreaking. But I voted yes knowing the bill would be held because it was a tough budget year and as the chairwoman said, there just wasn’t the funding in the budget. But now we know for next year, [so] we will make it a priority and hopefully pass it.”