Cuomo expands scholarship opportunity for military families

Gov. Andrew Cuomo bypassed a partisan clash in the Legislature by ordering this week that the state expand eligibility for an existing scholarship program that allows the families of military service members who are killed or disabled in combat or combat training to attend any SUNY or CUNY college for free.

Assembly Republicans had lambasted their chamber’s ruling Democrats the previous week for tabling a long-stalled bill that would broaden the MERIT program to apply to families of service members who die while on duty under any circumstances. Democrats, in turn, ripped Republicans for falsely implying the Assembly had blocked a new scholarship for Gold Star families, when the proposal was actually an expansion of a 16-year-old program that New York created at the outset of the Iraq war.

The ensuing media coverage and political jousting worked its way up to the White House, prompting President Trump to tweet: “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!”

Cuomo stepped past that fray by simply expanding the program eligibility through administrative action, rather than legislation. He said on Wednesday that he had instructed the Higher Education Services Corporation to interpret MERIT scholarship eligibility more broadly.

“Military service is more than just the active military member,” Cuomo said in a statement. “I believe the entire family is in service, and we will honor that sacrifice and respect that service not just in words, not just with symbols, but with deeds. That is why New York is taking immediate action to extend benefits to all those lost or disabled while on active duty, period.”

“I am pleased to see that our nation’s fallen heroes and their families will finally be awarded the benefits they deserve after Assembly Democrats allowed this bill to languish in committee for more than a decade,” Assemblyman Karl Brabenec, R-Deerpark, said in a press release. “It shouldn’t have taken a national media firestorm that included pressure from President Trump for us to finally get this done.”

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