When servicemen and women bravely traveled overseas to defend the nation and its people, some did something that took even more courage. They left behind their children, who did not know if they would see their moms and dads alive again.
Their fearlessness is unquestionable. The question now is whether a bill that would have provided free college tuition and room and board to Gold Star children whose mothers and fathers gave the ultimate sacrifice will make it through the state Assembly.
A similar benefit, known as the Merit Enhanced Recognition Incentive and Tribute, or MERIT, scholarship, adopted in 2003, provides tuition and room and board at State University of New York and City University of New York schools for children of troops who died in a combat zone. The new legislation would expand the benefit to children of troops who were killed or seriously disabled by any means while on active duty.
Assemblyman Jake Ashby, R-107, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, wants to see the legislation approved. He voted against the measure that would prevent it from moving out of committee to come for a vote on the Assembly floor. The vote to hold the bill passed 15-11.
Speaking in stronger, more partisan tones, Assemblyman Chris Tague, R-102, called the committee’s decision “a disgrace.”
“I am simply disgusted,” Tague said. “We have legislation here that would help provide college to the children of some of our fallen heroes, and Democrats move to block it?”
Assemblywoman Didi Barrett, D-106, is not on the Higher Education Committee, but she voted for the original MERIT scholarships in the state budget, which provided $2.7 million in funding.
“I have spoken with my colleagues about the bill which would expand MERIT scholarships beyond the traditional definition of Gold Star families, and while I believe this legislation is well-intended, some unanswered questions remain before it is ready to become law,” Barrett said. Two of those questions is the number of new students who would be eligible for the scholarship and the fiscal impact on the state.
The Assembly must consider the message it will send to all of the soldiers serving in Afghanistan or throughout the world to sit on this bill while they put their lives on the line. And it must ultimately consider the message it sends to the public who are grateful for the service of military personnel. To many New Yorkers, the troops who sacrifice everything always seem to get little in return. It’s time for our state lawmakers to show the same courage.