WASHINGTON, D.C. — Congress has adopted an amendment proffered by Surry County’s representative to the U.S. Senate to reinstate tuition assistance for the nation’s service members.
Pres. Barack Obama signed into law the amendment, which was attached to the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act — also known as the Continuing Resolution — Tuesday.
Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC) was joined by Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) to introduce the amendment. Inhofe serves as the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
When Congress and the president were not able to agree on a long-term budget plan, sequestration took effect. That program was adopted as part of the Budget Control Act of 2011, which gave the parties until the end of last year to come up with a way to trim the federal deficit or a series of automatic spending cuts would kick in.
Congress and the president managed to delay the implementation of sequestration several times, but on March 1, the cuts began taking place, eliminating funding to virtually all federal government departments. The tuition assistance program was put on the chopping block by the Defense Department shortly after the cuts took effect.
In the wake of these cuts, forced on the Department of Defense by sequestration, the Air Force, Army and Marine Corps already had decided to suspend the benefits, designed for active duty service members.
Tuition assistance for the military offers financial assistance to service members who choose to pursue off-duty or voluntary education. This assistance offers military members $250 per credit hour, or up to $4,500 each fiscal year. That money can be used to cover tuition, lab fees, enrollment fees, special fees and computer fees.
According to Hagan, last year about 300,000 service men and women participated in the program.
“In the same time period, more than 50,000 degrees, diplomas or certificates were earned by active duty service members enrolled in the program,” she said.
The tuition assistance will be funded by using a portion of $10 billion that is being moved into operations and maintenance accounts for the Department of Defense. The amendment directs the armed forces to use some of that money to restore the tuition assistance program.
Shortly after the amendment was signed into law, Hagan commented that the bipartisan amendment prohibits the program from being reduced beyond the overall percentage, about seven percent, that the Operations and Maintenance accounts are being reduced due to sequestration.
“I am so pleased that my bipartisan amendment to restore the tuition assistance program for service members was signed into law today by the president,” she said Tuesday. “I’m proud to have worked with Republican Senator Inhofe to restore (the program) for our service members who sacrifice so much for our country every day. We cannot balance our budget on the backs of our service members.
“By righting this wrong, we are keeping our promise to these men and women who have never given up on our country. Today, we’re signaling that we won’t give up on them.”
Reach Keith Strange at email@example.com or 719-1929.