Kaine, Tester introduce bill protecting federal student aid for Gold Star families

U.S. Senators Tim Kaine (D-VA), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee and co-chair of the Senate Military Families Caucus, and Jon Tester (D-MT), ranking member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, introduced the Protect our Gold Star Families’ Education Act, legislation that would expand the Pell Grant program to include the children and dependents of those killed in action in Iraq or Afghanistan after September 11, 2001 to offset their educational expenses.

tim kaineCurrently, students whose parents died as a result of military service in Iraq and Afghanistan after 9/11 are eligible to receive federal student aid for postsecondary education that is equivalent to the maximum Pell Grant award through the Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant. However, as a result of sequestration, the U.S. Department of Education sent a letter in May 2016 to institutions requiring them to reduce the Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant awards by about 7% (or roughly $400 per recipient) for the 2016-2017 award year. The Protect our Gold Star Families’ Education Act would move the Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant to the Pell Grant program to stabilize the funding source for these awards and ensure Gold Star families have access to the maximum the grant funding available.

“Our Gold Star families have made the ultimate sacrifice for this country and ensuring they have access to a quality college education is the right thing to do,” Kaine said. “Moving these grants under the Pell program will provide more security to Gold Star families and help ease the burden of college costs. As more of our post-9/11 Gold Star children are starting to reach college age, now is the right time to improve the grant system.”

“College should never be out-of-reach for families who have sacrificed so much for our freedom,” said Tester. “This bill is an important token of our appreciation to the Gold Star families who gave everything for this nation.  We owe it to these children to ensure they have access to a quality education that can help them achieve the best possible future.”

“The American Legion understands the issues that the younger generation of veterans face today,” The American Legion said. “Ensuring that dependents of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are eligible to obtain financial assistance while attending an institution of higher learning is of great importance to this organization. We applaud Senator Tim Kaine and Senator Jon Tester for addressing this issue and support this piece of legislation.”

While Virginia public universities already offer tuition assistance to dependents whose parents were killed in action or were permanently disabled under the state’s Virginia Military Survivors and Dependents Education Program (VMSDEP), these funds could be used to offset tuition at private institutions and could also cover additional expenses, including room and board, books, and supplies. Over 500 Virginians have attended or are currently attending college at public universities with assistance through VMSDEP and would qualify for these Pell Grants as well.

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