Virginia Politics

Virginia House repeals eligibility restrictions to veteran tuition benefits

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Virginia's House of Delegates voted unanimously Friday to restore free college tuition at state schools for families of veterans who were killed or seriously disabled while on active duty.

The 92-0 vote would repeal restrictions to the Virginia Military Survivors and Dependents Education Program that had been placed in the state's annual budget earlier this year.

Military families complained about the restrictions after the budget passed. Gov. Glenn Youngkin and legislative leaders have since been trying to appease those dismayed by the change.

The program's popularity has exploded and become increasingly costly for Virginia's state colleges. Over the past five years, enrollment in the program increased from 1,385 students to 6,107. The collective cost has increased from $12 million to $65 million.

To rein in those costs, the budget deal passed last month restricted eligibility to associate and undergraduate degrees, required participants to apply for other forms of financial aid, and tightened residency requirements.

Friday's bill that passed the House eliminates those tighter restrictions. Meanwhile, a task force created by Youngkin is studying the issue and expected to recommend permanent changes to be taken up in next year's legislative session to make the program financially viable.

The House bill now goes to the Senate, which is expected to take up the issue on Monday. Its future in the Senate is unclear. The chair of the Senate's Finance Committee, Democrat L. Louise Lucas, has introduced legislation to delay implementation of the restrictions for a year and commits $45 million of surplus budget funds to cover the program's cost — in addition to $20 million that had already been allocated — while a legislative commission studies the issue.

On Friday, Youngkin urged the Senate to pass the House bill.

“If the Senate Democrat Leadership does not support a repeal of the language, they are holding our veterans, first responders, and their families, hostage. It is time to do the right thing,” Youngkin said in a written statement.

The program also provides benefits to families of first responders who are killed or seriously disabled while on the job.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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