Congress tells military to reinstate federal tuition aid for troops

Posted March 21, 2013, at 10:16 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — The U.S. Congress on Thursday directed the military to reinstate tuition aid for student-soldiers after federal officials opted to chop the program earlier this month under sequestration.

The Senate passed an amendment to the government six-month spending bill proposed by U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., and Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., on Wednesday. The House took the same action on Thursday, and President Barack Obama is expected to sign the measure into law in the next few days.

“The program is critical to recruiting and retention efforts, and improves the lives of our men and women seeking leadership growth within the military or those transitioning back into the civilian workforce,” Inhofe said Wednesday.

During the past few weeks, Marine Corps, Army, Air Force and Coast Guard officials announced they would be shutting down their tuition aid programs in response the the across-the-board federal cuts that took effect March 1.

The programs give students a maximum of $4,500 per year based on the number of credit hours they take.

The tuition assistance programs have proved popular throughout the nation. According to Army records, 201,000 soldiers used the program in fiscal year 2012, with the federal government paying $373 million toward their educations.

“This is certainly very good news for the brave men and women who are serving their communities and country, and we’re certainly glad to see this move go forward,” Robert Haley, director of the Maine Approving Agency for Veterans’ Education Programs, said Thursday. “This is a vital program for young men and women saving this nation.”

Politicians who were critical of the cut were pleased by the strong support the amendment received.

“The fiscal mismanagement that emanates from Washington, D.C., should not be a burden that’s placed on the backs of our nation’s heroes,” said U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, who co-sponsored Inhofe’s bill. “Given our nation’s dangerous and unsustainable amount of debt, we must cut federal spending and put ourselves on track to long-term fiscal solvency. However, we need to do so in a smarter way that sets priorities and distinguishes programs based on their relative importance, performance, and effectiveness.”

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