CONGRESSWOMAN ELISE STEFANIK
On Monday, May 23, 2011, the House is scheduled consider H.R. 1383 under a suspension of the rules, requiring a two-thirds majority vote for passage. The resolution was introduced by Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL) on April 6, 2011, and referred to the Committee on Veterans Affairs. The full Committee considered the bill and held a mark-up session on May 12, 2011, with the bill passing by a recorded vote of 13-6.
H.R. 1383 would make the amount payable for programs of education at nonpublic institutions of higher education pursued by individuals enrolled in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) post-9/11 educational assistance program (post-9/11 program) during the period beginning on August 1, 2011, and ending on July 31, 2014, the greater of $17,500, or the established charges payable under a VA maximum payments table published on October 27, 2010.
The bill would also provide a limitation on the maximum monthly stipend payable under the post-9/11 program during the 24-month period beginning on August 1, 2011.
The Post-9/11 GI Bill (Chapter 33 of title 38 United States Code) was signed into law by President Bush as section 5003(a)(1) of title V of Public Law 110-252 on June 30, 2008, and was effective August 1, 2009. Under the new program, VA would pay 100 percent of the maximum in-state undergraduate tuition and fees on behalf of a veteran with at least 36 cumulative months of active duty service since September 11, 2001. The maximum payment would apply to veterans attending both public and private degree-granting institutions of higher learning. Veterans with fewer than 36 months of active duty would be eligible for a tiered structure of payments that reflected a 10 percent reduction in the maximum in-state undergraduate tuition and fees for each six months of active duty served below the 36-month standard.
Based on the state rate formula, VA made tuition and fee payments in excess of $20,000 per school year for veterans attending some private institutions. Many of those students will fall under the $17,500 cap set by Public Law 111-377.
In addition to tuition and fee payments, the new Post-9/11 GI Bill provides a monthly living stipend. Veterans enrolled greater than one half time in a course of study that includes at least one traditional classroom-based course during the academic period are eligible for a monthly living stipend. The stipend is the same amount paid to an E-5 (generally the pay grade of a sergeant or petty officer second class) at the `with-dependents' rate in the zip code of the school the veteran is attending. For example, a veteran attending the University of Maryland in College Park, Maryland, receives $1,881 per month for the 2010-2011 school year. Veterans enrolled in education delivered solely online were not eligible for the monthly stipend. Finally, the program also provided a $1,000 book stipend per school year.
Despite these very generous benefits, some tuition and fees at some schools, both public and private, exceeded the state-based formula. To minimize or eliminate veterans' out-of-pocket costs, the Post-9/11 GI Bill featured a Yellow Ribbon program which authorized VA to share those excess costs with schools on a dollar-for-dollar matching basis. The Yellow Ribbon provision continues unchanged.
The Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Improvements Act of 2010 (Public Law 111-377), which was enacted on January 4, 2011 made several changes to the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Those changes included a reduction of tuition and fee payments for veterans attending non-public institutions to an annual maximum of $17,500 effective August 1, 2011. P.L. 111-377 also reduced tuition and fee payments for non-resident veterans attending public institutions at the out-of-state rate to the actual in-state rate charged by the institution.
Although the cap of $17,500 a year will be a potential increase in payments for veterans in most states, some veterans attending non-public schools in New York, Arizona, Michigan, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Texas, will see their tuition and fees payments reduced. Reducing tuition and fee payments will force veterans in these states to rely on increased Yellow Ribbon contributions by schools or to find non-GI Bill resources such as loans, grants, or employment income.
During his May 3, 2011 Subcommittee testimony on H.R. 1383, Tom Tarantino, representing the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) stated, “IAVA proudly supports H.R. 1383. This bill will ensure that a small minority of veterans who, due to poorly constructed and confusing tuition and fee regulations, would have had their benefits reduced as a result of the Post-9/11 GI Bill's expansion.”
The failure to ‘grandfather’ affected veterans will create an inequity since many of the veterans enrolled in high cost schools based on the presumption that they would receive at least the highest in-state tuition and fee rate. This grandfathering provision would apply to veterans who began their enrollments prior to April 1, 2011. Veterans who initially enroll after that date would be subject to the existing $17,500.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates bill would decrease direct spending by $5 million over the 2012-2016 and 2012-2021 periods. Pay-as-you-go (PAYGO) procedures apply because enacting the legislation would affect direct spending. Enacting the bill would not affect revenues.
As noted in the House Report (112-081) accompanying the bill, to meet statutory PAYGO offset requirements, the bill would freeze the monthly living stipend for all Post-9/11 participants at the rates in effect for the 2010-2011 academic year for a period of 24 months beginning October 1, 2011. In the past, Congress has used similar offsets when used to improve veterans' benefits as is being done in H.R. 1383, as amended. For example, Public Law 111-377 saved nearly $4 billion in veterans benefits by capping tuition and fee payments and eliminating monthly living stipend payments during semester intervals.