I want to update residents, veterans and their families about the portion of the “Welcome Home” bill that waives tuition and fees for Massachusetts National Guardsmen to attend our state’s community colleges and universities.
First of all, it is important to know that our area’s schools are currently waiving tuition and fees for Guardsmen returning from their brave service overseas. I want to personally thank Fitchburg State College and Mount Wachusett Community College for abiding by the law that was passed unanimously by the Legislature and signed by the governor in November. If any veteran has a problem or issue when applying or attending a state higher education institution, I encourage you to contact my office at (617) 722-2060 for assistance.
This week, I spoke with state Rep. Anthony Verga, D-Gloucester, the House chairman of the Joint Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs and the author of the “Welcome Home” bill. He informed me that when the Legislature passed the “Welcome Home” bill in November, like many state programs — Special Education Circuit Breaker, School Building Assistance, snow and ice fund, etc. — it was intended as a reimbursement program for state colleges and universities that incurred these costs. Sadly, the Board of Higher Education pushed back on this proposal, because it was concerned that a later funding of the program would count against the Board’s future requests for funding increases. Hence, some of our state’s community colleges and universities refused to honor the Welcome Home bill due to this conflict.
While I sympathize with state community colleges and universities that expressed concern over the need for up-front funding, the law is the law, and I am troubled that some National Guardsmen were possibly denied access to a higher education. Fortunately, the law that I supported and voted for has worked for local state colleges, and my understanding is that almost all other state colleges are now doing the same.
I am also troubled by my opponent’s decision to politicize this problem that, in my opinion, is equally the fault of the Legislature and the governor. If he indeed feels as he stated in his letter that “we must speak with a united voice when thanking those who are willing to risk their lives to protect the country we love,” I am confused why he would take what was clearly a bipartisan bill — and a bi-partisan conflict on the funding — and use it to condemn “the Democratic Legislature.”
Contrary to my opponent’s assertions, the “Welcome Home” bill was not the governor’s bill. In fact, Gov. Mitt Romney endorsed Verga’s bill over his own, stating “Last year on Veterans Day I was proud to sign into law a bipartisan bill that provides the most generous benefits in the country for our state’s veterans ”
For interested readers and veterans who would like to learn more about all of the additional benefits the Massachusetts Legislature and Romney have provided to veterans this year under the “Welcome Home” bill and the MERIT bill, visit www.mass.gov. Thank you very much.
JAMES B. ELDRIDGE
37th Middlesex District