If you’re like many people who are frustrated by government and believe that public outcry won’t compel politicians to take action, then the new tuition waiver for the survivors of deceased military veterans should give us all hope.
For 10 years, the state Legislature refused to pass a bill that would provide free tuition at CUNY and SUNY colleges for the surviving family members of members of the military killed on duty.
The benefit only covered survivors of veterans killed in combat zones.
But most members of the active military and reserve units who are killed while in the service die in non-combat situations, such as training exercises and motor vehicle accidents.
A study conducted by the Congressional Research Service found that between 2006 and 2018, just 28 percent of the nearly 16,000 military deaths in that time were directly related to combat.
New York’s college-education benefit, therefore, excluded many children and spouses who lost loved ones who were actively serving our country when they were killed.
It was a loophole that desperately needed to be closed.
But Assembly Democrats stubbornly held up passage of the legislation and refused to include it in this year’s budget.
The cost to taxpayers of extending the benefit would be minuscule, several hundred thousand dollars at most.
And every state lawmaker knows that even after a state budget has passed, there’s always discretionary money available for unanticipated expenses.
When word got out that lawmakers were refusing the extend the benefit for non-combat deaths, the public got up in arms.
Newspapers (including ours) wrote editorials strongly urging lawmakers to change their minds.
Veterans groups made their voices heard. Citizens signed online petitions and contacted their state representatives. State lawmakers like new Assemblyman Robert Smullen, a retired Marine Corps. colonel, peppered the media and constituents with appeals to get behind the bill.
As momentum built, Gov. Andrew Cuomo went from being an interested observer to a strong advocate, vowing to find the money in the budget if the Legislature would pass the bill.
On Wednesday, the governor ordered the immediate expansion of the program, with lawmakers expected to formally include it in next year’s budget.
This bill had languished in the Legislature for more than a decade and likely would have lingered another year had the public not become educated, enraged and engaged.
That’s how you get government to work on your behalf. It can happen with strong public involvement.
What happened this week is proof that if you demand action, you can get it.