Congress has voted to restore tuition assistance for members of the military, a major benefit that the Army, Air Force and Marine Corps had suspended because of automatic budget cuts.
The House on Thursday approved a continuing resolution that would fund the Pentagon through the rest of the current fiscal year and reverse the services’ suspension of the benefit. The Senate passed the continuing resolution Wednesday.
The funding measure now awaits President Obama’s signature.
“It’s great news. I thought it was kind of a heavy-handed approach to take, suspending it instead of just streamlining it. I’m glad they’re taking a harder look at it,” said Air Force Tech Sgt. Nicholas Kurtz, who has used about $10,000 in tuition assistance to earn an associate degree and work toward a bachelor’s degree.
The suspension of the tuition-assistance program had evoked an outcry from active duty troops who were taking classes in their off-time to earn college degrees.
Tuition assistance provided troops with $250 per class credit, which was critical for service members who had used their GI Bill benefits, or were planning to save them for after their retirement from the military or for their relatives.
The services had suspended the program to help cut $46 billion from the Pentagon’s budget by Sept. 30 and $500 billion over the next decade under the automatic spending cuts that began March 1.
“To be completely honest, I was a little bit shocked they would take something away from us that was so important in our career plan outside of the military,” Marine Pvt. Amanda Hosford said earlier this week. “I just couldn’t believe it. I was furious, actually, because that had been cut when we worked so hard for that.”
It is not clear when tuition assistance would be reinstated.
The continuing resolution requires the services to continue tuition assistance for the remainder of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. It is unclear when tuition assistance would be reinstated permanently, or be extended beyond fiscal 2013.
The Pentagon had been operating under a continuing resolution that held its spending to 2012 levels. The new resolution provides more flexibility to shift money between accounts and mitigate some of the effects of the automatic spending cuts called sequestration.
“We welcome an end to managing under a continuing resolution,” Army Lt. Col. Elizabeth Robbins, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said Thursday. “That said, we are still operating under sequestration and with the lower funding levels that are required by the Budget Control Act.”
The services are awaiting guidance from the defense secretary on how to proceed if the bill is signed into law.
“The legislation is still pending until the budget is signed by the president,” said Marine Corps spokeswoman Heather Hagan. “A Marine administrative message with further guidance on the tuition assistance will be published, which will include an effective date. Until that time, [tuition-assistance] requests will not be processed.”
The decision to restore tuition assistance comes a little late for some service members who did not register for spring classes after the program was suspended earlier this month.
“It’s nice if it does come back, but it’s a little late,” Marine Lance Cpl. Kayla Miller said earlier this week.
One class away from obtaining her associate degree, Cpl. Miller had planned to register for a biology class but didn’t when tuition assistance was canceled.
Now it’s too late to register for the course, which would have cost more than $600, she said. “For me, it doesn’t mean much until the summertime. Why couldn’t this happen sooner?”
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