Opening Statement of Congressman G. K. Butterfield
Chairman Stutzman and Ranking Member Braley, thank you for the opportunity to testify before your subcommittee.
We owe our veterans every opportunity to get a quality education and enter the workforce with the tools needed to compete. These returning heroes face an inequity that forces those who attend public colleges to pay more out-of-pocket in tuition than veterans who attend private institutions. This inequity has caused many veterans to drop out of college, transfer, or assume tremendous financial burdens to attend school. H.R. 3483, the Veterans’ Education Equity Act, addresses this problem by granting veterans equal benefits to attend any public or private institution.
In January 2011, the Post-9/11 Veterans’ Educational Improvements Assistance Act became law, reducing education benefits for veterans and separating education benefits for veterans who attend public institutions from veterans who attend private institutions. Before that act was passed, veterans could receive tuition and fees benefits up to the amount charged by the most expensive public institution in each state. Now, the education benefit for a veteran attending a private institution is capped at $17,500. The education benefit available to a veteran who attends a public institution is capped at in-state tuition, which is often less than $17,500. So, often veterans who attend private institutions are eligible for more education benefits than those who attend public institutions.
The table below illustrates how my bill would improve current law by showing its impact on Post-9/11 GI Bill education aid available to veterans at three institutions in North Carolina:
At Elizabeth City State University (ECSU), in-state tuition and fees are $3,828 per year and out-of-state tuition and fees are $13,572. Under current law, a veteran with North Carolina residency attending ECSU would have his full tuition covered. A veteran who is not a resident of North Carolina would be charged $13,572 but only receive $3,828 in education benefits, so he would owe $9,744 out-of-pocket. At East Carolina University (ECU), in-state tuition and fees are $5,317 per year and out-of-state tuition and fees are $17,896, so a veteran with North Carolina residency who attends ECU would have his full tuition covered. A veteran who is not a resident of North Carolina would be charged $17,896 but only receive $5,317 in education benefits, so he would owe $12,579 out-of-pocket. However, if that veteran chose to attend Bennett College which costs $16,794, his education benefits would cover full tuition and fees.
There are 516 veterans at University of North Carolina institutions and 715 veterans in North Carolina Community Colleges who would be immediately assisted by this law. In my District, Air Force veteran Edward Bailey, who attends ECU, faced $6,000 in charges before classes began in fall 2011 after the Post-9/11 Veterans’ Educational Improvements Assistance Act became law. He was forced to take out a $5,000 loan and borrow $1,000 from friends to stay in school. With five semesters of college left, he must find a way to pay for $30,000 in tuition and fees or continue his education elsewhere. Marine Corps veteran Nan Lopata, who also attends ECU, received GI benefits to cover full tuition and fees for her first semester in spring 2011, only to face $6,800 in charges before her second semester in fall 2011. She was unable to afford to continue as a full-time student, potentially delaying her graduation. Two other students attending ECU – James and Mary Murtha – received full tuition GI benefits for their first three academic years before receiving bills in fall 2011 totaling $38,000 to complete their senior years. Their father, active duty Marine Corps Colonel Brian Murtha, was forced to withdraw $36,000 from his retirement funds. We owe it to veterans and their families to protect the benefits they were promised when they joined our military.
Veterans have limited options when their Post-9/11 GI Bill education benefits do not cover their expenses. Veterans may participate in the Yellow Ribbon GI Education Enhancement Program which can cover a portion of the tuition and fees that exceed the base Post-9/11 GI Bill benefit where it exists. However, the Yellow Ribbon Program is only available at institutions which opt into agreements with the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs to match the amount not already covered by the basic Post-9/11 GI Bill. In North Carolina, only 7 out of 74 public institutions participate in the Yellow Ribbon Program, forcing many veterans to pay out-of-pocket tuition and fees that are not covered by Post-9/11 GI Bill education benefits.
For those reasons, this bill has broad support including 57 bipartisan cosponsors. Additionally, veterans’ service organizations (VSOs) including the Student Veterans Advocacy Group (SVAG), Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), the American Legion, American Veterans (AMVETS), American Military Retirees Association (AMRA), and the Armed Forces Foundation, have endorsed this bill. The bill is supported by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU), the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU), the Association of American Universities (AAU), the University of North Carolina System, and the North Carolina Community Colleges System.
The Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO’s) preliminary cost estimate of H.R. 3483 is $1.4 to $1.5 billion over 10 years. When averaged, the annual cost would be only a 2 percent increase from the roughly $7.7 billion spent on the Post-9/11 GI Bill in 2011. The CBO also provided a preliminary cost estimate if the bill were to include a 3 year sunset provision of $400 million over 3 years. The CBO’s preliminary estimate also indicated that up to 30,000 veterans would benefit from this bill. I urge the subcommittee to consider offsets based on efficiencies which do not compromise service or benefits for our veterans.
Lastly, legislation to address inequities in tuition and fees benefits under the Post-9/11 Veterans’ Educational Improvements Assistance Act is not unprecedented. In fact, Chairman Miller introduced H.R. 1383, the Restoring GI Bill Fairness Act, which exempts certain veterans who were enrolled in private colleges from the $17,500 tuition cap. That bill made private institutions more affordable for veterans and unanimously passed the House before being enacted in August 2011. I encourage my colleagues to support this bill in similar bipartisan fashion, and I look forward to your subcommittee’s approval. If we do not correct this problem, up to 30,000 veterans could face paying as much as $75,000 in out-of-pocket tuition costs in a tough economy, and at a time when 13.1 percent of veterans are unemployed.
Let’s treat all of our veterans fairly by passing the Veterans’ Education Equity Act out of committee and helping it become law.