Hon. John Boozman, Ranking Republican Member, and a Representative in Congress from the State of Arkansas
Good afternoon everyone. Madam Chairwoman, I appreciate your bringing us together to discuss the future direction of the GI Bill. As in the other programs under our jurisdiction, GI Bill education and training benefits provide veterans and surviving dependents with the opportunity to achieve financial independence outside of any other VA benefits they may receive. According to the College Board, those with a bachelor’s degree will make at least $1 million more over a lifetime than someone with a high school diploma. Clearly, it pays to invest in education and training for veterans.
You and I have held several hearings on this subject over the last three years and we have heard from literally dozens of witnesses about the need to make changes to reflect today’s operational environment. Today, members of the National Guard and Reserves are carrying a huge portion of the War on Terrorism and if nothing else, I hope we can find a way to improve their benefits in a way that reflects their expanded role in our nation’s defense.
I am very concerned that 30% of those who sign up for the GI Bill never use a penny of the benefit. There are many reasons they don’t use their GI Bill benefits, some of which would be difficult to overcome, but I think we can reduce that 30% to a significantly lower number by adding flexibility to the program and I want to work with you on that.
Several of today’s bills would pay veterans what is described as the full cost of education. If that is to be our goal, I think we need a real understanding of the true cost of education to a veteran considering the many sources of financial assistance available today.
For example, according to the College Board, the average tuition and fees at a public 4-year institution is about $5,800 and about $2,300 at 2-year school. Board data also shows that 65% of all students attend 4-year schools with tuition and fees below $9,000 per year, 56% attend public 4-year schools with tuition and fees ranging from $3,000 to $6,000 per year. Finally, the College Board data indicates 41% of all students attend a 2-year school with a net cost, considering all forms of aid at less than $100. I am quoting those figures to show that the full cost of tuition and fees varies significantly and there are opportunities to attend a wide variety of schools at reduced cost. Obviously, room and board costs will add to those costs bringing the 4 year public IHL average to about $14,000 per academic year.
Today, there is a mix of federal, state and institutional financial aid packages available today that did not exist for earlier generations of veterans. Let’s consider just one option and that is the Pell Grant program. The max grant is now about $4,300 per school year. If the grant program did not consider military pay, most freshly discharged veterans would qualify for the full amount. The Pell Grant program also includes several income waivers for veterans that would allow a vet to work part time without impacting the Pell Grant amount. So, between the GI Bill and Pell Grant, a vet could receive over $14,000 for a standard 9 month school year and that would not include any “kickers” or buy-up amounts or other title 4 education benefits. It is also important to recognize that many states offer significant education benefits to veterans or those on active duty or serving in the Guard.
There is some good news. VA has significant progress in lowering the processing time for original and supplemental claims for education benefits. In FY 07, VA averaged about 32 days for an original claim. Today it averages about 23 days. Supplemental claims are down to under 10 days from 13 last year. I wish the folks at C&P could do as well. I note the Education Service has achieved a high level of automation to accomplish that decrease and again, C&P should follow suit.
Finally, madam Chairwoman, you and I would make many improvements if we had the paygo offsets. However, paygo is a fact of life we must live by until Congress changes the budget rules. There are lots of education bills out there, some of which are estimated to cost up to $75 Billion over 10 years. That type of legislation does not appear within the realm of possibility under paygo.
I yield back.