Families eligible for assistance would receive free tuition and room and board through a “MERIT” scholarship if they attend a SUNY or CUNY institution. Currently, the Merit Scholarship is awarded to dependents of service members who were killed or permanently disabled in combat zones. The legislation Barclay and his colleagues are advocating for would expand the scholarship to include those service members who died while performing their official duties. After the bill was voted down in committee, Gov. Cuomo announced his support for the legislation.
Based on analysis of the scholarship program, expanding the program would not be a financial strain on the budget as some have suggested. In the 2017-18 school year, 111 recipients received the current Merit scholarship, costing the state $1.8 million in awards for the program. Early estimates indicate that even if the expenditure was doubled, the program would be nearly 14 times less than the cost of the DREAM Act – the program recently enacted to provide tuition assistance to undocumented immigrants. While the additional amount is not inconsequential, when viewed in the context of the whole $175 billion budget and the amounts spent on other programs, it is difficult to claim that this is something New York cannot afford.
“Since the majority’s decision to block a floor vote on this bill, public outcry has been unrelenting,” said Barclay. “With the governor’s support of an already-bipartisan bill, I believe we have an excellent opportunity to pass it into law very soon. Even high estimates show the cost of this bill on taxpayers would be minimal, and it’s a small price to pay for everything these families have lost and suffered.”