TRENTON – In an effort to combat joblessness and low wages among New Jersey’s returning combat veterans, Senator John H. Adler and Assemblyman Jack Conners have introduced the “New Jersey GI Bill” which would provide higher education benefits to guarantee affordable college education for those engaged in fighting terrorism overseas.
“At the end of World War II, America recognized that it owed something to our returning soldiers, who sacrificed so much in the name of liberty and freedom,” said Senator Adler, D-Cherry Hill. “The federal GI bill made higher education a reality for our nation’s heroic veterans, many of whom never would have imagined a college education might be possible. I am proud to work with Assemblyman Conners to make sure that the promise of the GI bill is fulfilled for New Jersey’s veterans.”
“The New Jersey GI Bill would modernize an American tradition that has enabled generations of New Jersey veterans to obtain a college degree,” said Assemblyman Conners, D-Burlington and Camden. “The brave men and women who have donned US military uniforms deserve all of the help we can muster to provide them with assistance in pursuing their degrees.”
The bill, A-2518 / S-1555, would allow New Jersey’s veterans, or the spouses of veterans killed in the line of duty, to pay only $50 a credit in the pursuit of an associate’s, bachelor’s or graduate degree from any public institution of higher education in the State. The benefit would apply to veterans who served in active duty after September 11, 2001 in Operations “Enduring Freedom” and “Iraqi Freedom.” To qualify, the veterans or their spouses must have been a resident of the State when called for active duty and at the time of application for the program, and must apply for all available State and federal student grant and scholarship programs to which they may be entitled.
According to analysis by the Office of Legislative Services, the annual average cost of education at one of New Jersey’s county colleges is $2,126, while the average cost at a four-year public college is $9,600. Under this legislation, New Jersey’s veterans would pay $1,600 a year for two 16-credit semesters – a full course-load. However, OLS could not project a cost for the program, since it could not predict who would take advantage of the higher education benefit, and what other grants and scholarships qualifying veterans might already receive.
“In the fiscal crisis facing New Jersey, there might be some critics who don’t think we can afford a program like this,” said Senator Adler. “However, these educational benefits would only supplement the other programs that the State and federal governments already offer to fund higher education for veterans. And considering the low wages and unemployment facing many of our younger veterans, we will pay for them in one form or another – whether through a college education or welfare.”
The lawmakers pointed to a recent report from the U.S. Veterans Affairs Department, which found that in 2005, 23% of veterans age 20 to 24 were not in the labor force – many because they could not find a job. In addition, half of the young veterans who did find steady employment were earning less than $25,000 a year.
“It’s disgraceful that New Jersey’s young veterans find the door to opportunity slammed shut in their faces,” said Senator Adler. “These brave men and women put their lives on the line to fight for their country, and return home to find a failing economy and a stagnant job market. By providing an affordable path to higher education, we can better prepare our returning soldiers for the transition to civilian life.”
Senator Adler and Assemblyman Conners pointed out that the need for his legislation is made even more pressing by the fact that 3,000 New Jersey National Guard members are scheduled to be deployed to Iraq in early 2009. The lawmakers suggested that without an investment in education for these Guard members, many will be “stranded in the unemployment line when they come home.”
“If we don’t ensure affordable higher education for our returning veterans now, we are abandoning the 3,000 Guard members who are about to be deployed to lower income brackets and unemployment,” added Senator Adler. “Given all that our brave veterans have risked for their country, we owe them so much more than a lifetime of flipping burgers.”