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House, Senate Democratic Leadership Release Statements on Legislation for Special Session on the Virginia Military Survivors and Dependents Education Program

"Democrats are proud to support Virginia’s commitment to becoming the most veteran-friendly state in America."

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From the Virginia House and Senate Democratic Caucuses:

House Leadership Release Statement on Legislation for Special Session on the Virginia Military Survivors and Dependents Education Program (VMSDEP)

Richmond, VA – Today, in advance of the upcoming special session on June 28, 2024, the following statement was issued in response to the filing of legislation that will remove new requirements to the Virginia Military Survivor and Dependent Education Program (VMSDEP):

Over the last month, each member of the House of Delegates has heard from families from across the state regarding the changes to the VMSDEP program. This has been a long-standing program that has helped countless military families receive an education, improving the overall well-being of each member. Sustaining this program continues to be a priority, and we will reconvene to repeal the changes recently made to this program in the biennial budget passed last month. We are protecting benefits for all veterans and their families in the 2024-2025 school year while working together on a long-term solution.

“I have always been a steadfast supporter of our military servicemen and women, veterans, and their families, ensuring they receive the support they deserve,” said House Appropriations Chair Delegate Luke Torian (D-Prince William). “I am sponsoring this legislation to restore the program to its previous form until Governor Youngkin’s task force provides a comprehensive report and recommendations on how best to sustain this program long-term for veterans and their families.”

“Veterans have many choices when deciding where to call home, and this program is a major reason why some families choose Virginia after their service,” said Delegate Jackie Glass (D-Norfolk). “I’ve heard from countless families in my district and throughout the Commonwealth about how these changes have disrupted their children’s lives and spouses’ efforts to further their education. I am confident we will ensure that this program continues to be a valuable asset in Virginia.”

“Virginia’s wounded veterans and Gold Star families gave more to this nation than many of us can fathom,” said Delegate Mike Cherry (R-Colonial Heights). “I am proud that both parties were able to work together in order to reverse these changes, and I thank the leadership in both parties–as well as Governor Younkgin–for their attention to this important issue.”

“As a veteran with a service connected disability and 20 years of service in the U.S. Air Force, I deeply understand the critical role this program plays in supporting our veterans and their families in pursuing higher education,” said Delegate Michael Feggans (D-Virginia Beach). “I am proud to serve as a chief co-patron of this legislation, ensuring that these families continue to receive this benefit because of their selfless dedication to our country.”

The Governor’s task force is set to meet again in July and August and will release its recommendations later this year before the 2025 General Assembly. We look forward to hearing from them as they work with all stakeholders to ensure the success and solvency of this program for future generations.

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Virginia Senate Democrats to Convene June 18 to Address VMSDEP Funding for Gold Star Families

RICHMOND, VA – The Virginia Senate will reconvene on Tuesday, June 18, 2024, in the ongoing special session to address technical concerns, including the unintended consequences related to recent changes to the Virginia Military Survivors and Dependents Education Program (VMSDEP). Our actions reaffirm Virginia’s support of our military and law enforcement families whose loved ones have made the ultimate sacrifice for our community.

Today, Senate Democratic Caucus Chair Mamie Locke directed the Clerk of the Senate to notify members to return for work on June 18, 2024.  Senate Finance and Appropriations Chair L. Louise Lucas intends to hear legislation at the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee meeting on June 18, 2024, to:

  • Clarify that all students who enroll in classes by Fall 2024 are grandfathered into the existing Program prior to the budget changes;
  • Exempt from the recent budget changes Gold Star Families, applicable Line of Duty beneficiaries, and those wounded as a result of military combat who are at least 90% disabled;
  •  Require the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) to issue official guidance no later than August 1, 2024;
  • Require the Joint Legislative and Audit Review Commission (JLARC) to review the program and make recommendations prior to the 2025 General Assembly Session; and
  •   Make additional technical adjustments to the state budget unrelated to the VMSDEP program.

VMSDEP, which provides education benefits to the spouses and children of military service members, was significantly expanded in 2019.  The Department of Planning and Budget projected those changes would increase the cost of the program by $5.4 million per year Since the 2019 changes and according to data submitted to SCHEV, program participation rose from 1,387 students to 6,125 students in 2023 and waiver costs increased from $12.0 million to $65.3 million, or a 445% increase. The growth impacts the sustainability of the Program as institutions must offset their revenue loss from waivers through either institutional efficiencies or other revenue sources, including increased tuition on other students.

The changes contained in this year’s budget were passed on a bipartisan vote, and action is necessary now, even as discussions continue about the Program.  After hearing from the veteran community, the proposed changes honor the commitment to those who have given the ultimate sacrifice through military combat, address concerns for students who had planned to enroll in Fall 2024 courses after May 15th, and direct JLARC to independently recommend additional modifications or adjustments to the Program.

“Senate Democrats are proud to support Virginia’s commitment to becoming the most veteran-friendly state in America.  This year’s budget commits over $98 million in state funds to help connect veterans to benefits and care. Additionally, by tax year 2025, veterans will be able to exempt up to $40,000 of their retirement income from state income taxes, saving veterans an estimated $230 million.  We look forward to working with Governor Youngkin and the House of Delegates to examine modifications to the VMSDEP program to ensure its long-term viability,” said Senate Majority Leader Scott Surovell.

“This budget was a product of bipartisan collaboration between the General Assembly and the Governor. We are committed to taking this necessary step to rectify unintended consequences as we continue to work together to conduct an independent review to find a long-term solution for VMSDEP. After my personal experience with massive resistance, I have dedicated my entire legislative career to ensure that everyone can access educational opportunities and reach their full potential. Our budget reflects this belief and the proposed changes reinforce my support for all students,” said Senate Finance and Appropriations Chair L. Louise Lucas.

“Democrats honor our veterans by ensuring they receive needed support and resources. The biennial budget includes an additional $20 million per year to cover a portion of the waiver’s cost to institutions, $102 million each year for operating support, and almost $20 million per year for need-based financial aid.  As the Education Subcommittee Chair for the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee, I am committed to ensuring higher education is affordable for all students,” said Senate Democratic Caucus Chair Mamie E. Locke.

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