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Fact-Check: Trump Criticizes N.Y. Democrats On Tuition Aid Votes

President Trump took a swipe at New York Democrats on Twitter for not voting to expand tuition benefits for Gold Star families.
Posted at 9:22 AM, Apr 26, 2019

President Donald Trump frequently talks about his support for the military and their families, and he recently criticized New York lawmakers for not doing enough for them.

The president tweeted, "In New York State, Democrats blocked a Bill expanding College Tuition for Gold Star families after approving aid for illegal immigrants."

That tweet is talking about two separate issues. But on both accounts, President Trump's brief description is correct.

First, we'll look at the blocked bill. New York lawmakers considered a bill that would have expanded an existing tuition assistance program for military families. The Military Enhanced Recognition Incentive and Tribute Scholarship, or MERIT Scholarship, pays tuition and room and board for spouses, children and dependents of service members who are killed or severely and permanently disabled in combat. 

The bill's supporters wanted to nix the "in combat" part of the requirements and replace it with "in the line of duty" to make the scholarship available to more families. But Democrats voted to hold the bill in committee, effectively killing it. So President Trump was right to say that Democrats blocked it. 

The aid for undocumented immigrants the president referenced in his tweet came through a separate legislative action. New York passed the DREAM Act in January, giving qualified undocumented immigrants access to financial aid and scholarships for college. The state approved $27 million to fully fund that new law. So President Trump was right: New York lawmakers did approve aid for undocumented immigrants. 

But his brief mention on Twitter does leave out some context. The two votes weren't connected to each other in any way, and the programs involved offer very different types of tuition assistance. The MERIT scholarship fully covers tuition, up to about $24,000 per year. The DREAM Act gives undocumented immigrants the opportunity to apply for state-funded grants and scholarships, but those don't necessarily cover the full cost of tuition.

It's also worth noting that after the bill failed, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo took executive action to expand the MERIT Scholarship to all military families in the state, not just families of those killed or injured in combat zones.

This story is reported in partnership with PolitiFact and is part of an in-depth analysis show called "What The Fact" that airs Sunday mornings on Newsy.