Proposed bill decreases veterans and families eligible for benefits

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Photo Credit: Zoe Fu | Daily Texan Staff

Since 1923, veterans in Texas have received educational benefits for themselves and later for their families through the Hazlewood Act, which is now the focus of a bill that would reduce the number of people who can qualify to receive benefits. 

Rep. J.M. Lozano, R-Kingsville, filed House Bill 3766 earlier this month in response to the growing number of veterans and their children using benefits provided through the Hazlewood Act.

“Essentially it’s to deal with runaway costs and make sure the program doesn’t come to an end because it’s facing a real issue here,” said Theo Plowman, legislative director for Lozano. Lozano was unavailable for comment. 

The new bill would require veterans to serve in the military for four years instead of 180 days and the benefits would end 15 years after the veteran is discharged, which would make it harder for veteran’s future children to receive any benefits. If passed, the bill would become active next school year. 

“We’re trying to make it fiscally sustainable for the future and make sure benefits are available for veterans beyond the current term,” Plowman said. “It’s too much of a strain on the state and higher education institutions.”

The funding for the program comes from Texas universities. During the 2010-2011 school year, 667 students received exemptions or waivers through the program, costing the University approximately $6 million. In the 2014-2015 school year, 1,276 students received exemptions or waivers through the program, costing the University approximately $13 million — almost double what the University paid in 2010-2011.  

According to UT System employee Karen Adler,the Hazlewood Legacy Act, which provides benefits to the veteran’s children, costs the System approximately $35 million in the 2016 fiscal year. Adler said this cost is quickly increasing.

“This shortfall, obviously made more dire by the state funding situation, creates a burden that must, inevitably, be borne by other students and their families,” Adler said. 

Rep. César Blanco, D-El Paso, said he disagrees with HB 3766 because it takes away benefits from veterans who deserve help from their government. 

“The legislature made (promises) under the Hazlewood Act and the legacy program to honor our veterans and their families for their service and their sacrifice,” Blanco, who is a veteran, said. “People have to serve in the military and we have to honor that promise that we’ve made. It’s not a hand-out, it’s essentially a thank you for the service from these heroes and the families of these heroes.”

Blanco filed House Bill 3837, which would provide the act with $500 million from the Rainy Day Fund that has around $10 billion. Blanco said this funding would enable the program to continue and would not require universities to pay for the program, which would help keep their tuition rates lower. 

Students with veterans in their families have also voiced their concern. 

Advertising freshman Christina Mendez’s father and brother are both veterans. Although her sister receives the benefits from the legacy portion of the program and her family will not be impacted by this proposed bill, Mendez said the Hazlewood Act has helped her family financially.  

“This helps them not have to worry about paying tuition for their children, so their children could have a better future,” Mendez said. 

A hearing date for HB 3766 has not been set as of yet.