Congressional Record Statement of Senator Daniel K. Akaka
Mr. President, I am introducing today the proposed GI Bill Miscellaneous Improvements Act of 2008. This measure would make three minor but important changes in existing law relating to veterans' educational assistance programs.
In 2001, Public Law 107-103 established a program of accelerated payments for individuals enrolled in high-cost programs of educational assistance leading to employment in high technology industry. It is generally agreed that the intent of that legislation was that payments were to be effective with respect to short, non-degree programs of education. For example, Senate Report 107-86 stated:
Microsoft, Cisco, and other technical training for certification is offered through training centers, private contractors to community colleges, or by the companies themselves. These courses often last just a few weeks or months, and can cost many thousands of dollars .....
During the Committee's June 28th hearing, Dr. Leo Mackay, Deputy Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, testified that ``providing educational benefits for pursuit of these [technology] courses is fully consonant with MGIB purposes.'' David Tucker, Senior Associate Legislative Director of the Paralyzed Veterans of America, also testified that, ``If the MGIB is to be used not only for recruitment purposes, but also as a means of enabling a veteran to make a smooth transition back to civilian life, then S. 1088 [allowing veterans to use their MGIB benefits in courses leading to certification in technical fields] is a vital means to accomplish these goals.''
As enacted, however, the payments are made to individuals pursuing any courses in the high technology sector including associate and degree programs.
The legislation I am introducing would correct this oversight prospectively, while holding harmless those individuals who might be receiving accelerated payments for degree programs at this time.
Public Law 107-103 also expanded the scope of work that could be assigned to individuals participating in VA work study programs. Specifically, it added to acceptable activities certain outreach services programs, activities relating to hospital and domiciliary care to veterans in State homes, and activities relating to the administration of national or state veterans' cemeteries.
As enacted, this expansion of scope was initially made available until December 31, 2006. Public Law 109-461 extended the scope expansion until June 30, 2007. Since legislation extending the scope expansion was stalled in Congress, there was a disruption in the provision of these important activities until Public Law 110-157, enacted on December 26, 2007, extended this expansion until June 30, 2010.
My proposal would make this activity expansion permanent so that the unfortunate disruption that occurred this year will not occur in the future. I note that this provision does not affect the number of VA work study positions that may be made available. It only addresses the type of activities that may be carried out under the program.
Finally, this bill would authorize appropriations for VA payments to State Approving Agencies. Under provisions of chapter 36 of title 38, U.S. Code, VA contracts for the services of State approving agencies--SAAs--for the purpose of approving programs of education at institutions of higher learning, apprenticeship programs, on -job training programs, and other programs. SAAs are also tasked with assisting VA with various outreach activities to inform eligible VA program participants of the educational assistance benefits to which they are entitled.
Since 1988, VA payment for the services of SAAs has been made only out of funds available for readjustment benefits, a mandatory funding account, and has thus been subject to funding caps. Section 3674(a)(4) of title 38, U.S. Code, states as follows: ``The total amount made available under this section for any fiscal year may not exceed $13,000,000 or, for fiscal year 2007, $19,000,000.'' Thus, under existing law, the cap on the amount of funds that could be made available in fiscal years 2008 and beyond would revert to funding levels applied prior to fiscal year 2000--or a reduction of more than 32 percent.
A provision in S. 1315 that would restore the $19 million cap on funding is currently pending in the Senate, and a $19 million funding level was provided for through the appropriations process. However, the measure I am introducing would look beyond this fiscal year and address the needs of the program in the future.
By authorizing appropriations for the SAAs, I believe that the program will be able to justify increases in the current funding level beyond the $19 million level to which they would be restricted for all fiscal years going forward. Further, I believe that the current cap on funding, although to some appearing attractive because it seems to offer some stability by pulling from the mandatory funding readjustment benefits account, actually offers no such stability as VA could at any time determine that $2 million ``does not exceed'' $19 million.
I am committed to seeking an adequate level of funding for the important activities of the SAAs and believe that this approach would assist in achieving that goal.
Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the text of the bill be printed in the RECORD.
March 3, 2008