HARRISBURG — With her daughter by her side, York County resident Elizabeth Benge praised a new law — signed Monday — that will allow National Guard members to extend free college benefits to their spouses and children.
Benge's husband, Seth, is in the National Guard, and her youngest daughter, Katina, will graduate from high school in three years.
“Now that this program has come to fruition," Benge said, "my husband and I are greatly relieved to know that her college dreams will be a reality."
Benge and others joined Gov. Tom Wolf outside the Capitol on Monday morning, as he signed into law the so-called Pennsylvania G.I. Bill, which allows National Guard members who sign on for at least two six-year stints to receive college tuition money not only for themselves, but also for their spouses and children.
Katina Benge, of Red Lion, is one of roughly 8,000 people who are expected to be eligible for the assistance. The program, which applies after participants have exhausted their federal financial aid options, covers the cost of tuition at schools within the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, or an equivalent amount of money at other colleges and universities.
State officials said they know of few other programs like it — Wolf compared it to a program in Minnesota that extends benefits to spouses only — and expect it could become a model for other areas.
“I’ve had at least a dozen other adjutant generals from around the country ask me for copies of our legislation,” Pennsylvania Adjutant Gen. Tony Carrelli, who heads the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, said at a morning news conference. “I know this is going to be copied.”
Pennsylvania lawmakers approved the measure unanimously last week as they wrapped up the state’s $34 billion budget. They set aside $2.6 million in state funding for the program when it launches in August 2020. Once in place, it will cost the state roughly $12 million annually, according to estimates from the Senate Appropriations Committee.