Governor Cuomo Directs Higher Education Services Corporation To Broaden Interpretation Of Merit Scholarship Eligibility For Gold Star Families

April 17, 2019

From the office of Governor Cuomo

Military Enhanced Recognition Incentive and Tribute Scholarship to Cover Costs of College for Families of New York Military Personnel Killed or Severely Disabled, or Missing in Action While Performing Military Duties

Recognizes and Honors Military Families During Month of the Military Child

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today directed the Higher Education Services Corporation to broaden the interpretation of eligibility for New York's Military Enhanced Recognition Incentive and Tribute (MERIT) Scholarship. Under the new interpretation, college tuition and related costs will be covered for all children, spouses, and financial dependents of members of the United States Armed Forces who die or become severely and permanently disabled, or missing in action while performing their military duties. Under the previous interpretation of the statute, only children, spouses, and financial dependents of veterans killed in a combat zone were eligible for the scholarship. The announcement, made during the Month of the Military Child, honors the sacrifices made by military families every day.

"Military service is more than just the active military member - I believe the entire family is in service, and we will honor that sacrifice and respect that service not just in words, not just with symbols, but with deeds," Governor Cuomo said. "That is why New York is taking immediate action to extend benefits to all those lost or disabled while on active duty, period. We can never replace the loved one lost, but we can lessen the hardship and make it a little easier to deal with the loss, and it is our honor, our obligation and our pleasure to do just that. We hope this gesture helps bring some comfort, peace, relief and justice to those grieving their loss."

"We want to make sure that gold star families have the support they need to receive an affordable, high-quality education," said Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul. "This scholarship program is one of the many ways we honor the men and women of our Armed Forces and pay tribute to New Yorkers who make the ultimate sacrifice while serving our country."

New York State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the daughter of a WWII Veteran and sister of a Vietnam Veteran said, "Ensuring that the families of those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice or have been permanently disabled in service to our nation are provided with a quality higher education is the right thing to do. I commend the Governor and Senator John Brooks, Chair of the Senate Veterans, Homeland Security and Military Affairs Committee, for their efforts on this important issue. I especially thank all of our Veterans and military families."

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said, "The Assembly Majority recognizes the selfless sacrifices made by our military men and women and their families. Since 2003, the MERIT Scholarship program has helped 387 veterans' family members pay for college and I am glad that we are able to meet the needs of our veterans and their families."

Assembly Member Didi Barret, Committee on Veteran's Affairs Chair, said, "Expanding New York State's MERIT Scholarship program to include the children, spouses and financial dependents of all active duty military members who die or are severely or permanently disabled puts the emphasis where it belongs -- on honoring not only our servicemen and women who put their lives on the line for our country, but also on supporting their children and families who in their own way serve and often pay a heartbreaking price."

Senator John Brooks, Committee on Veterans, Homeland Security and Military Affairs Chair, said, "Our heroic servicemembers who fall in the line of duty and make the ultimate sacrifice to protect our nation are owed a debt of gratitude that can never be truly repaid. Thanks to the Governor's support we are going to be able to provide their families with full tuition assistance and ensure that those dependents are going to have the future they should have. We can't make up for the loss of a parent but we can certainly make sure that they get the education they deserve."

Assembly Member Deborah J. Glick, Committee on Higher Education Chair, said, "Of course, we not only fully support and have fully funded college assistance for spouses and children of Gold Star families, we also honor their service and the sacrifice they have made for our country. We have been dismayed and concerned over recent misinformation that could dissuade families from applying for the MERIT Scholarship program. I am grateful to Governor Cuomo for making it clear that these supports are available for families, and for clarifying the eligibility."

Senator Toby Stavisky, Committee on Higher Education Chair, said, "New York's military members have signed up to protect all of us and we have a responsibility to take care of them and their families, especially those who have given the ultimate sacrifice during their service. Today HESC has expanded the support we give family members to ensure there are no roadblocks in attaining a college degree for the next generation. I want to thank Governor Cuomo for his leadership by making this change today and also my colleague Senator Brooks for his service and his voice on this issue. Let us remember the sacrifices made and hope that families won't often need to utilize this program."

Robert Ortt, Ranking Member of the Committee on Veterans, Homeland Security and Military Affairs said, "This issue has always been about doing whatever it takes to ensure that our Gold Star families are treated with the honor and dignity that they deserve. While Gov. Cuomo and I disagree on many issues, in this case, we both recognize that helping the families of our severely injured and deceased service members is something everyone should support."

Assembly Member Steve Hawley, Committee on Veteran's Affairs Member, said, "Gold Star Families and disabled veterans have been neglected for far too long and today we are finally righting an injustice and fulfilling our obligation to them. We will never be able to fully repay our veterans and service members for their role in protecting our nation but I am proud to have led the statewide bipartisan effort to see that the MERIT Scholarship is expanded. It is paramount to cover all of our nation's heroes and their families under this program and I thank Governor Cuomo for doing the right thing."

SUNY Chancellor Kristina M. Johnson said, "It is vitally important that we always stand ready to help the families of fallen and injured servicemen and women during their time of need, and this initiative does just that by helping their children and spouses with free tuition at our SUNY campuses. I applaud the Governor for pushing forward this important initiative to help thousands of families achieve their education goals in honor of the servicemen and women who sacrificed so much for our nation."

Created in 2003 just after the start of the War in Iraq in an effort to provide greater support to New York's military service members, the MERIT Scholarship covers up to four years of full-time undergraduate study (or five years in an approved five-year bachelor's degree program) and includes the following components:

  • Tuition: An amount equal to the actual tuition or the State University of New York's (SUNY) in-state tuition, whichever is less.
  • Non-tuition Costs: Includes room and board and allowances for books, supplies and transportation up to the average cost at SUNY Colleges.
  • Residence: Students living on campus are awarded a higher room and board allowance than a commuter student. If housing is not available for students on campus they will receive the same allowance as students living on campus. For the current academic year, recipients will receive a maximum of $24,250 if living on campus and a maximum of $15,750 if commuting to college. 

In 2018, an estimated 111 students received this award, totaling $1.8 million. Since its implementation in 2003, MERIT scholarships have helped 387 veterans' family members pay their college tuition.

Additional Support for Veterans

Throughout his administration, Governor Cuomo has strengthened the services available for the nearly 750,000 veterans living in New York State, including:

  • Enacting the nation's largest fund for service-disabled veteran-owned businesses, certifying 621 businesses to date
  • Partnering with the federal Department of Veteran Affairs to reduce the backlog of benefit claims
  • Launching the Justice for Heroes Initiative to fund legal clinics at law schools that provide assistance to veterans
  • Providing funding for nonprofits that provide peer-to-peer help for veterans and their families
  • Waiving the application fee for veterans taking Civil Service exams
  • Improving justice for incarcerated veterans

About the State University of New York
The State University of New York, which celebrates its 75th anniversary this year, is the largest comprehensive system of higher education in the United States, and more than 95 percent of all New Yorkers live within 30 miles of any one of SUNY’s 64 colleges and universities. Across the system, SUNY has four academic health centers, five hospitals, four medical schools, two dental schools, a law school, the country’s oldest school of maritime, the state’s only college of optometry, and manages one US Department of Energy National Laboratory. In total, SUNY serves about 1.4 million students amongst its entire portfolio of credit- and non-credit-bearing courses and programs, continuing education, and community outreach programs. SUNY oversees nearly a quarter of academic research in New York. Research expenditures system-wide are nearly $1.1 billion in fiscal year 2022, including significant contributions from students and faculty. There are more than three million SUNY alumni worldwide, and one in three New Yorkers with a college degree is a SUNY alum. To learn more about how SUNY creates opportunities, visit

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