Scholarships for children of war veterans delayed amid budget fight

Updated: Oct. 31, 2019 at 8:07 PM EDT
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RALEIGH, N.C. (WBTV) - Scholarships intended to help children of North Carolina combat veterans--including service members killed and wounded in action--have been delayed amid the fight between Republicans in the North Carolina General Assembly and Democrat Governor Roy Cooper over the budget.

The North Carolina Department of Military and Veterans Affairs sent a letter to all community colleges, public universities and private institutions in the state saying the agency would not be paying its scholarship for children of war veterans as expected.

“The State Budget for fiscal year 2019-2020 has not been approved by the General Assembly. Without the approved appropriations, state agencies are unable to budget, plan or deal effectively without their contractual obligations leading to secondary and tertiary costs,” the letter said.

“All payments governed by the NC State Scholarship for Children of War Veterans will be delayed until further notice.”

In an interview Tuesday, Secretary of Military and Veterans Affairs Larry Hall said the scholarships still had not been paid but that his office intended to make the payments by the end of the semester.

“We’ve been paying them for over 70 years. We have the relationships with the universities. They know the money’s coming, they’ve been informed it would be delayed some time,” Hall said.

But in his interview, Hall blamed the delay on the fact that lawmakers failed to appropriate an additional $2.4 million dollars from the state’s escheat fund in addition to money in the budget, like the general assembly did last year. Hall said without that money, his agency would have just more than $9 million to pay the scholarships.

But information gathered by the legislature’s non-partisan Fiscal Research Division staff shows DMVA had adequate money to pay this semester’s scholarships.

In an email chain between Fiscal Research staff and staffers in the office of Senate Republican leader Phil Berger, research staff said DMVA had spent $4.2 million on scholarships by October of last year.

Fiscal Research staff said DMVA personnel told them they didn’t think they had authority to pay this semester’s scholarships without a finalized budget.

“They haven’t been disbursing scholarship funds because they did not think they had authority to do so without a new enacted biennial budget and with no new certified budget,” the Fiscal Research staffer wrote to Berger’s staff.

“That should not be the case. I referred them to the Continuing Resolution statute and told them that there should not be an issue with initiating disbursements,” the email continued.

When presented with the analysis from Fiscal Research Division staff, Hall couldn’t directly answer the question about why his agency could not pay the scholarships in September.

“Well, um, I’m not sure of what their interpretation of it is,” Hall said. “I’m sure that we usually pay by the end of the first semester and so we’re going to pay based on the funds we have available.”

The agency has not responded to a request from WBTV for documents that would show how many students are currently approved to receive the scholarship.

In response to a follow-up question from Berger’s staff, Fiscal Research staffers said DMVA had spent nearly $24 million in other recurring funds authorized in last year’s budget on expenses unrelated to scholarships.

State Senator Danny Britt (R-Robeson) blasted Hall and his agency for delaying the payment of scholarship money.

“They’re not paying it for politics,” Britt said. “And they’re using these children of veterans to make political points.”

Britt said the agency should be able to pay the scholarships with money appropriated through last year’s budget and authorized by the continuing resolution. He said the additional $2.4 million Hall said the agency needed is unnecessary.

Both Britt and Hall agreed that the children of military heroes should not be penalized because of political infighting in Raleigh.

“This should not be a political issue,” Hall said.

“This trickles down to the student and their family when it really wasn’t necessary,” Hall continued, referring to the budget stalemate.

“These children of veterans are stuck there because that’s where the Department of Veterans and Military Affairs (sic) put them,” Britt said.

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