By Michael P. Riccards
In 1944, Congress and President Franklin D. Roosevelt approved the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act, commonly known as the GI Bill. Originated by the American Legion, the act provided a series of benefits for returning veterans. Only about 6% of the armed forces saw combat, but all were eligible. Among those who took advantage of the act were George H. W. Bush, Gerald Ford, Al Gore Jr., William Rehnquist, John Paul Stevens, David Brinkley, John Chancellor, Clint Eastwood, Paul Newman and Tom Landry.
Aside from Social Security, the GI Bill is one of the most popular federal programs initiated by the government. Benefits have been enlarged over the years. They included, at first, low-cost mortgages, low-interest loans to start a business or farm, one year of unemployment compensation and dedicated payments of tuition and living expenses to attend high school, college or vocational school. Benefits were available for veterans who had served at least 90 days and were honorably discharged.
This proposal for heroes is meant to deal with heroic sacrifices made in the pandemic of 2020 and who served their nation in its time of peril.
Who is Eligible?
Those who served during this period of national emergency, certified by executive order by governors or other government agencies, will be eligible.
This group includes medical responders, hospital workers. including in tribal clinics, and related medical servers. Also included will be those who were called essential workers and were so defined by the president’s executive orders. Doctors, nurses and medical providers may use these funds to help pay off educational debts.
It is obvious that these sacrifices were above and beyond the call of duty. When the pandemic subsides, these individuals should reap some benefits that extraordinary expressions of valor warrant.
The provisions in the GI Bill had incredible unintended consequences. They created a new middle class that produced a wave of prosperity and general uplift of the population. This new bill will create a new middle class, one that will focus on newer immigrant and first generation Americans who will be able to use their educational opportunity and financial security to buttress the very underpinnings of modern American democracy. Questions of income inequality will be muted, and the entire nation will benefit from many more health care workers who may be needed as we continue to fight other pandemics.
Since these provisions are so similar to the GI Bill of Rights, they will be administrated by the Department of Veterans Affairs by a special committee of six members appointed by the president and each house of the U.S. Congress.
The Income Tax Code provides all sorts of investment benefits, recognizing that such allocations create economic and social opportunities. Public policy studies, including one conducted by the Hall Institute of Public Policy, show that the GI Bill brought a 6-1 multiplier effect in the long run to the federal treasury. It proves that the best investment in America is in Americans.
And so, we can use this program to eliminate the pernicious effects of race, class and gender by acknowledging the heroic contributions of those who served so many of us at peril to theirselves.
Michael P. Riccards, president of the American Public Policy Institute, was the founding Executive Director of the Hall Institute of Public Policy. He is the author of 30 books including his two-volume history of the presidency, The Ferocious Engine of Democracy, and the recently published “Woodrow Wilson as Commander-in-Chief.”