BUCKS COUNTY – Children of fallen heroes struggling to afford a college education would receive a financial helping hand under legislation being proposed in Washington, D.C.
The Children of Fallen Heroes Scholarship Act, introduced by Bucks County Congressman Michael Fitzpatrick (R-8) last week, would grant children of first responders who have died in the line of duty the maximum Pell Grant available of $5,500 if they qualify for the assistance.'
Federal Pell Grants are awarded to students based on financial need, cost to attend school, status as a full-time or part-time student and plans to attend school for a full academic year or less.
“Our communities are indebted to the families of these fallen heroes,” said Fitzpatrick. “This legislation is worthy, will help make college more affordable for these families and represents an important step in repaying a debt and living up to an obligation,” he said.
“The reality is these are the major bread winners for their families,” said Fitzpatrick. “And so the financial loss could weigh on a family with children for decades. I think we can all agree that we owe these families and the memory of their loved ones all the support we can provide.”
Locally, the legislation would benefit the children of fallen Middletown Township Police Officer Christopher Jones who was killed in the line of duty when he was struck by a vehicle on Route 1 while conducting a traffic stop.
“Often times the long term financial hardship is overlooked,” said his widow, Suzanne, who was left to raise the couple’s three children. “This legislation would help my family and families like mine to provide children of our fallen heroes with access to a college education.”
Suzanne has one child in college and is now going through the college application process with her second.
With 11 cosponsors on board, the legislation has bi-partisan support from both sides of the aisle, including members Peter King (R-NY), Allyson Schwartz (D-PA), Charlie Rangel (D-NY), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-District of Columbia), Jim Gerlach (R-PA) and Todd Platts (R-PA)
Officer Glen Golenbeski, the president of the Fraternal Order of Police, said it’s good to see members of both parties “reaching across the aisle and doing the right thing."
He said the nation needs to "make sure the families of our fallen heroes who have made the sacrifice continue to prosper and get the education that their loved one would have provided for them, but now can’t.”
Fitzpatrick expects the bill to go either before a committee where it will be marked up and then sent to the House floor for a vote or go through an expedited process for bills that enjoy wide House support.
Fitzpatrick said he’s pledged to working to increase the number of co-sponsors during the coming months in hopes of securing an expedited vote on the act and he's hoping a vote is taken when Congress convenes either between Labor Day and the beginning of October or between Nov. 7 and the end of the year.
The legislation was originally introduced in a different form by Fitzpatrick’s predecessor, Congressman Patrick Murphy, but wasn’t able to garner enough support due to issues involving the Pell grant formula.
“Congressman Murphy did a considerable amount of work while he was in Congress so there will already be some significant goodwill built up on this bill and it will be up to me to harness that and to bring the parties and the leadership together,” said Fitzpatrick.
“And this is the kind of bill that will bring parties together because it’s a good bill,” he said. “It’s needed by the families and it’s a real show of support for first responders and law enforcement families.”
Fitzpatrick, whose own uncle, Phil Fitzpatrick, was killed in the line of duty while serving as a New York City Police Officer during the 1940s, said it was the National Fraternal Order of Police that brought the bill to his attention and has worked with his office over the past several months to “make sure we have a strong bill that can pass the House.”
Grace Lynch, of the NFOP, said the reason why her organization is pushing the measure is simple.
“While no amount of financial assistance can replace a loved one, this is a noble cause that will help the children of fallen officers pursue higher education," she said.