Bill will provide $12.5 billion for students, families

-A A +A
By Congressman Tom Perriello

In this historic Inauguration week for our nation, let us look forward with hope towards a new kind of politics in Washington that puts problem-solving ahead of partisanship. Let us work together towards an economic recovery for working families that heeds Dr. King's call for economic justice.

A cornerstone of my economic revival plan has been an investment in workforce development and education, so I am proud that my first piece of legislation aims to help American families afford higher education. This bill, written with my colleague Rep. Lloyd Doggett of Texas, will simplify and expand the federal tax credit for university and community college costs.

The Doggett-Perriello bill, known as the College Learning Access, Simplicity, and Savings (CLASS) Act, will make it easier for students and parents to claim tax credits for higher education expenses. For the first time ever, the soaring cost of course materials, including textbooks, would be included in the tax credit.  In addition, for the first time, up to $1,000 of the credit would be refundable. This means more working families can take advantage of this opportunity. And the help will apply this year -- $1,000 spent on tuition or textbooks this year will reduce a family's tax bill by $1,000 next April.

Families in the 5th District need and deserve relief in these tough times, and this bill will go a long way in helping those seeking more education and training. One in four eligible taxpayers does not claim any higher-ed tax provisions because of their complexity. The CLASS Act will consolidate some of these provisions into one easy-to-understand tax credit so that more can benefit.

I was thrilled to learn that our bill, which will provide $12.5 billion for students and their families, will be included in the economic recovery package, known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan, to be considered by the House. This is a great victory out of the gates, showing that the new Congress is all about moving quickly and producing tangible results for middle-class families.

Last week, the House passed another bipartisan, solutions-oriented bill: the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) Reauthorization bill, which will provide health care coverage for 11 million children. It preserves coverage for the 7 million children currently covered by SCHIP and extending coverage to 4 million uninsured children who are currently eligible for, but not enrolled in, SCHIP and Medicaid. This will include coverage for 55,000 additional Virginia children of working parents. I joined the majority and 40 Republicans in voting for the bill.

Providing health care for the most treasured and vulnerable among us – our children – isn't just good public health policy; it's morally right and economically vital. This program targets working families who are climbing their way out of poverty, who make too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to afford private insurance. These are the families that are doing everything right to better their lives, and they deserve to be able to provide health care to their children.

Especially at a time of growing unemployment when more Americans are losing employer-sponsored health care for their children, this bill is needed urgently for the 150,000 Virginia children currently insured by the program, and the 55,000 more who will be covered. As the son of a pediatrician, I'm so pleased to have the opportunity to vote in favor of this critical legislation, and in favor of children in the 5th District.