RALEIGH - The U.S. Air Force joined other military branches Tuesday in suspending tuition assistance that thousands of active-duty service members rely on to pay for college classes.
Air Force spokeswoman Lt. Col. Laurel Tingley said airmen were notified by email that new applications for tuition assistance won't be accepted because of the $85 billion in automatic federal spending cuts that went into effect March 1.
The U.S. Army, U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Coast Guard quietly suspended their assistance programs last week. A decision by the U.S. Navy is pending.
The tuition assistance programs pay up to $250 per semester hour for active duty personnel, or as much as $4,500 per year. Payments already approved under the program will still be paid, but the changes are expected to leave military personnel scrambling to figure out how to pay for classes for the summer and fall semesters.
"This suspension is necessary given the significant budget execution challenges caused by the combined effects of a possible year-long continuing resolution and sequestration," said Army spokesman Troy A. Rolan Sr. "The Army understands the impacts of this action and will re-evaluate should the budgetary situation improve."
Service members may still qualify for aid under the G.I. Bill, which has so far not been affected.
U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, released a letter Tuesday urging Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to find another place to cut.
"I believe that denying educational opportunities to our service members is the wrong way to find savings, and I fear this decision will inhibit the Air Force, Army and Marine Corps from developing the highly skilled forces they need to succeed in this current environment," said Hagan (D-North Carolina). "Completely suspending this program, rather than simply reducing its funding by an amount proportionate to the cuts mandated by sequestration, is an alarming decision.