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Congressman Chris Collins

Representing the 27th District of New York

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Collins joins state legislators in opposition to Cuomo's 'College for Convicts' plan

Feb 21, 2014
In The News

U.S. Rep. Chris Collins, R-Clarence, will introduce legislation to prohibit the use of federal taxpayer dollars to provide a college education to convicted criminals.

The pending legislation is in response to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s announced plan to use taxpayer dollars to fund college degree programs for convicted criminals in New York state prisons. The plan has been criticized by local state officials who called it "insulting" and "a disservice" to citizens already struggling to pay for college.

"The Governor's plan to have taxpayers pay for college courses for violent felons is completely unfair to honest, law-abiding families who have to foot the bills for college tuition on their own," said Assemblyman Bill Nojay, R-Pittsford, whose district includes Livingston County. "Why should working people who obey the laws have to pay for college courses for violent felons? Student loan debt is crushing middle class families, and now the Governor wants to make them pay the college bills of prisoners as well."

Under Cuomo’s plan, the state would provide up to $5,000 a year to help an inmate get a college degree. Cuomo says the plan would cut down on recidivism and ultimately lower the estimated $60,000 a year it costs the state to house a prisoner.

Nojay said he would oppose the plan in the State Budget debate this spring.

"Middle-class families are struggling to put their kids through college because of constantly spiraling college costs," Nojay said. "Honest, middle-class families need and deserve tuition relief before felons behind bars."

Collins’ legislation would ban states from using the federal taxpayer dollars to fund college degree programs for convicted criminals. The Federal Bureau of Prisons provides states with funding for educational and other programs at state prisons and correctional facilities.

“The Governor’s latest plan to fund college educations for convicted criminals with New Yorkers’ tax dollars is an insult to law-abiding citizens all across our state,” Collins, who represents the 27th Congressional District, said in a news release. “We hear over and over again from politicians concerned about the growing cost of higher education and the amount of student debt our young people are sacked with after earning their degree. Strangely, many of these same politicians think tax dollars should be spent to give convicted criminals a free college degree.”

According to The Project on Student Debt, 60 percent of college graduates in New York state carry student debt. The average amount of student debt for New Yorkers is $25,537.

“Gov. Cuomo’s plan is just the latest sign that for a state that is the highest-taxed and ranks among the worst in job creation, Albany has its priorities all screwed up,” Collins said.

The congressman said he will formally introduce the legislation in the coming days. As the House moves forward with the appropriations process later this year, Collins will also introduce a limiting rider to ensure no appropriated funds in a particular bill are used to fund college courses for convicted criminals.

Collins’ bill would not ban states from using federal dollars to support GED or work training programs in prisons and correctional facilities.

Assemblyman David DiPietro, R-East Aurora, whose district includes Wyoming County, said Cuomo has "misplaced his priorities and done a disservice to the people he supposedly represents."

"In a time when student debt is ever-increasing and law-abiding children are struggling to afford college, the governor has made the decision to help those who have violated our laws.  These convicts should not be presented opportunities that the average, law-abiding New Yorker isn’t afforded," DiPietro said. "It is not an essential government function to educate convicts. If a private institution wants to provide this service than they should be afforded the opportunity, but we as a government should not be funding the education of convicted felons. The honest citizen continues to get the short straw in the Cuomo Administration.”

Assemblyman Steve Hawley, R-Batavia, said Cuomo's plan "is one of the worst ideas I've heard during my tenure as an assemblyman."

"It’s insulting to middle-class Western New Yorkers who are taking on debts over $50,000 to go to college," Hawley said. "This plan punishes law-abiding citizens while rewarding criminals. Not only is this idea wrong in principle, but it may cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. We should never ask taxpayers to pay for the college education of convicts while they are taking on debt to pay for their own.”