Bills prohibiting non-U.S. citizens from receiving state financial aid ‘unnecessary,’ critics say

Bills in the Michigan House of Representatives aim to strengthen existing protections against non-U.S. citizens receiving taxpayer-funded scholarships and housing subsidies, but opponents say the legislation is “unnecessary” and “duplicative” of existing law.

Non-permanent U.S. residents and citizens are already prohibited from receiving state financial aid, but sponsoring Rep. John Reilly, R-Oakland Township, says the legislation is needed because “the tendency is, more and more, to allow illegal immigrants to take advantage of taxpayer funded programs.”

“The taxpayers, if they knew their dollars were going toward illegal immigrants, that’s not what their wish would be,” he said.

Reilly said he does not have evidence of non-U.S. citizens receiving state scholarships or housing subsidies, but added that “we want to make sure the taxpayers are protected.”

The legislation is opposed by the Michigan Association of State Universities. Dan Hurley, the group’s CEO, said existing laws and regulations clearly spell out that such funds cannot go to non-citizens.

“This is absolutely a non-issue in our state,” he said. “Nothing is being addressed. Nothing is being solved.”

What made the cut in House, Senate K-12 and higher ed budget

The 11-bill package was introduced earlier this month and would impact housing subsidies and several state scholarship and grant programs. However, just one of those financial aid programs – the Michigan Competitive Scholarship – is currently funded, Hurley said. The others have not been funded since 2009.

Similar bills were approved by the Legislature but vetoed by former Gov. Jennifer Granholm, Reilly said.

Even though non-U.S. citizens and non-permanent residents are prohibited from receiving state scholarships, the legislation would prevent that practice from being changed through “administrative rulemaking” as opposed to the legislative process, said Rep. Eric Leutheuser, R-Hillsdale, who sponsored one bill in the package.

“Why not put it in statute while we have the opportunity during our very limited time in Lansing and make it very clear what the intent of the program is,” he said.

Ron Leix, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Treasury, which administers several state financial aid programs, said the prohibition on non-U.S. citizens receiving taxpayer-funded scholarships is “in both law and administrative rule.”

He said the Free Application for Federal Student Aid is the “basis of eligibility for state of Michigan programs.” The form asks applicants if they are a U.S. citizen, an eligible non-citizen (someone living in the U.S. legally), or neither of those.

When asked to respond to MASU’s criticism that the legislation is duplicative of what’s already in state law, Reilly, the sponsor of the package, said: “Well, if it’s not needed, then it’s no skin off anybody’s nose.”

“They should not have any concern with them then because this is just reiterating what they are trying to enforce,” he said.

Hurley objected to that argument, saying: “To put forth a legislative effort that seeks to redo what has already been done does not appear to reflect efficiency when it comes to the legislative agenda.”

He urged lawmakers to instead focus on college affordability.

“The focus should remain on the top of mind issues that affect the pocketbooks of Michigan students and their families,” Hurley said, adding that he was pleased lawmakers opted to increase funding to the Michigan Competitive Scholarship by $8 million in recently approved state budget.

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