WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator Lisa Murkowski voted today to support an Emergency Supplemental Appropriations bill that substantially improves GI Bill benefits for military veterans who have served since September 11, 2001 and appropriates $400 million to extend the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act, which provides about $9 million of federal funding to Southeast Alaska schools and communities in the Tongass National Forest through the end of Fiscal Year 2008.

The Senate passed the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations bill with 75 votes. It must clear the House of Representatives before it goes to the President for review.

The supplemental appropriations bill includes the bipartisan Webb-Hagel-Warner GI Bill enhancements that Senator Murkowski co-sponsored earlier this year. These enhancements will provide an improved tuition benefit equivalent to the full tuition charged by the public college or university in the veteran’s home state. It also provides eligible veterans with money for living expenses and books.

Under the existing Montgomery GI Bill eligible veterans receive a fixed monthly amount, which covers tuition, living expenses and books.

“Sadly the existing GI Bill benefit has not kept pace with the cost of obtaining a college education. After World War II our Nation enacted a GI Bill benefit that enabled the ‘greatest generation’ to obtain a college education. Today that benefit covers only about 60-70 percent of the cost of obtaining a public college and less than half the expense of attending a private college. It is long past time that our Nation update and upgrade the GI Bill benefit,” said Senator Murkowski.

The bipartisan GI Bill enhancements were supported by the Nation’s leading veterans’ organizations including the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Disabled American Veterans, AMVETS and the Vietnam Veterans of America.

“I applaud Senator Stevens for successfully passing an amendment to the GI Bill that provides a $500 relocation benefit to rural veterans,” said Senator Murkowski. “Rural veterans’ education should not suffer because the costs of traveling to colleges are too high.”

The Emergency Supplemental Appropriations bill will enable dozens of Southeast Alaska communities to share in about $8.8 million in timber revenue sharing payments from the U.S. Forest Service, which should be distributed before the current fiscal year ends on September 30. The Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act expired on September 30, 2006. Last year the Congress extended the legislation for one year through a supplemental appropriations bill.

“At 17 million acres the Tongass National Forest is the largest in the Nation and there are 31 communities located within the forest.,” said Senator Murkowski. “The Tongass occupies 80 percent of the land mass of Southeast. I am pleased that the Senate voted to enable the National Forest System to contribute its fair share to educating the young people of Southeast Alaska.”

Senator Murkowski continues to pursue a long-term extension of the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act.