‘They shouldn’t have to worry:’ Bill to help families of fallen cops moves forward

Newman police Cpl. Ronil Singh’s widow, Anamika, holds their son at the 2019 Stanislaus County Peace Officers Memorial service on Wednesday, May 1, at Lakewood Memorial Park in Hughson, CA.
Newman police Cpl. Ronil Singh’s widow, Anamika, holds their son at the 2019 Stanislaus County Peace Officers Memorial service on Wednesday, May 1, at Lakewood Memorial Park in Hughson, CA. jfarrow@modbee.com

The House is including a measure in a budget authorization bill to automatically allow the children and spouses ofpolice officers killed on duty to qualify for Pell Grants.

It’s named after Cpl. Ronil Singh, the Newman Police Department officer who was shot to death on Dec. 26, 2018. Singh left behind a wife putting herself through school and a young child, Arnav, who is now a year old.

Rep. Josh Harder, D-Turlock, pushed for the legislation on the family’s behalf.

“Every step in this process is a step toward keeping Ronil’s dream alive,” said Anamika Singh, his widow. “Education is a top priority for our family and ensuring our son has the opportunity to go to the college of his choice anywhere in the country would be a dream come true. All families of our fallen heroes deserve the same opportunity to pursue their dreams, especially if their loved one has made the ultimate sacrifice.”

Currently, children who suffer the death of a parent may qualify for Pell Grants, but spouses do not. Pell Grants are awarded by the federal government to individuals who can demonstrate a need for financial help for higher education. The grants are not loans, and therefore do not need to be paid back. About 7 million people benefited from $28.2 billion in Pell Grants in the 2017-18 academic year.

Ronil Singh immigrated to the U.S. from Fiji and grew up dreaming of becoming a police officer. He and Anamika Singh prioritized education, and she has been worried about making ends meet while saving for her son’s education. She is a registered nurse and is continuing her education personally.

“They shouldn’t have to worry about paying for college if they have a loved one fall in the line of duty,” Harder said.

The authorization bill is not the budget itself, but is a major step toward the provision eventually becoming law. However, there is concern in the federal government that impeachment efforts against President Donald Trump might make significant changes to the budget unlikely until at least 2020.

The bill includes several provisions for education with issues particular to the San Joaquin Valley. Another provision proposed by Harder and Rep. Paul Cook, R-, closes the loophole in federal regulations that prevents doctors in California and Texas from qualifying for student loan repayment programs.

The California Medical Association (CMA) estimates the bill could bring 10,000 physicians to the state over the next decade, since it would grant loan forgiveness to doctors working at nonprofits, which Harder hopes would address a shortage of doctors problem in the San Joaquin Valley.

“Last year, my district graduated 12 residents, and one of them stayed. Eleven of them moved away and worked elsewhere,” Harder said. “And I don’t blame somebody, if they have half a million dollars in medical school debt, to go work in private practice in Los Angeles or San Francisco, but we need to change the incentives and the game to make sure we’re going to have access to care everywhere in California, not just in the big cities.”

The closing of that loophole would remain in effect 10 years without further action from Congress.

Related stories from Merced Sun-Star

Kate Irby is based in Washington, D.C. and reports on issues important to McClatchy’s California newspapers, including the Sacramento Bee, Fresno Bee and Modesto Bee. She previously reported on breaking news in D.C., politics in Florida for the Bradenton Herald and politics in Ohio for the Cleveland Plain Dealer.