Sunday, December 21st, 2014

MSNBC host O'Donnell mostly wrong on GI Bill being called welfare

In this advertisement, MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell extolls the original GI Bill and, a finger poking, says that critics called it welfare (MSNBC video).

We probed the history of the GI Bill while complying with a skeptical reader’s request that we fact-check MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell’s claim that critics called the original GI Bill welfare.

O’Donnell makes the claim in an oft-aired promotional spot on the network, saying: "It’s the most successful educational program that we’ve ever had in this country — and the critics called it welfare."

The bill, signed into law by President Franklin Roosevelt in June 1944, provided millions of veterans with up to four years of education or training, plus a monthly subsistence allowance; offered them federally guaranteed home, farm and business loans with no down payment; and provided for unemployment compensation of $20 weekly for up to 52 weeks for veterans who had served 90 days or more.

During our check, we read a reporter’s 1949 look back at the bill’s roots and talked to two historians, who each disagreed with O’Donnell’s statement. Nancy Beck Young, a University of Houston professor who has studied the legislative history of the GI Bill, told us that although some members of Congress had concerns about the measure’s unemployment provisions and its cost, they "did not call it welfare."

There were concerns aired as Congress debated the matter that the unemployment benefits would lead some beneficiaries to laze around. But we ultimately found no evidence of critics referring to the GI Bill as welfare. O’Donnell’s claim rates Mostly False.

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