As reported in the last edition of GradNews, several Berkeley graduate students mobilized last fall in response to tax reform proposals put forward by Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives.
In recognition of their work, Representative Barbara Lee (MSW ’75) read the following into the official Congressional Record:
Congresswoman Barbara LEE — Mr. Speaker, I rise today to recognize and celebrate the tremendous advocacy of two UC Berkeley students whose diligent work mobilized graduate students around the country against the greatest tax scam in American history.
When President Trump and Congressional Republicans introduced legislation to reform the tax code, many of us recognized it for what it was – a blatant attempt to provide millionaires and billionaires with large tax breaks, while eliminating many of the provisions that provide the working class and the poor with means to improve their standing in society.
This terrible bill, passed without proper debate and process just before the holidays, will permanently stack the deck in favor of the rich and well-connected. In fact, we know that 83% of the bill’s benefits go to the richest 1% of our society. To pay for these unnecessary tax breaks for the rich, the bill adds more than $1 trillion to the national debt – a debt that our children and generations to come will continue to bear.
In the face of this immoral redistribution of wealth to the rich, people around the country were rightfully outraged, and many of my constituents were strongly opposed to its passage.
In particular, I would like to recognize two of my constituents for their efforts to highlight a particularly damaging section of the original bill, and commend them for their actions to have it removed from the final package.
Soon after the horrible GOP tax bill was introduced, Vetri Velan, a physics PhD student at UC Berkeley, developed an analysis of the bill. With the majority of doctoral and master students receiving institutional or fee waivers, Vetri realized that if tuition remissions were deemed taxable, graduate students could see their tax bill grow by 200 percent. It would also make it harder, and even impossible, for low or middle-income students to attend graduate school.
Vetri partnered with Kathy Shield, a fellow Cal student pursuing a Nuclear Engineering PhD to develop a tax calculator allowing any graduate student to determine their new tax liability under the House proposal. This allowed students to write and call their elected officials with specific information about the negative impact of the new tax bill.
And they didn’t stop there. Vetri and Kathy then organized graduate students at UC Berkley and around the country to contact 87 offices in 18 states to express outrage over this provision.
Because of their great work this harmful provision was removed from the final bill. Vetri and Kathy have saved thousands of dollars for graduate students across the country, and have ensured many hard working students will continue to have access to graduate school.
On behalf of California’s 13th Congressional District, I’d like to thank Vetri and Kathy for their exceptional work to ensure all students have equal access to higher education, and most importantly for staying woke.