Vetri Velan

U.C. Berkeley graduate student Vetri Velan (left), along with Kathy Shield (center), were honored by U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee (right) for their work organizing graduate students against a Republican tax proposal to tax the value of graduate tuition credits as stipends. It was eventually stripped from the final tax bill signed by President Donald Trump in December. (Rep. Barbara Lee's office photo)

U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee Jan. 13 honored U.C. Berkeley doctoral students Vetri Velan and Kathy Shield for their efforts to halt a Republican tax proposal that would have forced graduate students to pay taxes on the value of their education.

Lee, a Democrat who represents Berkeley and graduated with a master’s from the school in 1975, said during a surprise ceremony that Velan, in his third graduate year of studying physics, and Shield, in her second year of a nuclear energy doctoral program, had both “mobilized graduate students around the country against the greatest tax scam in American history,” according to a U.C. Berkeley news release.

Velan and Shield worked together on calculating details of the tax reform package that would make graduate students pay taxes on tuition credits. From their diligent work, Velan and Shield created a calculator that would estimate the cost of the tax plan (see India-West article here).

“I felt the calculator would raise awareness by showing students the effects on their own personal finances,” he said in the report.

Velan figured out he’d see a 4 percent drop in his after-tax income, a significant blow to his budget in the high-cost Bay Area, the U.C. Berkeley report noted.

“Once I realized how bad the situation was, I decided to play around and calculate for a few other scenarios,” Velan said in the university Jan. 16 report. “My original motivation for this was to post it on Facebook or social and get a few people to call their representatives.”

But Shield had the idea to turn Velan’s equations into a Google Doc calculator that any graduate student could use to analyze the bill’s impact on his or her finances. The idea went viral, the report said.

Many graduate students organized rallies or other demonstrations. Shield and Velan alone organized “graduate students at U.C. Berkeley and around the country to contact 87 offices in 18 states to express outrage over this provision,” Lee said, according to the report.

The plan to tax the value of graduate tuition credits as stipends was eventually stripped from the final tax bill, which was signed by President Donald Trump in December.

Lee said Velan and Shield deserved some credit for the idea’s defeat, the report added.

“Because of their great work this harmful provision was removed from the final bill,” Lee said in her statement, according to the university. “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.”

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