A slain California cop, a single mom and costly education: How a lawmaker wants to help

Anamika Singh just lost her husband in the line of duty, and now she has to worry about both finishing her own education while saving money for her infant son’s as a single mother.

It weighs on her as she tries to build the life she and Cpl. Ronil Singh wanted for their 10-month-old son before the young officer was gunned down at a traffic stop in Stanislaus County on Dec. 26.

“When our son, Arnav, was born, we started a college fund for him before he was three months old, just because we wanted to make sure he’s able to live his American Dream, just like Ron did,” she said.

Rep. Josh Harder, D-Modesto, wants to relieve at least some of that financial fear for Singh and for other law enforcement families who worry how they’ll make ends meet after a death on duty. He’s submitting a bill that would expand educational grant opportunities for children of fallen cops.

“There’s this emotional trauma that she has ... and then she has to worry, what was going to happen to their baby boy?” Harder said. “She was really scared about the future of her child.”

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.

Harder’s change would make all spouses and children of fallen officers eligible for the Pell Grants, regardless of specific financial need. Currently, prospective students whose parents or guardians die as a result of military service are automatically eligible for Pell Grants regardless of the family’s financial circumstances.

Some children are eligible who lose a parent or guardian when they are younger than 24, regardless of how the parent died. No spouses are currently eligible.

Harder’s bill, which he introduced Tuesday, would expand that to also apply to the spouses and specifically to children of fallen officers. He did not provide information on possible co-sponsors, citing that the bill was just introduced, but said “I can’t see why a bill like this wouldn’t be bipartisan.”

“I realized, last year alone, 144 police officers died in the country,” Harder said. “You don’t think it would happen here, but it’s a nationwide issue.”

Ronil Singh immigrated to the U.S. from Fiji and grew up dreaming of becoming a police officer. He and Anamika Singh prioritized education.

“Obviously, it has been a very difficult situation, but my new worry is making ends meet while saving for my son’s education …Education is very important to both of us,” said Anamika Singh, who is a registered nurse and is continuing her education.

Singh initially volunteered with the Modesto Police Department before serving as a code enforcement officer for the Turlock Police Department, when he attended a police academy that required him to commute up to five hours a day. After graduating from the police academy, he served as a custodial deputy sheriff with Merced County before joining the Newman Police Department.

Paulo Virgen Mendoza has been charged with murder in Singh’s death and pleaded not guilty in April.

Mendoza remains in custody at the Stanislaus County Jail and is scheduled to return to court for a pretrial hearing on May 24. On that day, the judge could schedule a preliminary hearing to determine whether there’s enough evidence for Mendoza to stand trial. The attorneys also could ask for more time to gather or review evidence before moving ahead with a preliminary hearing.

Modesto Bee reporter Rosalio Ahumada contributed to this report.

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.