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Congress approves emergency fix to protect GI Bill benefits as colleges go online

Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., in his Capitol Hill office during an interview with Stars and Stripes in November 2019, introduced the House version of the bill.

JOE GROMELSKI/STARS AND STRIPES

By NIKKI WENTLING | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 19, 2020

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WASHINGTON — Student veterans will continue to receive their monthly housing payments uninterrupted, despite courses going online to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Congress approved an emergency fix Thursday that would allow students to retain the amount of benefits they received when they started the semester. It gives the VA Secretary broad authority to ensure GI Bill benefits are distributed without interruption during national emergencies.

Minutes after gaveling in for a short session Thursday morning, the House approved the legislation by unanimous consent. The Senate passed the measure earlier this week, and now the bill will go to President Donald Trump’s desk for his signature.

“Hundreds of thousands of veterans and military families rely on the GI Bill to support themselves while they are in school and I am heartened that Congress was able to come together so quickly to assure them that we’ve got their backs throughout this crisis,” said Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., who introduced the House version of the bill.

GI Bill recipients rely on monthly stipends from the Department of Veterans Affairs to pay for housing, food and other bills. Those payments are higher for students who attend physical classes as opposed to online coursework. As classes began to move online last week to help prevent the spread of coronavirus, tens of thousands of student veterans faced the possibility of losing their benefits or seeing drastic cuts to their monthly checks.

Student Veterans of America, which has hundreds of chapters at colleges nationwide, alerted lawmakers to the problem last week. The group warned that GI Bill recipients were at risk of losing their homes if their benefits stopped or substantially decreased.

SVA described the legislation approved Thursday as “critical.”

The VA sent a notice to students shortly after the vote Thursday that said the department was “working to immediately implement the new changes.”

Wentling.nikki@stripes.com
Twitter: @nikkiwentling

 

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