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.

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)

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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.comTwitter: @nikkiwentling

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Nikki Wentling has worked for Stars and Stripes since 2016. She reports from Congress, the White House, the Department of Veterans Affairs and throughout the country about issues affecting veterans, service members and their families. Wentling, a graduate of the University of Kansas, previously worked at the Lawrence Journal-World and Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. The National Coalition of Homeless Veterans awarded Stars and Stripes the Meritorious Service Award in 2020 for Wentling’s reporting on homeless veterans during the coronavirus pandemic. In 2018, she was named by the nonprofit HillVets as one of the 100 most influential people in regard to veterans policymaking.

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