Congress on Tuesday finalized a second GI Bill fix for student veterans whose studies were upended by the coronavirus pandemic, sending the package to the White House to be signed into law in coming days.
The measure follows legislation last month which guaranteed students would not see any disruption in their education benefit payouts because of universities’ sudden switch to online learning. Most colleges across the country have shifted to remote sessions in lieu of in-person classes in an effort to limit the spread of the virus.
Under previous rules, however, students who receive online-only education were not eligible for certain housing stipends. The emergency package allowed Veterans Affairs leadership to waive that restriction in light of the current emergency, guaranteeing students would not see any financial disruptions.
However, that legislation did not cover income lost from other sources, such as shuttered work study programs connected to the GI Bill.
GI Bill benefits to continue despite college coronavirus closings after emergency fix rushes through Congress
The shift to online-only classes jeopardized monthly housing stipends for tens of thousands of student veterans.
The latest measure — passed by the House earlier this month and by unanimous consent in the Senate Tuesday — would keep those work study payments active through the remainder of the semester, even if students cannot reach their place of employment.
It will also make sure that, in light of the current emergency, students’ GI Bill housing payments will continue even if colleges fully close down. And veterans could see any of this semester’s lost entitlements restored if their institution closes down or if they are forced to withdraw from school for coronavirus-related issues.
Lawmakers hailed the passage as an important step in protecting veterans’ financial future.
“This fix builds on previous legislation passed and signed into law to make certain our student veterans can continue to receive payments that they normally would from their education and training programs during this pandemic without having to worry about losing the benefits that they have earned,” said Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee.
His House counterpart, Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., similarly praised the bipartisan action on the measure.
"As the nation faces the COVID-19 pandemic, no student veteran should have to worry about losing income from work study jobs, interrupting their studies, or unexpected bills when their schools close,” he said.
The lawsuit could result in an extra year of GI Bill benefits for thousands of veterans.
Veterans advocates welcomed the news.
"After talking to VA work-study students who were worried about being able to pay their bills and others who had to choose between working to feed their families or staying home to protect their families from unnecessary exposure to the coronavirus, we are thankful to the Senate for passing this,” said Tanya Ang, vice president of Veterans Education Success.
“This bill provides much needed relief for VA work-study allowing them the opportunity to focus on what matters most — the health of themselves and their families."
White House officials have not said when the legislation may be signed into law, but also have not offered any objections to the proposal.