As part of the budget deal approved last week, Congress extended several financial protections for student veterans whose education plans have been disrupted by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The provisions were tucked into the continuing resolution signed into law on Sept. 30 and will move the end date for the host of GI Bill protections from December of this year to December 2021.
They include flexibility for Veterans Affairs officials to keep paying full housing stipends to students forced into online-only classes because of campus coronavirus mitigation efforts, and extensions of work-study programs that have been disrupted by those changes.
Money lost from work study program closures would be protected under the new measure.
Last spring, lawmakers scrambled to pass legislation dealing with those issues, since statute at the time called for different payment rates for students enrolled in fully remote classes and in-person lessons. Without the change, thousands of students would have faced significant cuts in their housing payouts and other stipends, even as rent payments and other expenses remained unchanged.
Now, those protections will be extended past the current semester and into the 2021-2022 school year.
In a statement, Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, said the move “helps these programs seamlessly continue into the next fiscal year to prevent disrupting veterans' lives, especially during this global pandemic.”
Veterans advocates echoed that sentiment.
“Extending COVID-19 protections and maintaining stability for housing allowances are the top concerns chapter leaders have shared with us over recent months,” said Lauren Augustine, vice president of government affairs at Student Veterans of America.
“We’re thankful that leaders in both the House and Senate Veterans' Affairs Committees acted to ensure their concerns were addressed, leaving enough time to properly plan for the upcoming semester.”
State and education leaders had hoped to return to normal operations this fall, after the classes were forced online or ended early amid the outbreak of coronavirus last spring. But efforts to reopen campuses have met mixed results in recent months, with several prominent schools closing in-person classes again as virus cases rose.
More than 7.4 million Americans have contracted the virus in the last seven months, and more than 209,000 have died from complications related to the illness.
Nearly one million individuals received some type of education benefits from the VA last school year.