As military families grapple with thousands of different difficult situations that the coronavirus has brought to their lives, the military relief societies want people to know they can help with financial assistance in a variety of ways.
With the temporary restriction on Permanent Change of Station moves, some families may have already had their household goods picked up, and may need to make alternate living arrangements. In other cases, spouses may have lost their job or their income has been severely reduced, and the family is having trouble making ends meet.
Depending on the situation, the relief societies — Army Emergency Relief, Air Force Aid Society, Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society— can offer help in the form of grants or zero-interest loans.
Army Emergency Relief: Recognizing that soldiers and their families may be affected by quarantines, and that sometimes staff members are restricted from meeting in person, officials have set up an online process for those who can’t meet face to face with their local AER officer, allowing them to submit requests for assistance by email and secure document transmission. Soldiers or their eligible family members with special power of attorney should follow the procedures outlined here. To date, two soldiers have applied for assistance, because of PCS orders that were affected by the travel restrictions.
For those groups that have standard eligibility for AER benefits —active duty soldiers, retired, spouses and children —AER is working with the Army to support these groups, officials said. There are more than 30 categories of assistance they can apply for, such as paying for temporary lodging in the case of a family who was about to PCS, and sold their house before getting the stop movement order; or paying for temporary emergency living expenses for a spouse who has been laid off due to coronavirus impacts.
AER director retired Lt. Gen. Ray Mason sent a letter March 16 to Army Reserve Component leadership to notify them that AER will allow eligibility to Army Reserve and Guard soldiers on a case-by-case basis in response to extreme or unusual financial hardship. For those non-Title 10 soldiers who are determined eligible, they can apply for assistance in the form of grants or zero-interest loans.
Coast Guard Mutual Assistance: This relief society is also offering a process to request assistance online, for those who can’t or don’t want to come on base. Coast Guard members can fill out the form on the webpage, and email it to their local Coast Guard Mutual Assistance representative. CGMA is offering loans up to $6,000 for loss of pay by a spouse; child care needs due to school closures; and costs while quarantined, such as lodging and food, said retired Rear Adm. Cari Thomas, CEO of the relief society. The organization is also offering limited grants for change fees that are not being waived, she said. Members can choose to get their assistance by check in the mail, or by electronic deposit.
Air Force Aid Society: Every Airman and Family Readiness Center has emergency essential employees, including someone qualified to administer assistance from Air Force Aid Society, according to the organization’s CEO, retired Lt. Gen. John D. Hopper, Jr. Those employees will be able to conduct business even if the base shuts down. “A global pandemic will present challenges we have not yet imagined. The most important element about delivering support is the local commander,” Hopper said. “We will work with the folks on the ground to shape the infrastructure to fit their needs. Bottom line —we remain flexible, available and ready to assist to meet the needs of our airmen and their families.”
Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society: “We’re here and open, to help as many as we can through the crisis,” said spokeswoman Gillian Gonzalez. There have been about a dozen requests for assistance with expenses primarily related to being “caught in the PCS net, with their household goods already picked up,” she said. “If you’re stuck, held back, we can assist.” Among the programs they offer is the Quick Assist Loan, a faster process that offers up to $500 in a zero-interest loan, but there are other loan and grant programs, too.
Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.