Kilmer Co-Sponsors Legislation to Minimize COVID-19 Impact on Student Veterans

On Monday, Representative Derek Kilmer (WA-06) co-sponsored the bipartisan Student Veteran Coronavirus Response Act Of 2020, introduced by House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Mark Takano (D-CA) and Ranking Member Dr. Phil Roe (R-TN). The legislation aims to minimize the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on student veterans as schools and universities have taken proactive measures to mitigate the spread of the virus.

“If you serve our country, the federal government should have your back,” said Rep. Kilmer. “By expanding protections for student veterans during emergencies like COVID-19, preserving the work-study program, and continuing housing benefits, we’ll be taking real steps to ensure that the government steps-up and gives student veterans the support they need as our nation works to combat and contain COVID-19.”

“As we respond to the coronavirus pandemic, we cannot forget about our student veterans. This bill package will make key fixes so veterans can continue their studies without interruption, loss of income, or unexpected bills,” said Chairman Takano. “Under this bipartisan legislation, we can ensure no students have their housing cut off, lose their work study payment, exhaust their disaster housing stipend continuation payments, or lose their benefits due to a school closure from COVID-19.”

Here’s how this new legislation works for student veterans:

  • Work-Study During Emergencies: As institutions of higher learning are switching to solely online instruction and as campuses are shutting down as a precaution, student veterans who work on campus through VA’s work-study program will lose an important source of income. This bill gives VA the latitude to continue paying student veterans who lost their position on campus due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
  • Expands Protections For Student Veterans During Emergencies: Currently, if schools close for up to four weeks during a term, VA can continue paying housing and allowances to student veterans. This bill builds on these protections by modifying current law to cover all emergency situations, including public health emergencies like those caused by the current spread of COVID-19. In addition, this legislation allows this protection to be triggered once every 6 months (down from 12) and creates a separate four week, uncharged period for the current COVID-19 situation.
  • Bridges Digital Divide: In order to halt the spread of COVID-19, many schools have begun moving to online classes — but, not all students and schools who were attending on-site classes were able to make this transition online. This legislation would restore the interrupted term or semester of their education benefit to students who could not complete classes because of an emergency. With this fix, student veterans will continue to receive housing benefits through the end of their term and will not have their GI Bill eligibility charged for any class they were unable to complete and receive credit for if their schools or program shut down due to an emergency situation. This helps ensure student veterans can continue to cover daily expenses and pursue their degree without losing an entire semester of benefits.
  • Veterans Are Not Penalized For Emergency Situations: This legislation would stop the eligibility clock for student veterans and eligible dependents impacted by school closures during emergency situations by allowing VA to extend – by the same amount of time that a student was prevented from attending school due to an emergency – the “use or lose” date for VA education benefits.
  • Extends School Closure Protections to Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) Veterans: This bill would ensure parity for veterans in the VR&E program by including protections against sudden school closures or terminations of programs that could not transition to online learning, allowing VA to pay housing and subsistence allowance through the end of a term when schools shutter, and preventing veterans from losing eligibility time when they did not receive credit for classes taken. In addition, it would provide two additional months of subsistence allowance to veterans currently participating in the VR&E program who may face difficulty securing employment as a result of COVID-19’s impact on near-term employment prospects.

Background: The Student Veteran Coronavirus Response Act of 2020 builds on recent legislation, passed by the House and Senate and signed into law by the president, to ensure student veterans will not see a reduction in their monthly housing allowance as a result of their schools moving to online instruction due to COVID-19. This legislation has been endorsed by Veterans Education Success, Paralyzed Veterans of America, and National Association of Veterans’ Program Administrators, cosponsored by 25 Members including Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity Chair Levin, and will be included in the Speaker’s COVID-19 emergency response package later this week. Full text of the bill can be found Here.

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