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New laws protect funding for student veterans

Updated July 22, 2020 - 4:05 pm

Much has been written in recent months about financial relief for individuals, families and businesses affected by the COVID-19 virus. Almost lost in the shuffle were college students attending classes under the GI Bill and who, among other things, had been receiving government subsidies toward housing. Recent legislation has corrected that oversight.

President Donald Trump signed HR 6322 into law recently that will help minimize the impact of the virus on student veterans as schools and universities take proactive measures to mitigate the spread of the virus. Officially known as the Student Veteran Coronavirus Response Act of 2020, it passed the House with 51 co-sponsors and support from nationwide representatives of veteran service officers. The legislation was developed by Rep. Mark Takano, chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs.

House member Dr. Phil Roe, a ranking member of the committee, issued a statement that said in part, “Ensuring that our student veterans’ earned benefits remain protected has been one of our committee’s top priorities during this national public health emergency. With colleges and universities transitioning to online courses, students should be focused on their studies, not worrying about whether their benefits will continue.” More complete details about the law can be found at https://veterans.house.gov/covid-19.

Separately, bipartisan legislation was introduced by Rep. Katie Porter and other House members, including Nevada Rep. Susie Lee that expanded the reach of student borrower protections included in the CARES Act. Lee reported that there are nearly 2 million borrowers with Perkins loans. The Perkins Loan Relief Act will allow the students to forego making payments on those loans until October.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act signed into law March 27, known as the CARES Act, introduced several new measures to support individuals and businesses struggling during the coronavirus pandemic. For most federal student loan borrowers, the CARES Act offers substantial relief by automatically suspending monthly payments and reducing interest to 0 percent through Sept. 30.

Under the CARES Act, payments on federal student loans — including direct, Perkins and Federal Family Education loans owned by the U.S. Department of Education — are automatically suspended from March 13 through Sept. 30. That means eligible federal loan borrowers do not have to make payments. While loan payments are suspended, interest will not accrue.

Perkins loans are federal student loans based on financial need, and were available to eligible undergraduate and graduate students. The loan is subsidized in that the federal government pays the loan’s interest while the student is still in school. However the granting of such loans ended Sept. 30, 2017. Students who currently have such loans received them prior to the cutoff date.

A third piece of legislation has been passed that will help an additional class of students — veterans who are attending college under the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Known as S.3503, the wording clarifies how the Department of Veterans Affairs should treat in-person courses of study that convert to distance learning formats due to health-related situations and other emergencies.

The law came about because of how VA education benefits are approved. Students who were previously approved for on-campus learning were not covered during the move to online distance learning. Such a move would have resulted in the loss of several benefits including housing funds. The VA announced that with the law, students will continue to receive the same monthly housing allowance payments that they received for resident training until Jan. 1, or until their schools resume normal resident operations.

Chuck N. Baker is a Vietnam War veteran and a Purple Heart recipient. He can be heard each day on KUNV-FM narrating “America’s Veterans Today and Tomorrow,” one-minute informative news bites.

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