WASHINGTON – Congress approved a measure last week that will ensure student veterans continue to receive full GI Bill benefits into the next school year, even as many classes have gone online-only in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Congress scrambled in March to protect GI Bill benefits for student veterans as colleges shut down in response to the pandemic. At the time, lawmakers approved an emergency fix that allowed students to retain their full amount of benefits. The bill gave the Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary broad authority to ensure GI Bill benefits are distributed without interruption during national emergencies.
Those protections were scheduled to end in December. However, Congress extended the protections through December 2021. The extension was part of a short-term funding bill that prevented a government shutdown at the beginning of October.
“The Senate just passed a continuing resolution, avoiding a government shutdown,” the group Student Veterans of America tweeted at the time. “More than avoiding a shutdown, the CR also extends critical housing flexibility for student veterans facing school changes from COVID through 2021.”
GI Bill recipients rely on monthly stipends from the VA to pay for housing, food and other bills. Those payments are higher for students who attend physical classes as opposed to online coursework. As classes moved online last spring to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, tens of thousands of student veterans faced the possibility of losing their benefits or seeing drastic cuts.
The extension approved last week also applies to protections for student veterans in work-study programs. Congress approved a measure in April to continue payments for veterans in work-study programs, even if they could no longer report to work because of the pandemic.
-NIKKI WENTLING | STARS AND STRIPES
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