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Amata-cosponsored legislation will help student veterans during COVID-19

Vice Ranking Member Amata at a Capitol press conference
Sources: Media release from Cong. Aumua Amata's office

Washington, D.C. —  Congresswoman Aumua Amata announced on Tuesday she is a cosponsor of the bipartisan Student Veteran Coronavirus Response Act of 2020, newly introduced this week to immediately help student Veterans during and following the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This bill is a collection of several of the best ideas to quickly help the thousands of Veterans in educational programs during the pandemic,” said Aumua Amata, Vice Ranking Member of the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. “They can be assured of not losing eligibility or their place in a program while it is shut down, and their program’s support and benefits will be secure and available when studies start again. Thank you to Chairman Mark Takano and Ranking Member Dr. Phil Roe for leading this important effort so these student Veterans don’t need to worry about their ongoing education.”

Since colleges and universities are closed due to the virus, student Veterans have had their studies and goals interrupted, and face new costs and unexpected obstacles.

The Student Veteran Coronavirus Response Act of 2020 builds on the efforts recently passed by the House and Senate and signed into law by the President, that 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 bill addresses surrounding issues more thoroughly and has been endorsed by Veterans Education Success and the National Association of Veterans’ Program Administrators.

Chairman Takano said: “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. 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.”

Ranking Member Roe said: “Over the last two weeks, we have worked hard to assure student veterans that the support they count on from the GI Bill to cover tuition and housing costs won’t be taken away during the COVID-19 pandemic. I am proud to introduce this bill with Chairman Takano today to give them further confidence that the benefits they earned will be waiting for them on the other side of this crisis. Our bill would preserve work study, vocational rehabilitation and employment, and GI Bill benefits for students during emergency situations like the one we are currently experiencing. Critically, it would also ensure that students whose schools close but cannot transition to an online curriculum can maintain their eligibility next semester.”

The new legislation would help student veterans as follows:

•    Work-Study During Emergencies: Allows the VA to continue paying student veterans in work-study programs who lost their position on campus due to shutdowns from the COVID-19 outbreak.
•    Expanded Protections for Student Veterans in Emergencies: Ensures VA can continue paying housing and allowances to student veterans for an extended time, by expanding current policy to cover all emergency situations, now including public health emergencies like those caused by the current spread of COVID-19. In addition, this legislation allows this protection to be used once every 6 months (down from 12) and creates a new special four-week, uncharged period specifically for the current COVID-19 situation.
•    Bridging Digital Divide: This legislation restores the interrupted term or semester of their education benefit to students who could not complete classes because of an emergency. This way, student veterans will continue to receive housing benefits through the end of their term and yet not have their GI Bill eligibility charged for any class they were unable to complete since their schools or program shut down. This helps student veterans cover daily expenses and pursue their degree without losing an entire semester of benefits.
•    Ensuring Veterans Are Not Penalized in Emergency Circumstances: This legislation would simply stop the eligibility clock for student veterans and eligible dependents impacted by school closures during emergency situations, so they can’t lose eligibility.
•    Extending Protections to Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) Veterans: Ensuring 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 jobs.