Reps. Mike Levin and Nancy Mace Introduce Bipartisan Student Veteran Emergency Relief Act
Oceanside, CA – Today, U.S. Representatives Mike Levin (D-CA) and Nancy Mace (R-SC) introduced the bipartisan Student Veteran Emergency Relief Act to extend GI Bill flexibilities that Congress established for COVID-19 to all emergencies.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Congress has passed several bills to address the effect of the pandemic on student veterans’ education benefits and employment. However, these flexibilities expired on June 1, 2022. The Student Veteran Emergency Relief Act would allow the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to extend those GI Bill flexibilities during any future emergency that is declared by the president.
"The COVID-19 pandemic exposed the gaps in GI Bill benefits that exist when emergencies cause veterans’ educational programs to be cut short, cancelled, or moved online, and we must take additional action to prevent veterans from losing their benefits as a result,” said Rep. Levin. “While we were able to pass several bipartisan bills to protect veterans’ GI Bill benefits during the pandemic, it’s critical that we reauthorize those protections and extend them to any other national emergency the president declares. I’m grateful for Rep. Mace’s partnership on this important bill and look forward to advancing it on behalf of all student veterans.”
“GI Bill benefits should be more easily accessible, not less, to those that served,” said Rep. Mace. “One of the few benefits of the COVID pandemic was that it showed us where changes need to be made to the program, to make it easier for our Veterans to access the money they are entitled to.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic exposed numerous gaps in the Department of Veterans’ Affairs’ (VA) ability to continue serving student veterans during national emergencies. Thanks to Congress’ tireless work, we now have a roadmap of the essential protections and flexibilities necessary. The Student Veteran Emergency Relief Act codifies these protections and permanently equips VA with the authority it needs to protect these students and their benefits in the future. This bill includes critical, forward-thinking, and common-sense policies that we already know work,” said Lauren Augustine, Vice-President of Government Affairs with Student Veterans of America. “The next emergency is not a matter of if, it is simply a matter of when; and we thank Representatives Levin and Mace for their continued leadership to protect student veterans and their families during the most trying of circumstances.”
When COVID-19 began, many veterans stood to lose a significant portion of their education benefits when their classes were interrupted. For example, existing law required VA to make significant cuts to the housing benefits afforded to student veterans who were taking classes remotely, even though many student veterans transitioned to online coursework during the pandemic. Others were unable to continue classes at all and faced the expiration of their benefits. Meanwhile, student veterans working on campus through VA’s work study program were poised to lose income as physical locations closed. In response, Congress took action to provide flexibility and prevent cuts to veterans’ benefits.
In March 2020, the president signed Public Law 116-128, which authorized VA to continue providing full tuition and monthly housing payments through December 21, 2020 for educational programs that were moved online due to an “emergency or health-related situation”.
In April 2020, Congress passed the bipartisan Student Veteran Coronavirus Response Act of 2020. This key legislation was signed into law and ensured student veterans would not see their benefits charged if they could not complete a term due to COVID-19. It also allowed VA to continue providing work-study payments to students whose jobs were affected by COVID-19, continue providing housing allowances to students whose schools closed due to COVID-19, and extend the benefit expiration date for students prevented from attending school due to COVID-19. Further, it extended these protections to the Veteran Readiness and Employment (VR&E) program.
In January 2021, the President signed Rep. Levin’s Johnny Isakson and David P. Roe, M.D. Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvement Act of 2020, which included the Pandemic Assistance for Student Veterans Act. This legislation extended the previous protections through December 21, 2021 and provided VA with additional flexibility to assist students impacted by the COVID-19 emergency.
In December 2021, Reps. David Trone (D-MD) and Levin’s Responsible Education Mitigating Options and Technical Extensions (REMOTE) Act was signed into law. This legislation further protected education benefits for veterans amid the challenges brought by the COVID-19 pandemic by extending and preserving the modifications from the three previous bills until June 2022.
The Student Veteran Emergency Relief Act would allow the VA to extend those GI Bill and VR&E flexibilities on any future emergency declared by the president.
Read the full bill text here.