Dozens of universities across the country have moved in-person courses to remote or online courses in the interest of public health. For GI Bill users, this change raises questions and concerns about the impact to GI Bill benefits and housing allowances (MHA) administered through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). A legislative fix was signed into law on March 21, and we are grateful to Congress for their swift action on this urgent issue.
As the second package of legislative fixes comes into focus, we hope that Congress will support student veterans in these critical areas:
Work-study. Student veterans employed in work-study programs depend on this program to meet unfulfilled financial needs. We must provide allowances for these students so they may continue to rely on this program during these uncertain times.
Protect student veterans from the negative consequences of school closures beyond their control. Student veterans must be protected during emergency situations beyond their control and, as more and more schools close, improvements are needed to address several looming problems. Congress must:
- Ensure that student veterans can receive up to four weeks of Monthly Housing Allowance (MHA) when schools close due to emergencies,
- Prevent such payments from being charged against entitlement,
- Extend the deadline to use education benefits by the amount of time a student is prevented from using benefits due to emergency situations,
- Restore entitlement benefits to those whose schools close due to emergency situations, and
- Extend Vocational Rehabilitation & Employment (VR&E) subsistence allowances for up to two months.
We are continuing to work with lawmakers on these concerns and more to strengthen protections for student veterans.
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What can school certifying officials do?
CARES Act Student Relief
On March 27, 2020, the President signed into law H.R.748, the “Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security” or “CARES Act”. This bill provides much needed relief for students across the country. While additional support will be needed, this legislation will help students now as they grapple with the impact of the Coronavirus (COVID-19). Depending on a student’s circumstances, they may expect direct cash payments, expanded unemployment insurance, additional financial aid, continued work study payments, and student loan relief. The bill’s major provisionsrelevant to students are summarized below:
- $1,200 in Direct Cash Payment – Provides a one-time $1,200 check to most non-dependents making up to $75,000 and $2,400 to most people who file taxes jointly up to $150,000.
- Expands and Increases Unemployment Insurance for Workers – Expands eligibility for employment insurance including to those who are freelancers, gig economy workers, self-employed, or furloughed. Increases unemployment compensation by $600.
- Millions of Dollars to Help Students and Schools – Provides $14.25 million to help students and schools address the immediate impacts of COVID-19.
- Approved Leaves of Absence – Authorizes schools to grant students approved leaves of absence due to a qualifying emergency.
- Additional FSEOG Grants – Allows schools to provide additional FSEOG financial aid to students affected by COVID-19.
- Continued Federal Work Study Payments – Authorizes schools to continue making Federal Work Study payments to students when students cannot satisfy work study obligations due to the Coronavirus. Please note: This does not extend to VA Work Study payments. SVA continues to advocate for similar payment protections for VA Work Study payments and will provide updates on the issue as it develops.
- Student Loan and Pell Grant Protections – If a student drops out due to COVID-19, that term will not count against their lifetime eligibility for subsidized loans or Pell Grants. If a student drops out because of COVID-19, the grades attributable to the drop-out will not jeopardize a student’s compliance with federal academic requirements for continued receipt of student loans and Pell Grants. Students will not have to return federal student loans or Pell Grants if they drop out due to the Coronavirus. These Pell Grants will not count toward students’ overall cap on the use of those Pell Grants.
- Student Loan Payment Suspension and Cancellation – The Department of Education (ED) must suspend payments, principal, interest, and fees on Federal Direct Loans and FFEL Loans for six (6) months through September 30, 2020. These months will count toward Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF), other federal student loan forgiveness programs, and for purposes of loan rehabilitation. Suspended payments will also count as payments for consumer reporting agency purposes. Involuntary collections (e.g., wage garnishment) on federal student loans will be suspended during this time. ED must cancel the portion of a student’s loan obligation, for the relevant payment period, when that student withdraws due to the Coronavirus.
- Increased Flexibility for International Distance Learning – During the COVID-19 emergency, foreign schools can provide distance learning to U.S. students receiving federal financial aid and can enter into agreements with U.S. institutions to allow students of the foreign institution to take online classes with the U.S.-based institution.
Student Veterans of America appreciates Congress acting quickly to provide relief for hundreds of thousands of students across the country during these trying times. We urge lawmakers to continue monitoring the impacts that the Coronavirus has on students and to act accordingly when future support is needed.
Latest Work-Study Guidance from VBA
VBA has provided new guidance for Work-Study Supervisors to answer four common questions. Guidance may change in light of new legislation, and questions should be directed to the Work-Study Support Line at 1-855-225-1159 (option #2), or by submitting inquiry through the VA website's Ask-A-Question section.
- Zero hour Requests. The 30-day period for a zero hour request cannot be expanded but will match any extension of the term during which it was made. In other words, if a term was to end on 5/15/20, and a request was made until 6/15/20 before the term was extended to 6/20/20, the 30-day request window would follow and extend until 7/20/20. (A zero hour request is an extension of time to allow a student veteran to finish working their contracted hours from a previous contract.)
- Unemployment in lieu of Work Study. It is currently unclear whether VA education beneficiaries can receive unemployment. Students should contact their local unemployment office for additional information.
- Continued Payment in Certain Cases. 1) If VA processed a contract and the student requested advance payment and the agreement has been signed the student may still receive advance payment 2) If a school is closing temporarily the student may be able to switch Work-Study locations to allow them to continue working and receiving payments 3) If a school offers a student the ability to conduct work offsite, remotely, that would satisfy the existing contract, a student may continue receiving payments.
- Work-Study Contracts during School Closures. If a work-study contract was approved before a school closed, VA can continue to pay that student during closure for work performed for the length of the contract or 4 weeks, whichever comes first.
Last updated on April 3, 2020.