Legislative Updates: Fall 2020
Improvements to the VA Work-Study Program
Modernizing the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Work-Study program has been a longstanding priority for SVA. Prior to last month, institutions often suffered from a lack of timely access to VA Work-Study funds. This resulted in many student veterans receiving late payments or not receiving any payments at all.
On August 8, the President signed into law H.R.3504, which will improve how the VA manages work-study payments to student veterans. Modeled after the Department of Education’s (ED) work-study program, the new VA Work-Study payment scheme will allow institutions access to funds in advance of needing them. This improved process modernizes VA’s previously outdated payment system and ensures student veterans receive benefits in a timelier manner.
Federal Regulatory Actions
Throughout the summer, SVA submitted public comments on several agency actions impacting student veterans.
- Improving the GI Bill Feedback Tool. VA issued a Notice to extend information collection through the GI Bill Feedback Tool. SVA commented on the continued need for and importance of the tool in helping to ensure that military-connected students receive a quality education. The comment also offered recommendations for improving collection of feedback and related aspects of the GI Bill Comparison Tool.
- Student Emergency Aid. The Department of Education (ED) issued an interim final rule linking student eligibility for Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act emergency grants to eligibility for federal financial aid. ED suggested institutions use a completed Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to gauge students’ automatic eligibility for these grants. Since many military-connected students never complete a FAFSA and instead rely entirely on Department of Defense and VA education benefits, many of these students were excluded from automatically qualifying for these emergency grants. SVA raised this concern in its public comment and requested that ED rescind the interim final rule, or in the alternative, carve out an exception for military-connected students.
- Debt Disclosures. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) issued a proposed rule requiring that debt collectors send protective disclosures to warn consumers about the consequences of acting on old debts, including private student loan debt. SVA’s comment provided general support for the Bureau’s proposed disclosures and offered additional suggestions for how the CFPB can improve debt collection regulations to better serve military-connected students.
Legislative Priorities: This Fall and Beyond
SVA continues to press for the protection of education benefits in the wake of COVID-19. As this session of Congress comes to a close, SVA is working to extend current pandemic-related education benefit protections for student veterans found in S.3503 and H.R.6322, which expire this winter. Congress has been receptive to the need for continued protections, and based on our efforts to date, we expect an extension will be passed in the very near future.
We are also encouraging Congress to pass H.R. 7111, the Veterans Economic Recovery Act of 2020, which would establish a rapid retraining program for veterans to give them the skills and knowledge they need to recover from the economic impacts of COVID-19.
Lastly, we are pressing Congress to pass H.R.7952, the Veteran Benefits and Enhancement and Expansion Act of 2020, before the end of this Congress. This bill would make long overdue improvements to the Montgomery GI Bill enrollment process and eliminate the arbitrary time limit on military-connected student eligibility for in-state tuition.
SVA will continue to keep the impacts of the pandemic top-of-mind, but we look forward to the next session of Congress in hopes of redoubling our efforts to advance our established policy priorities.