Rep. Cisneros Joins HVAC in Introducing Bipartisan Legislation to Minimize COVID-19 Impact on Student Veterans

March 24, 2020
Press Release

WASHINGTON, DC - Representative Gilbert. R. Cisneros, Jr. (D-CA-39) joined House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Mark Takano (D-CA-41) and Ranking Member Dr. Phil Roe (R-TN-1) in introducing the bipartisan Student Veteran Coronavirus Response Act of 2020, key legislation to minimize the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on student veterans as schools and universities have taken proactive measures to mitigate the spread of the virus.

“As our country continues to fight the coronavirus pandemic, we need to make sure we are taking care of our student veterans,” said Rep. Cisneros. “With more schools transitioning to online learning and without an existing congressional fix, this abrupt change can have a negative impact on our student veterans’ educational benefits. They shouldn’t have to worry about a disruption in their studies, unexpected bills, or loss of benefits during this emergency. As a Navy Veteran, I’m proud to be an original co-sponsor to the Student Veteran Coronavirus Response Act and continue to bring relief to our veterans.”

Here’s how this new legislation works for student veterans:

  • Work-Study During Emergencies: As institutions of higher learning are switching to solely online instruction and as campuses are shutting down as a precaution, student veterans who work on campus through VA’s work-study program will lose an important source of income. This bill gives VA the latitude to continue paying student veterans who lost their position on campus due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
  • Expands Protections For Student Veterans During Emergencies: Currently, if schools close for up to four weeks during a term VA can continue paying housing and allowances to student veterans. This bill builds on these protections by modifying current law to cover all emergency situations, including public health emergencies like those caused by the current spread of COVID-19. In addition, this legislation allows this protection to be triggered once every 6 months (down from 12) and creates a separate four week, uncharged period for the current COVID-19 situation.
  • Bridges Digital Divide: In order to halt the spread of COVID-19, many schools have begun moving to online classes, but not all students and schools who were attending on-site classes were able to make this transition online. This legislation would restore the interrupted term or semester of their education benefit to students who could not complete classes because of an emergency. With this fix, student veterans will continue to receive housing benefits through the end of their term and will not have their GI Bill eligibility charged for any class they were unable to complete and receive credit for if their schools or program shut down due to an emergency situation. This helps ensure student veterans can continue to cover daily expenses and pursue their degrees without losing an entire semester of benefits.
  • Veterans Are Not Penalized For Emergency Situations: This legislation would stop the eligibility clock for student veterans and eligible dependents impacted by school closures during emergency situations by allowing VA to extend by the same amount of time that a student was prevented from attending school due to an emergency the “use or lose” date for VA education benefits.
  • Extends School Closure Protections to Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) Veterans: This bill would ensure 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 near-term employment prospects.

Background: The Student Veteran Coronavirus Response Act of 2020 builds on recent legislation (S.3503), passed by the House and Senate and signed into law by the president, to 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 legislation has been endorsed by Veterans Education Success, Paralyzed Veterans of America, and National Association of Veterans’ Program Administrators, cosponsored by 25 Members including Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity Chair Levin, and will be included in the Speaker’s COVID-19 emergency response package later this week. Full text of the bill can be found here.

Last week, Rep. Cisneros led a bipartisan call for the House to pass a bill to allow student veterans to keep their housing during the public health crisis. The House passed it and the bill was signed into law. 

Rep. Cisneros is a Navy Veteran and member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

Since this crisis began, the Committee has continued its oversight of VA’s response to COVID-19 and the Fourth Mission, worked to mitigate the impact on student veterans, and been in constant contact with VA to ensure they can continue to provide high quality care for veterans. For more information about the Committee’s efforts to address the COVID-19 crisis and resources for available for veterans, please visit https://veterans.house.gov/covid-19

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