Editor’s Note: This story was updated at 1:19 a.m. on March 23 to reflect that the bill was signed into law.
President Donald Trump on March 21 signed a bill into law that will ensure GI Bill benefits aren’t suspended for college programs forced to switch to distance learning because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Without the bill, tuition, housing, and subsistence allowances might have had to be suspended when schools switch from classroom to distance learning formats.
The Air Force Association joined a coalition of organizations that signed a March 17 letter to the leaders House and Senate Veterans Affairs committees urging quick action. With well over 100 educational institutions shuttered and transitioning to online coursework due to the virus, a rapid fix was necessary, they wrote.
“While all students are affected by these course changes, many military-connected students face urgent and unique impacts regarding receipt of GI Bill benefits that are tied to specific types of course approval,” the letter said.
While GI Bill education benefits cover distance, hybrid, and in-residence education programs, each program must be specifically approved by the VA before payments can be made. Most at risk were conventional college classroom and laboratory programs.
“Without a legislative solution, all VA benefits payments would stop if a program only approved for in-residence learning moves to online learning,” the coalition wrote. Both housing and tuition would be suspended because “the program would be considered unapproved for VA benefits.”
AFA President and retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Bruce Wright praised the bill’s quick passage by the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate.
“This is a sign of Congress’ deep commitment to the best interest of service members, veterans, and their families, especially in this time of unprecedented uncertainty,” Wright said. “We applaud this rapid, bipartisan response to ensure continued GI Bill payments and stability in the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic.”