By extending GI Bill benefits until next summer, Congress guaranteed that student veterans forced into remote classes by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic will receive full benefits.
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) data indicates that about 57,000 students are enrolled in degree programs as a result of the move.
The issue is how post-9/11 GI Bill benefits are paid to students who enroll in college classes remotely rather than in person.
A veteran who uses the veterans’ education benefit receives monthly housing stipends as well as money for tuition. Individuals enrolled in traditional in-person courses receive the full financial benefit, while online-only students receive a portion of that housing stipend.
When the pandemic closed college campuses across the country in spring 2020, tens of thousands of students were worried they would not be able to pay their rent because classes were forced online, meaning lower stipends.
A few hundred dollars can separate half a housing stipend from the full payout since the amount is based on the student's location and school. If the difference is not made up, some individuals could drop out mid-semester or drop the course altogether.
For these reasons, Congress gave VA leaders broad authority to continue paying out full housing stipends even if students were forced out of the classroom. This was set to last until Dec. 21.
Due to the ongoing transition from online to in-person classes, the Senate just passed legislation to postpone the expiration to the summer of 2022. Rep. David Trone, D-Md., sponsored the measure on Dec. 8, and there was no objection.
"While we’ve made a lot of progress in getting this virus under control, many veterans continue to take classes online due to the pandemic and need the protections in this legislation in order to continue their studies," said Rep. Mike Levin, D-Calif., who chairs the House Veterans' Affairs Committee's economic opportunity panel.
Rep. Jon Tester, D-Mont., chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, echoed those sentiments.
“No veteran should ever have to face uncertainty when it comes to their future,” Tester said in a statement.