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Donations by troops hold up in economic slump

Apr. 13, 2010 - 01:12PM   |   Last Updated: Apr. 13, 2010 - 01:12PM  |  
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The military community continues to rally behind its relief societies, even in tough economic times.

In 2009, soldiers donated $5.8 million to Army Emergency Relief the highest one-year total from active-duty soldiers in AER's history, officials said compared with $5.3 million the year before.

More than $1 million came from soldiers deployed to Iraq, said retired Lt. Gen. Robert Foley, AER director. "We tell deployed units not to worry about it," but soldiers insist on giving anyway, he said. "We get packages from Iraq and Afghanistan with checks, cash, allotment forms."

But overall donations to AER, including from retirees and other individuals, declined by about 10 percent, from $12 million in 2008 to $10.8 million in 2009, according to unaudited data.

Overall donations to the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society stayed stable at $16.9 million in 2009, compared with $16.8 million the year before. But donations from active duty and retirees were down by about 4.5 percent, spokesman John Alexander said.

Donations from airmen to the Air Force Aid Society in 2009 were down by $30,000 less than 1 percent from the $4.69 million donated in 2008, AFAS officials said. Overall AFAS donations were down more than 17 percent, at $6.09 million in 2009 compared with $7.36 million in 2008. But AFAS Chief Executive Officer John Hopper said programs were not affected because officials pulled from their available assets.

Coast Guard Mutual Assistance saw donations rise 5 percent, to $2.16 million in 2009 from $2.05 million in 2008, executive director Barry Boisvere said.

While the other relief societies generally have held steady in their requests for emergency financial assistance, the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society saw a 17 percent spike in requests in 2009. That is attributed to more Quick Assist Loans, designed to get loans to service members within 15 minutes. NMCRS gave 7.2 percent more in emergency financial aid to sailors and Marines last year than in 2008.

AER provided $71.7 million to soldiers and their families in 2009, compared with $70.9 in 2008, although the number of cases was down by 1 percent. Most of that assistance was in the form of interest-free loans, but grants increased from $5.5 million in 2008 to $6.7 million in 2009.

AFAS's emergency assistance to airmen dipped from $13.7 million in 2008 to $12.2 million in 2009, according to unaudited data.

AER and AFAS did not turn down requests for assistance because of a lack of funds; there were simply fewer requests.

AER, for example, has $170 million in available assets as of April 7, not including loans that soldiers are repaying, Foley said.

The three larger relief societies all withdrew money from their assets to provide assistance in 2009. AER withdrew $13 million; NMCRS $7.9 million; and AFAS $6.7 million.

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