On the same day that special pandemic protections for student veterans were set to expire, President Joe Biden on Tuesday signed into law a measure to ensure that GI Bill recipients will receive their full housing stipends through next semester even if their classes are forced online.
The REMOTE Act, finalized by Congress last week, is expected to affect about 57,000 students currently using the GI Bill for college classes. In some cases, those individuals could have lost thousands of dollars in housing support over the next six months without the bill.
Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., who sponsored the measure in the Senate, praised the bill signing as a critical support step for veterans and their families.
“Student veterans who are learning remotely deserve their full VA housing benefits, and this legislation will make sure they are not unfairly penalized for pursuing their education online during the pandemic,” she said in a statement.
“[The law allows] veterans in Nevada and across the country to celebrate the holidays without worrying about how they will pay rent during their upcoming semester.”
At issue is how post-9/11 GI Bill benefits are paid out to students who attend college classes remotely, rather than in-person.
Students using the veterans education benefit receive money for tuition plus a monthly housing stipend. Individuals enrolled in traditional in-person classes receive the full financial benefit, while students in online-only classes get half of that housing stipend.
That became a major financial issue when the coronavirus pandemic forced college administrators to start moving classes online in spring 2020. Congress passed emergency legislation then — active until Dec. 21, 2021 — to allow VA administrators to keep paying out the full, expected housing stipends instead of cutting the support checks by half.
The difference between half of a housing stipend and the full payout can range from a few hundred dollars to nearly $2,000, since the payouts depend on the location of the student and school.
The new law pushes those authorities back until next summer. Numerous college campuses have announced plans in recent weeks to remain fully or partially online for the spring 2022 semester, but have also expressed hope that all classes may return to normal, in-person sessions by fall 2022.
The REMOTE Act was one of the last pieces of legislative business handled by lawmakers before they left Capitol Hill for the remainder of 2021.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.