The current COVID-19 pandemic has created quite a bit of confusion and a considerable amount of panic. It’s hard for military families to know where to turn and who to trust. So, we have put together a list of reliable resources and information on several topics.
If a military family has been affected financially by the coronavirus because of travel restrictions or other events, they can check with their service’s military relief organization to see if they are eligible for help. These organizations can often provide low- or no-cost loans or grants.
Army Emergency Relief has established an electronic process for soldiers affected by COVID-19 restrictions to apply for assistance. Visit the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society’s website for information on obtaining aid. Air Force Aid Society offers loans and grants to airmen. Coast Guard Mutual Assistance is also offering aid to those affected by the pandemic.
Military OneSource is an official Department of Defense website that has an entire section devoted to the coronavirus. They have free financial counselors who are available over the phone.
The Independence Fund has set up an emergency program to directly support catastrophically disabled Veterans, Caregivers and families impacted by the pandemic. They have shifted funding to assist with COVID-19 costs like mortgage/rent, utilities, childcare, transportation services, home WiFi services, household cleaning and upkeep, grocery and medical product delivery and streaming services for work and learning.
Your local United Way can also point you to resources. Search here for a United Way near you; in some states, you can call 211 and be connected.
Cash help from the Defense Department for those with COVID-19 PCS delays may be coming soon.
If you cannot pay your bills, it’s always best to call your creditors or loan servicers and let them know; they may have options for repayment or may waive some of the fees.
As part of an emergency declaration on March 13, the president instructed the Secretary of the Treasury “to provide relief from tax deadlines to Americans who have been adversely affected by the COVID-19 emergency.”
The IRS has now provided some clarification as to what this means for taxpayers: for federal taxes, the IRS is giving filers a 90-day reprieve on paying taxes they owe for 2019. Interest and penalties will not apply. On March 20, 2020, the Treasury Secretary announced that Tax Day is also being pushed back three months to July 15.
While most VITA and all AARP tax preparation sites have now closed, military families can still file their state and federal taxes online through Military OneSource’s MilTax program. They can also call or chat online with a Military Tax Consultant.
If necessary, an extension can be filed. But if you expect a refund, as an estimated 75 percent of Americans do, then it’s best to file sooner rather than later and get that money back in your pocket.
Another part of the emergency relief declaration dealt with student loans. The president announced that interest will be waived on federal student loans during the crisis. Secretary DeVos has now issued a statement clarifying what measures will be taken.
All borrowers with federal student loans will have their interest set to 0% for at least the next 60 days. In addition, borrowers can choose to suspend their payments for at least two months. Federal student loan servicers have been instructed to grant a forbearance if a borrower requests one.
Borrowers who are strapped can consider requesting forbearance, which defers monthly payments due to hardship, but if they have experienced a loss of income due to the pandemic, they might consider applying for an income-driven repayment plan, which adjusts monthly payments based on income.
Borrowers should also keep in mind that if they are hoping to qualify for Public Student Loan Forgiveness, they need to continue making qualifying payments, so their loans cannot be in deferment or forbearance.
And it's important to remember that these are only for federally held student loans - it does not apply to private student loans.
Good news! The Veterans Administration had originally issued guidance that GI Bill benefits and housing allowances would continue for up to four weeks after universities moved to online classes, but they did not have the statutory authority to continue benefits beyond that point.
However, emergency legislation has now been passed to protect students from losing their benefits and is expected to be signed into law soon. Students with questions can contact the VA’s Education Call Center at 1-888-442-4551 between 8:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. ET on weekdays.
It’s important to remember that although these are uncertain times, military families do have resources available to them. We may be socially distanced from one another, but we do have somewhere to turn to in times of trouble.