As the nation is learning how to respond and operate during the Coronavirus health crisis, DAV has also had to adjust how we engage and advocate for veterans with Congress, the Administration and VA. In concert with federal, state and local governmental decisions, DAV has instituted a social distancing policy that includes teleworking, while continuing to fulfill mission critical functions whenever and wherever necessary. More information about how DAV is responding to the Coronavirus crisis can be found here: www.dav.org/covid
While Congress is continuing to work on legislation (more on that below), their professional staffs are primarily teleworking. Although in-person meetings and congressional hearings have been cancelled or postponed, our Washington legislative team has remained fully engaged through regular conversations, conference calls and virtual online meetings with House and Senate staff, VA officials and our VSO colleagues. We have been and will continue to ensure that the interests of veterans wounded, injured and made ill by their service are fully represented during the many decisions being made, regardless of whether it takes place in person or online.
In recent weeks, Congress has been focused on providing a comprehensive response to the health and economic crisis, as well as providing relief for Americans impacted by both. On March 6, 2020, Public Law 116-123 was enacted, which provided $8.3 billion in emergency funding for federal agencies to respond to the coronavirus outbreak; VA did not receive any of those funds.
On March 18, Public Law 116-127, the second Coronavirus response bill was enacted, which provided paid sick leave, tax credits, and free COVID-19 testing, as well as food assistance, unemployment benefits and Medicaid funding. For VA, $60 million was provided to help cover Coronavirus testing and treatment costs.
On March 21, Public Law 116-128 was enacted to protect veterans receiving VA educational and vocational rehabilitation benefits whose education courses were switched to online or distance learning due to the Coronavirus crisis. This legislation will ensure they continue to receive housing stipends and subsistence payments.
And as you are probably aware, Congress has been working on a third Coronavirus response, relief and stimulus bill, which was passed by the Senate Wednesday night and is now being considered by the House. It has been reported that this legislation would provide $2 trillion to support individuals, businesses, state and local governments, including over $20 billion for VA to strengthen veterans health care and benefits delivery during the crisis. There are a number of other provisions of interest to veterans that we will update you on once the law is enacted.
Importantly, the legislation includes what are called “recovery rebates” designed to quickly provide up to $1,200 to individuals, $2,400 for couples and $500 for dependent children. When the text of the legislation was finally released yesterday, we learned that the Internal Revenue Service would use 2018 or 2019 federal tax returns to determine who would receive the payments, as well as what level of payment would be provided.
However, as many of you are aware, because VA disability compensation, DIC and pension are not taxable, many veterans and survivors do not file federal income tax returns. As soon as we read this, we reached out to senior staff on the House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committees, the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee. We have also been in touch with VA and the White House to ask if and how veterans and survivors who do not file tax returns would be identified and provided these “recovery rebates.”
We have been told that – subject to high income limits – every veteran and survivor is eligible to receive a payment even if they have not filed a tax return in the past couple of years; however, we have not yet received definitive answers about how the IRS, VA and other federal agencies would work together to ensure every eligible veteran and survivor receives their payments. We are continuing to seek answers to these and other questions and will update you as soon as we receive clear answers.
In the days ahead, we will continue to need your support and participation with DAV CAN to ensure our elected officials understand the challenges facing veterans, their families and survivors. The active engagement of DAV members and supporters has been and will continue to be crucial to our ability to promote better federal policies and legislation for the men and women who served, particularly those injured or made ill by their service.
Thank you again for your continued engagement with the DAV CAN. Stay safe and healthy.