COVID-19 Furloughs and a Government Shutdown – What to Expect?
Throughout the summer, we have spoken a great deal about the health risks of the coronavirus. But we are also approaching October 1, 2020 the time the Federal budget appropriations are created. Congress has spent much of this year necessarily focused on the coronavirus. As a result, neither chamber has passed a single spending bill for 2021. Are we headed for another government shutdown in the fall?
The budget must fund 12 measures, including Veterans’ medical care and mental health programs.
The Senate begins the 2021 appropriations process with similarly good intentions. With COVID-19 and police reform in committee, we can predict at some point before October 1, Congress and the president will enact a short-term continuing resolution that will fund the government until after the November elections.
But uncertainty continues and, with COVID-19, we have been facing furloughs similar to those experienced in a shutdown. In this particular communication, we talk a little bit about a Government shutdown and the impact they typically have on Veterans and their families.
Government Shutdown and Impact to the Military and Veterans
What’s open for business during a government shutdown? Not the Internal Revenue Service or the United States Parks Service. The Coast Guard remains without pay, and the Department of Homeland Security is also unfunded. But what about the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)?
The VA has issued statements during the government shutdown to remind those relying on VA care and services that the agency remains open for business.
COVID-19 “Shutdown” Update
During COVID-19, the federal government shutdown has not been implemented within the VA, however there are state and local governments that have shut down some nonessential services. While a government shutdown has not occurred, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) did advise government agencies to establish telework agreements with all employees who can possibly work remotely. The Department of Defense responded with guidance for supervisors to authorize work flexibilities in order to protect the 860,000-plus civilian employees. State and local governments have also furloughed programs (often with paid leave). The telework and furloughs are seen as an effort to slow down the spread of COVID-19 and to protect the health and safety of employees and residents.
In the Event of a Government Shutdown, Is the VA Affected?
The VA Contingency Plan for the shutdown states that nearly all of its employees – approximately 96% – are ordered to report to work as usual. According to the VA Contingency Plan, “Federal activities that are authorized to continue, during a funding lapse, are excepted activities” which include the safety and protection of human life, and the protection of property. The VA medical facilities remain open and appointments are still being kept at VA hospitals and clinics.
If you are a Veteran and federal employee, or a Veteran and federal contractor that is currently furloughed, here are some of the things the VA is doing for you:
- Compensation and Pension: The VA continues to pay disability compensation and pension benefits to 5.5 million disabled Veterans, dependents and survivors.
- Education Benefits: We know that January and February are the peak times for spring semester enrollment. Right now, the VA has more than 1,100 employees processing GI Bill® benefits for beneficiaries. VA’s Education Service is working overtime during this critical enrollment period so that GI Bill® payments are issued correctly and on time. Anyone facing a financial hardship due to the furlough or a delayed GI Bill® payment can contact the Education Call Center at 888.GIBILL.1 for assistance between 7:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. Central Standard Time, Monday through Friday.
- Home Loans: The VA has encouraged loan servicers to be flexible in dealing with borrowers who have lost income due to the shutdown. In addition to providing assistance through loan modifications or other loss mitigation options, as of July 16, the U.S. Treasury can waive late fees and suspend negative credit bureau reporting. The VA can still guarantee loans if a Veteran borrower has been furloughed or otherwise negatively impacted by the partial shutdown. Veterans who have questions about their VA home loan or Specially Adapted Housing benefits can visit https://www.va.gov/housing-assistance/home-loans/trouble-making-payments/.
- Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) Program: VR&E applicants will continue to meet with their counselors who will determine eligibility for services and develop and/or implement a plan to achieve employment or independent living goals. There is no disruption in payments or services, and the VA encourages you to apply for this benefit program.
- Insurance: Both the Insurance Center and the Office of Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance are working as usual to issue new policies, collect premiums from insured Veterans, maintain policies, pay claims, and answer calls from servicemembers, Veterans and their beneficiaries.
- Overpayments: If you have a VBA debt and need temporary financial relief, contact the Debt Management Center (DMC) at 800.827.0648 to request assistance.
How We Can Help?
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