Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Advances Durbin-Sponsored Legislation to Expan Student Loan and Housing Assistance for Servicemembers

Hearing on veterans benefits legislation includes Durbin-Duckworth bill to help servicemembers with student loan assistance programs

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – A hearing today of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee made legislative advances on three bills to provide additional assistance to servicemembers and military families sponsored by U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL): the Servicemember Student Loan Affordability Act, the Servicemember Housing Protection Act, and the Benefits Fairness for Filipino Veterans Act. The bills must receive a vote by the full Committee before proceeding to a vote on the Senate floor.


“Our nation’s brave servicemen and women face enough challenges without having to bear the additional stress of unnecessarily burdensome student loan debt or a difficult housing market. That is why I have sponsored legislation to help alleviate some of those concerns by expanding student loan assistance and extending housing protections for servicemembers and military families under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act,” Durbin said. “I am glad to have support in these efforts from my colleagues in the Senate and in the Illinois delegation, and I commend Chairman Sanders for holding today’s hearing and continuing to draw attention to these important issues.”


The Servicemember Student Loan Affordability Act


In July, Durbin and U.S. Representative Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) introduced legislation to fix a provision in the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) that unintentionally discourages servicemembers from consolidating or refinancing pre-service student loans.


“With average student loan debt for active-duty servicemembers at more than $25,000, we must ensure that servicemembers have access to every tool to available help meet their student loan obligations. An important one of these tools is loan consolidation, which is a practical, effective way to manage student loan debt,” said Durbin.


“Our Service men and women are willing to give their lives for this country and it is imperative that we support them when they come home with good paying jobs, an affordable education, and quality healthcare,” Duckworth said. “This legislation would allow Service Members to keep a 6% interest rate on their loans while also being eligible for loan forgiveness in the future. I am proud to work with Senator Durbin on this crucial issue, and introduce this legislation in the House. Together we can make higher education more affordable for our nation’s heroes.”


For servicemembers with Perkins or Federal Family Education Loans, consolidation of pre-service loans is required if they want to participate in the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. The forgiveness program rewards borrowers who have made regular payments for ten years while in public service, including military service.  


A provision in the SCRA protects servicemembers from high interest rates by capping interest rates at 6% on loans that they took out before entering active duty military service. However, if a servicemember consolidates or refinances their student loans that new loan is no longer eligible for this protection, preventing servicemembers from taking advantage of both the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program and the interest rate cap.


The Durbin-Duckworth Servicemember Student Loan Affordability Act would allow pre-service private or federal student loan debt to be consolidated or refinanced, while retaining the 6% rate cap under SCRA. This enables servicemembers with Federal Family Education Loans or Perkins student loans to enroll in the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program while they are serving and still take advantage of the 6% rate cap under SCRA.


The Servicemember Housing Protection Act


On Monday, Durbin joined U.S. Senators Jack Reed (D-RI), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Mark Begich (D-AK), and Jon Tester (D-MT) introducing legislation to expand protections under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act and help protect the financial well-being of thousands of U.S. troops and their families.


“Our deployed servicemembers should not have to worry about whether their family will be forced out of their home because of foreclosure,” Durbin said. “This bill increases protections for our fighting men and women and ensures that they are not financially penalized or foreclosed upon while they are deployed overseas.”


While the recent housing market has proven challenging for many homeowners, military families have been disproportionately impacted and face unique challenges because they transfer on orders and may be unable to buy or sell their house at a financially appropriate time. Under current law, the SCRA caps the interest rate on mortgage loans to active-duty members of the military at 6 percent and prohibits lenders from foreclosing on homes owned by active-duty members of the military without a judge's order.


This legislation would strengthen and expend those protections to:


  • Make it easier for active-duty personnel to claim deployment-related financial and credit protections by expanding what could be submitted to constitute “military orders;”
  • Extend foreclosure protections to surviving spouses; and
  • Facilitate the transition from off-base to on-base housing by making it easier to terminate residential leases early and without penalty if on-base housing becomes available.


The Benefits Fairness for Filipino Veterans Act


In September, Durbin introduced legislation to restore 100 percent benefit eligibility for Filipino World War II veterans. The Benefits Fairness for Filipino Veterans Act adjusts residency requirements for Filipino World War II veterans that currently result in some of them facing a 50 percent cut in benefits, and puts these Filipino veterans on a par with other permanent legal residents.


“Filipino-American veterans served our country admirably and honorably in World War II,” Durbin said. “Whether or not they spend part of the year visiting family in the Philippines is irrelevant to their service of our nation. I’m proud to join Congressman Gutiérrez to restore these benefits for Filipino-American veterans.”


A companion measure was introduced in the House of Representatives by U.S. Representative Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL), U.S. Representative Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), U.S. Representative William Enyart (D-IL), and U.S. Representative Cheri Bustos (D-IL).


Initially, Filipino veterans who are U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents received only 50 cents on the dollar compared to other veterans for benefits including service connected disabilities, dependency and indemnity compensation, education benefits for their children, and a burial allowance. In 2001, Congress passed a law granting 100 percent of eligible veterans’ benefits to those American citizens and permanent residents residing in the U.S. who served in World War II in the Commonwealth of the Army of the Philippines, certain recognized guerilla forces or the Philippine Scouts. A subsequent ruling by the Department of Veterans Affairs slashed the benefits in half for any Filipino veteran who spent more than 60 days at a time or more than 183 total days in a calendar year outside the U.S.—a standard that does not apply to other benefit recipients.


The Benefits Fairness for Filipino Veterans Act would adjust the regulations and give Filipino veterans the same freedom to travel that is afforded to other permanent residents.

In order for U.S. citizen and legal permanent resident Filipino veterans to reinstate their benefits under the current rules, the veteran must submit documentation of any dates they traveled outside the country along with copies of their passport visas or reentry permits with entrance and exit date stamps. Veterans from Chicago and districts across the country have had to go through this cumbersome process to reinstate benefits that they earned, only to be told that their responses are pending in the backlog of cases with the Manila Office of the Department of Veteran Affairs.