With thousands of military families in limbo during a virtual halt of permanent change of station moves, lawmakers introduced legislation Friday to address financial losses some families are facing.
Specifically, the proposal would change the law to allow service members — without penalty —to terminate a residential lease they’ve already entered into at a new location in anticipation of a PCS move, when that service member is affected by a stop movement order in response to a local, national or global emergency for a period of at least 30 days. The proposal would amend the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, or SCRA.
The bipartisan proposal has been introduced in both the House and the Senate, and would also apply to vehicle leases. This is one step in the process before the proposal could become law, although there appears to be bipartisan support.
In the current stoppage of PCS moves in the coronavirus pandemic, many military families have been caught having to pay housing costs for two residences— their current location, and at another location where they had rented housing in preparation for their PCS move before the initial stop movement order was issued in March. The stop movement has now been extended through June, with some exceptions.
The legislation would be retroactive to March 1, providing relief to families who had been paying rent for a residence they can’t yet occupy.
Under the long-standing Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, or SCRA, service members are allowed to terminate their residential and vehicle leases when they need to leave the current area because of deployment or PCS orders, when certain conditions are met. This proposal would extend those protections to the leases entered into at a new location, in anticipation of a PCS move, when that PCS move is stopped under the conditions outlined.
“These families are stuck — unable to relocate to their new duty station, while getting double billed and paying rent twice over,” said House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Mark Takano, D-Calif., in a statement. “By helping slow the spread, these military families have suffered unintended financial hardship due to their service…”
About 12,500 military members have moved since the stop movement order in March, and 30,000 have asked for exceptions to be able to move. Lawmakers have asked DoD for information on how many service members have been affected financially by the stop move order; information was not immediately available about how many service members this proposal could potentially help.
“While I appreciate the Defense Department’s efforts to keep service members safe during this pandemic, it’s unacceptable that some military families have been forced to pay for a second home that they can’t even move into due to the stop movement order,” said Rep. Mike Levin, D-Calif., in a statement. He introduced the legislation, along with Takano and ranking member Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn. Levin is chair of the Veterans Committee’s subcommittee on economic opportunity.
Similar legislation was introduced in the senate by Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, and ranking member Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont.
“No service member or their family should have to worry about whether they will face an added financial burden because of the sop movement order DoD put in place to stop the spread of COVID-19,” said Roe. “By allowing them to cancel a lease for a new car or house without penalty, this legislation would give them the flexibility and peace of mind they need during these trying times.”