During the past few months of pandemic restrictions, many resources normally accessible to military spouses and their families have been unavailable or hard to find. With offices closed and phones going unanswered, there's been a struggle to find answers and support.
But some programs have adapted well.
Among those are Army Emergency Relief (AER), the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society (NMCRS), the Air Force Aid Society (AFAS) and the Coast Guard Mutual Assistance (CGMA). Almost immediately, application requirements transitioned from in-person to online options for AER, while the other organizations made an effort to keep offices open and to staff telephone lines.
In spring 2020, AER announced a new financial assistance program to help Army families with school-age children. Many families forced to navigate distance learning had to purchase tablets or laptops, buy more educational equipment to teach their children or upgrade their internet capabilities.
In response, AER's new program provides up to $500 per family and is retroactive to March 1, 2020, with no current expiration date, said retired Lt. Gen. Raymond Mason, director of AER.
"AER is always monitoring the needs of soldiers and their families, especially during times of natural disaster or crisis," Mason said. "We know that many Army families have been financially impacted by COVID-19, whether through a spouse's job loss, the soldier's inability to train or travel and more. We also know that many are having to pursue alternative learning arrangements for their children, who may have been affected by the closure of schools nationwide. We enacted these new remote-learning benefits in response to that need."
In a February 2021 update, AER announced its COVID-19 Childcare Assistance Program and Homeschool and Remote Education Assistance is now a needs-based, grant assistance program, a change from the initial program.
The Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society does not have a specific loan or grant for educational resources but did create the COVID-19 Rapid Response Loan, which is similar to its Quick Assist Loan.
"Our COVID-19 Rapid Response Loan is now up to $1,500 and virtual learning expenses do qualify. This loan is available to all of our eligible clients, even ones with an outstanding balance on a current Quick Assist Loan or traditional loan," Gillian Gonzalez, chief development and communications officer, said in an update on March 22, 2021.
Gonzalez said the loan process had been streamlined to make the process easier for eligible borrowers.
The Air Force Aid Society is considering creating a similar program, according to its CEO, with no update since the original publication in June 2020.
Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. John D. Hopper Jr., the CEO of the Air Force Aid Society, said at the time: "We are indeed considering such a program. Although to date, we have not received any requests for this specific type of support, we have completed an informal survey at several of our bases and shaped the broad outlines of what a specific program will look like."
The Coast Guard Mutual Assistance led the way with its coronavirus support for Coastie families. It has given $291,966 to 845 Coast Guard families through its school supplies program, called Supplemental Education Grant (SEG-C).
"CGMA has been assisting the Coast Guard community through this challenging time with a variety of programs," said Alena Howard, chief development officer. "These programs include no-interest loans for lost wages due to a spouse’s layoff or reduced wages and child care for parents who continue to work while schools remain closed. We have already provided a total of $761,306 in COVID-19-related assistance to 1,043 Coast Guard families."
Seeing these organizations adapt to the needs of military families is encouraging, as they work toward their goal of relieving some of the financial pressures families face.
--Rebecca Alwine can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @rebecca_alwine.
Keep Up with the Ins and Outs of Military Life
For the latest military news and tips on military family benefits and more, subscribe to Military.com and have the information you need delivered directly to your inbox.