A bill to protect military families left in limbo under Defense Department travel restrictions and subsequent delays in military moves is headed to the president's desk.
An amendment to the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, or SCRA, will allow service members to end a residential lease they've entered into at a new location if they have been -- or continue to be -- affected by the Pentagon's stop movement order.
The law also applies to vehicle leases.
The bipartisan legislation will be retroactive to March 1.
"As we face a global pandemic, military families are being impacted by orders to stay at their current assignment after they previously received change in duty station orders and made plans to move," said Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee said Monday. "I am pleased the U.S. House of Representatives voted to advance the legislation ... to the president."
When PCS moves ground to a halt in March following a Defense Department stop-movement order in response to the coronavirus, an unknown number of families were caught in the middle, having made deposits to reserve houses at their new duty stations and, in some cases, paying rent to secure a residence.
Even though DoD has lifted travel restrictions in many locations, however, some installations remain on travel restrictions, including all bases in Florida and California and some of the largest Army bases, including Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and Fort Benning, Georgia.
Under the new legislation, families who can't relocate because of these travel restrictions will not have to honor their leases.
SCRA allows military personnel to terminate home and car leases if they receive military orders, including deployments or permanent changes of duty station under certain circumstances.
The new legislation extends those protections to military families who signed leases in anticipation of a PCS move but who can't relocate.
"Both chambers of Congress worked quickly to pass our bipartisan bill to expand legal and consumer protections for our nation's service members," said Montana Sen. Jon Tester, the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee's senior Democrat. "When our military families are called on to relocate to posts around the world, we have a responsibility to ensure their transitions are as smooth as possible."
It's not known how many service members will benefit from the legislation. The Navy has said it has a backlog of about 42,000 moves this year, while the Army had 48,000 due to move this year when the stop-movement orders went into effect.
The bill is expected to be signed by President Donald Trump in the coming weeks.