More than 1,000 soldiers and Army families who received loans this year from Army Emergency Relief are about to get a windfall, as the nonprofit forgives those debts, converting them instead to grants.
AER, which provides no-interest loans and grants to qualifying families, early this year expanded its assistance categories to cover COVID-19-related money emergencies.
It also expanded the number of people who qualify for the assistance to include an additional 28,000 Guard and reservists activated for COVID-19 response, and their families.
Typically, AER is available to active-duty soldiers and their families, as well as Army retirees; widows and orphans of soldiers who died on active duty or after retirement; medical retirees and their families; and members of the Guard and reserve who have been activated for more than 30 days.
The expansion now covers Army National Guard and reservists for activations shorter than 30 days.
Now, officials with the program said they are individually reviewing all of the loans given this year -- about 13,000 loans worth about $23 million -- and forgiving those made in response to the "unique challenges" of 2020, said retired Lt. Gen. Ray Mason, AER director in a statement. Officials estimate the process will forgive about $1 million worth of debts.
"Our goal is to identify loans issued in response to some of the unique challenges we've faced this year, and eliminate the requirement of payback on those loans," he said. "In doing so, we believe we will convert $1 million in loans to grants and potentially change the financial future for more than 1,000 Soldiers and their families."
Like loans from the other military services' relief organizations, AER's are typically repaid through military paycheck allotments. The organization this year has already given out 4,000 grants worth about $5 million, Mason said, and $23 million in loans. The bulk of that money is raised through donations from other Army families through an annual giving campaign.
Soldiers and Army families cannot apply for 2020 AER loan forgiveness, Mason said. Instead, those with approved debts will be contacted individually.
-- Amy Bushatz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Related: About Army Emergency Relief
Editor's note: This story was updated Oct. 26 to reflect an update to the source of AER's statements. The statements in the AER release are from Ray Mason.