On Tuesday, April 28, State Senator Diana DiZoglio (D-Methuen) filed new legislation, An Act providing COVID-19 emergency financial relief for veterans, to provide one-time emergency financial relief grants to Massachusetts veterans suffering demonstrable financial loss due to COVID-19.
Under chapter 115 of the Massachusetts General Laws, which covers veterans’ benefits in the Commonwealth, the Department of Veterans’ Services (DVS), in partnership with local Veterans’ Service Officers (VSOs), administers a program of financial assistance for food, housing, fuel, clothing and medical care for veterans and their dependents with limited income and assets. This legislation supplements that aid as COVID-19 has created financial distress for Massachusetts veterans well beyond the scope of chapter 115.
In addition, social distancing has created obstacles to readily accessing chapter 115 benefits. Part of the process of applying and qualifying for chapter 115 benefits includes being interviewed by VSOs. With municipal buildings closed and access to VSOs more limited, the bill is designed to provide quick-turnaround financial breathing room for veterans as they navigate other resources provided by the state and the federal government.
DiZoglio also filed the bill to acknowledge constraints municipalities are facing with respect to their local budgets due to COVID-19 as they try to plan for the 2021 fiscal year. Chapter 115 benefits are funded 25% by cities and towns. The bill authorizes the Secretary of DVS to create regulations for the timely and effective implementation of the bill. By streamlining the process for these emergency grants through DVS, the goal is to have these funds distributed more rapidly than the process under chapter 115 can currently provide, while avoiding placing additional financial burdens on the municipalities.
“This is a bill that will not only provide our veterans with much needed emergency aid but also start a long overdue conversation about how our veterans are currently accessing benefits and how we can make this system more efficient and effective in its service to those who served us,” said DiZoglio. “All of us should make it our duty to show gratitude to all service members, to those now in uniform and to those who served this nation in the past. Let’s support the brave men and women who have served to keep us free by passing this important legislation.”
“Veterans have proven particularly vulnerable in this crisis,” said Haverhill resident and Vietnam veteran Ralph Basiliere, who originally contacted DiZoglio about the issue and pointed to a similar proposal that already passed in Minnesota. “Efforts to aid them are desperately needed.”
“I am truly grateful to Senator DiZoglio for advocating for our veterans,” said Amesbury Mayor Kassandra Gove. “The Amesbury Veteran Services Office has remained open throughout the COVID-19 outbreak, working closely with our veterans to ensure that they continue to receive these important benefits and have access to information and resources. In past times of economic hardship we have seen an increase in applications for Chapter 115 benefits, and as we continue to make sure that we are taking care of everyone in our community, this bill is a great step forward to help more veterans. This bill not only expands on Chapter 115 for veterans, but it also ensures that our community receives reimbursements faster, which is important for everyone in these uncertain financial times.”