LEGISLATIVE UPDATE

 

MOAA Illinois Council of Chapters

Director of Legislation

March 2021

 

MOAA in Action: Major Legislative Accomplishments.  Here are MOAA’s priorities for advocacy as the 117th Congress begins its work. Our focus remains on all eight of the uniformed services and their service-earned entitlements.  As protecting health care and service-earned benefits continues to be a challenge, MOAA will press forward in engaging Congress to shape outcomes in these vital areas.  There are steep hills before us. Our nation has a rising debt of more than $27 trillion, and a deficit of more than $3 trillion. In view of this, MOAA anticipates robust attempts to control federal budgets, reduce or eliminate unprogrammed expenditures, and reduce entitlements.

 

MOAA needs you to be at the ready to reach out to your legislators, and keep that engagement going as needed to make sure your voice is heard.  MOAA’s priorities are list below. Click one of the links below to go directly to each objective:

  • Recognize the COVID-19 Pandemic Changed the Landscape for Many of Our Priorities

  • Protect the Value of the Military Health Care Benefit

  • Protect the MHS Pharmacy Benefit and Achieve Flexibility in TRICARE Pharmacy Copays

  • Address Barriers to Accessing Care Within the MHS, Including TRICARE Coverage Gaps and Mental Health Care Access Challenges

  • Achieve Concurrent Receipt of Service-Earned Retirement Pay and VA Disability Pay

  • Protect Family Support Programs, and Ensure Military-Provided Services (Housing, PCS, Child Care) Are Affordable, Readily Available, and Meet Quality Standards

  • Reform the Presumptive Process to Support Veterans Claiming Service-Connected Disabilities for Toxic Exposures

  • Achieve Equity of Benefits, Protections and Administrative Support for Guard/Reserve Members Consistent with Their Active-Duty Counterparts

  • Sustain Veterans Health Administration (VHA) Foundational Missions and Services

  • Protect Arlington National Cemetery as an Option for Those Currently Eligible to Receive Full Military Honors, Through Expansion of Our National Cemetery

  • Sustain Pay Raises for Servicemembers and COLA Raises for Retirees

  • Improve Survivor Benefits

  • Ensure the Coast Guard Receives Pay During a Government Shutdown

 

Advocacy in Action.  As most of you know by now, MOAA has renamed “Storming the Hill” to “Advocacy in Action” a less threatening title.  Our contact with Congress will again will be a virtual event this year.  MOAA National has requested we form teams to make contact with our legislators.  We have formed five teams to make contact with our senators and representatives and advocate the issues identified as priority issues for this year.  We are hoping this strategy will get more chapter members involved with MOAA National’s spring advocacy campaign. The three topics, listed below, were approved by the MOAA Board of Directors on January 29, 2021.

 

Topic #1: Toxic Exposure – TEAM Act (Toxic Exposure in the American Military)

When most people hear about toxic exposure, they think of Agent Orange and Vietnam. The problem extends to those in uniform today. One of the more recent and impactful examples are from burn pits in Afghanistan and Iraq. Additionally, there are exposure risks from fire-fighting chemicals and contaminated drinking water to name a few. We seek the basics: expanded health care for those who were exposed, the creation of an advisory council, and to reauthorize the Agent Orange authorities which expired in 2015. This issue hits more than the servicemembers – it is a direct impact to the families who are or will be the caregivers.

 

Topic # 2: TRICARE Young Adult (TYA)

Military kids face unique challenges – the average military kid will move six to nine times during their school years and experience repeated family separations. Yet, current law leaves military kids transitioning to adulthood without the same health care protections afforded to families with commercial plans. Ensuring health care access and affordability is particularly important during the current pandemic. As COVID-19 impacts higher education pathways and makes it more difficult for young adults to find jobs, we must ensure military families who have sacrificed so much in support of our nation have the same health care protections for their young adult children as their civilian counterparts covered by commercial plans. H.R. 475, The Health Care Fairness for Military Families Act of 2021 addresses this inequity and supports our military families.

 

Topic #3: Basic Needs Allowance

This allowance helps our most vulnerable servicemembers that face food insecurity—mostly junior enlisted military families. An automatic subsistence allowance for servicemembers whose gross household income (not including BAH) is below 130% of the federal poverty line is needed. This recurring struggle is exacerbated by COVID-19 layoffs which impacted spouses’ contribution to the household income. While a small number of servicemembers qualify for SNAP, there are many military families that do not qualify for the program as BAH is considered income; so, they turn to food pantries instead. Armed Forces YMCA reported a 400% increase in grocery demand at their food pantries on and near military installations during the pandemic. Commanders in the field will appreciate these efforts to take care of their troops.

 

Concurrent Receipt Resources and Advocacy Updates.  Nine days after Major Richard Star, USAR, lost his battle with cancer from toxic exposure, Sens. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) reintroduced the Major Richard Star Act (S. 344) with 42 Senators as original cosponsors.  The legislation will authorize concurrent receipt of DoD retired pay and VA disability for those injured in a combat zone and forced to medically retire under Chapter 61.  Senators are growing bipartisan support for this legislation – part of an incremental strategy to chip away at the larger concurrent receipt problem that has an associated $33 billion price tag.

 

The House is on a different schedule than the Senate and will also reintroduce the Major Richard Star Act very soon. Reps. Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.) and Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.) will champion the legislation again this year in the House. Last year, the bill ended in the 116th Congress with support from 101 representatives.  Increasing support for this legislation is critical for the bill to pass – either as a standalone measure or as part of the National Defense Authorization Act.

 

MOAA and The Military Coalition will continue to advocate for concurrent receipt legislation like The Major Richard Star Act and the strategy to incrementally achieve concurrent receipt for all retirees. Contact your legislators today, and monitor updates and read more about concurrent receipt at MOAA.org.

 

Key Bills in the US Congress

The following key bills are important issues before the 116th Congress that MOAA recommends supporting.  You may find more details about each bill, such as the sponsor, status, prognosis, what stakeholders are saying, and the history at https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/#find:

Federal - S 21: Pay Our Coast Guard Act. A bill making continuing appropriations for Coast Guard pay in the event of an appropriations act expired prior to the enactment of new appropriations (official title to be confirmed).  MOAA supports.

  • Introduced January 3, 2019

  • Original sponsor: Sen. John Thune (R-SD); 40 Co-Sponsors

  • Illinois Co-Sponsors:  Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL)

Federal - HR 413: Hire A Hero Act of 2019.  A bill to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to allow the work opportunity credit to small businesses which hire individuals who are members of the Ready Reserve or National Guard, and for other purposes.  MOAA supports.

  • Introduced: January 9, 2019

  • Original Sponsor: Del. Stacey Plaskett (D-VI); 20 Co-Sponsors

  • Illinois Co-Sponsors:  Rep. Robin Kelly (D-IL2)

Federal – HR 847: Protecting Gold Star Spouses Act of 2019.  A bill to provide interim appropriations for the Coast Guard Retired Serviceman's Family Protection and Survivor Benefits Plans for each fiscal year after fiscal year 2018, and for other purposes.  MOAA supports.

  • Introduced: January 29, 2019

  • Original Sponsor: Rep. Mark Green (R-TN); 45 Co-Sponsors

  • Illinois Co-Sponsors:

    • Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL1)

    • Rep. Robin Kelly (D-IL2)

(New) Federal – S 344 (Formerly S 3393): Concurrent Receipts of Veterans’ Disability. A bill to amend title 10, United States Code, to provide for concurrent receipt of veterans' disability compensation and retired pay for disability retirees with fewer than 20 years of service and a combat-related disability, and for other purposes.

  • Introduced February 22, 2021

  • Original sponsor: Sen. Jon Tester; 45 Co-Sponsors

  • Illinois Co-Sponsors:  Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL)

Key Bills in the Illinois Legislature

HB 583 – Income Tax-Veterans Caregiver. Amends the Illinois Income Tax Act. Creates an income tax credit for taxpayers who are caregivers of a veteran with a disability. Provides that the credit shall be in an amount equal to 5% of the costs incurred in caring for the veteran, not to exceed $1,000 in credits in any taxable year. Effective immediately.

  • Introduced February 8, 2021

  • Original Sponsor(s): Rep. Katie Stuart; Chief Co-sponsor: Joyce Mason; Co-sponsors: 6

  • Last Action: March 2, 2021 - Assigned to Revenue & Finance Committee.

 

HB35-Veterans Bill of Rights. Creates the Veterans Bill of Rights Act. Requires the Department of Veterans' Affairs to make specified efforts to: (1) increase loans to small business concerns owned and controlled by veterans or service-disabled veterans; (2) increase veterans' access to health care coverage and services; (3) take specified steps toward preventing veteran suicide; and (4) develop and implement a strategy to end veteran homelessness within 3 years. Directs the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation to review all State licenses for which military service members may have relevant training or experience, produce a report recommending steps that can be taken to increase recognition of military training and experience toward licensing, and take those steps within one year of issuing the report. Contains provisions regarding veterans at public institutions of higher education receiving college credit, registering for courses, and being called to active duty. Requires the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity to annually review apprentice, training, and other vocational programs focused on providing job training and placement to returning military service members and veterans. Contains other provisions.

  • Introduced January 14, 2021

  • Original Sponsor(s): Rep. Joyce Mason; Co-sponsors: 2

  • Last Action: February 23, 2021 - Assigned to Veterans' Affairs Committee (VAC).  VAC hearing March 16, 2021 9:00 AM, www.ilga.gov Virtual Room 3, Springfield, IL.

 

HB 163 – School Code-Military Dependent Tuition. Amends the School Code. Provides that if, at the time of enrollment, a dependent of United States military personnel is housed in temporary housing located outside of a school district, but will be living within the district within 6 months (instead of within 60 days), the dependent must be allowed to enroll and must not be charged tuition. Provides that United States military personnel shall provide proof within 6 months (instead of within 60 days) after the time of enrollment that the dependent will be living within the district. Effective immediately.

  • Introduced January 22, 2021

  • Original Sponsor(s): Rep. Jeff Keicher; Co-sponsors: 6

  • Last Action: February 23, 2021 - Assigned to Elementary & Secondary Education: School Curriculum & Policies Committee.

 

HB 390 - Veteran Service Dogs. Appropriates $200,000 from the General Revenue Fund to the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity to be used for a $100,000 grant to the Willing Partners Canine Education, Inc. and a $100,000 grant to K9s for Veterans, NFP, for costs associated with service dog training for veterans. Effective July 1, 2021.

  • Introduced January 29, 2021

  • Original Sponsor(s): Rep. Martin J. Moylan; Co-sponsors: 3

  • Last Action: March 2, 2021 - Assigned to Appropriations-General Services Committee.

 

HB2378 - Surviving Spouse Amendment to Homestead Exemption (companion bill to SB 2559).  Amends the Property Tax Code. Provides that, for the 2015 taxable year and thereafter, the exemption for veterans with disabilities also carries over to the surviving spouse of a veteran who was killed in the line of duty in the current taxable year or any preceding taxable year. Provides that, for the 2021 taxable year and thereafter, the exemption for veterans with disabilities also carries over to (i) the surviving spouse of a veteran who did not obtain the exemption before death, but who would have qualified for the exemption in the current taxable year if he or she had survived and (ii) the surviving spouse of a veteran whose death was determined to be service-connected and who is certified by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs as being a current recipient of Dependency and Indemnity Compensation. Provides that, in the case of a surviving spouse who is certified by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs as being a current recipient of Dependency and Indemnity Compensation, the property is exempt. Provides that the exemption carries over to the benefit of the veteran's adult or minor child if the child receives social security disability benefits or social security supplemental income because of a permanent disability and the veteran is deceased and the veteran's surviving spouse is deceased, remarries, or disclaims the exemption under this Section. Effective immediately.

  • Introduced January 29, 2021

  • Original Sponsor(s): Rep. Joyce Mason; Co-sponsors: 0

  • Last Action: March 9, 2021 - Assigned to Revenue & Finance Committee.

 

HB3279 - Nursing Scholarship for IDVA. Amends the Department of Veterans' Affairs Act. Provides that the Department of Veterans' Affairs shall establish a program to enable veterans who are certified nursing assistants to meet the requirements for practical nurse licensure under the Nurse Practice Act.

  • Introduced January 19, 2021

  • Original Sponsor(s): Rep. Terra Costa Howard; Co-sponsors: 0

  • Last Action: February 19, 2021 - Referred to Rules Committee.

 

SB 91 - Admission to Veterans Home for Guard and Reserve Retirees. Amends the Department of Veterans' Affairs Act. Provides that a veteran is entitled to admission to an Illinois Veterans Home if he or she has served in the National Guard or Reserve Forces of the United States and completed 20 years of satisfactory service, is otherwise eligible to receive reserve or active-duty retirement benefits, and has been an Illinois resident for at least one year before applying for admission for purposes of eligibility for domiciliary care or nursing home care (currently, only domiciliary care). Effective immediately.

  • Introduced January 19, 2021

  • Original Sponsor(s): Sen. Jil Tracy; Co-sponsors: 0

  • Last Action: February 3, 2021 - Referred to Assignments.

 

SB 2559 - Surviving Spouse Amendment to Homestead (companion Bill HB2378). Amends the Property Tax Code. Provides that, for the 2015 taxable year and thereafter, the exemption for veterans with disabilities also carries over to the surviving spouse of a veteran who was killed in the line of duty in the current taxable year or any preceding taxable year. Provides that, for the 2021 taxable year and thereafter, the exemption for veterans with disabilities also carries over to (i) the surviving spouse of a veteran who did not obtain the exemption before death, but who would have qualified for the exemption in the current taxable year if he or she had survived and (ii) the surviving spouse of a veteran whose death was determined to be service-connected and who is certified by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs as being a current recipient of Dependency and Indemnity Compensation. Provides that, in the case of a surviving spouse who is certified by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs as being a current recipient of Dependency and Indemnity Compensation, the property is exempt. Effective immediately.

  • Introduced February 26, 2021

  • Original Sponsor(s): Sen. Melinda Bush; Co-sponsors: 0

  • Last Action: February 26, 2021 - Referred to Assignments.

 

SB59 - Wave Certification Fees for Active-Duty Military. Amends the Department of Professional Regulation Law of the Civil Administrative Code of Illinois. Provides that the Department shall waive all application fees and examination fees for active military personnel and their spouses. Provides that nothing in the provisions waives the requirement that the person or spouse meet all other licensing requirements, including other fees required during the licensing process.

  • Introduced January 29, 2021

  • Original Sponsor(s): Sen. Thomas Cullerton; Co-sponsors: 19

  • Last Action: March 9, 2021 - Placed on Calendar Order of 2nd Reading March 10, 2021.

 

SB569 – Recruiter Access/ASVAB Test. Amends the School Code. Beginning with the 2022-2023 school year, requires a school district to provide to students enrolled in grades 10 through 12 the opportunity to take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test and consult with a military recruiter during regular school hours and in a location situated on school grounds.

  • Introduced February 23, 2021

  • Original Sponsor(s): Sen. Ram Villivalam; Co-sponsors: 0

  • Last Action: March 3, 2021 - Assigned to Education.