Quick update on PCS moves:
The Stop Move Order has changed into a conditions-based phased opening. There has not yet been a list published of locations that are approved. So far, there is no list, so assume that all bases still require the Exception-to-Policy paperwork.
Tourist passports will be allowed for overseas moves. We will have additional information about PCS moves to Bahrain and Qatar, which are no longer allowing accompanied assignments.
SPCA is offering pet grants to help offset moving costs for military families.
PPMs (Personally Procured Moves) have increased reimbursement from 95% up to 100% through the end of the year, December 2020, to encourage some families to move themselves.
Krista Anderson: Army Emergency Relief Military Spouse Ambassador. I want soldiers and families to be informed of the amazing resource AER is.
Col. Linda Egentowich: Air Force Aid Society COO. Served 28 years in the Air Force, then retired 13 years ago. I want to continue to serve our families. We are the official charity of the Air Force, and provide emergency relief to active duty families, full-time active guard or reserve members, and retirees and survivors.
What are the top needs of people coming to the Relief Societies?
Top Needs of the Air Force Aid Society: 41% of assistance goes to basic living expenses– housing, utilities, food on the table, etc. Next largest category is vehicle expenses– emergency repairs, weather-appropriate tires. Next category is emergency travel. People expect some emergencies, but traveling home or paying for funeral costs is usually not part of someone’s budget.
Air Force Aid Society offers a Bundles for Baby class with resources for new parents– financial planning, baby info, support, and education. The class includes gifts and gift cards for the parents.
Top Needs of the Army Emergency Relief: the categories are similar in each branch. We have assisted 4 million families since inception with $2 Billion of relief. The largest category is Basic Living Expenses. Changing from on duty station to the next always has unforeseen expenses. Emergency Travel is also very high, because Murphy hits and is always that bump in the road. Our service members families can count on the relief societies to step in and fill that gap when it is most needed.
Service members of any branch can use these services if it happens to be the closest society to them in a time of need. This is true especially for Coast Guard, National Guard, and Reserve families who may not live near their own branch’s base.
What is the process for a service member getting financial assistance?
You can apply online through their website, and it will be sent to the nearest Aid office, who will schedule an appointment and help find out the real problem and stabilize the situation. The service member sits down with a case worker, who can go through a fairly quick assessment and issue a check right away. If it’s over a certain dollar threshold, Red Cross will contact our after-hours workers.
AER has a quick-assist which can approve up to $2,500 of a no-interest loan which can be issued quickly. Due to COVID, only some of our offices are operational right now with social distancing. We can also process online applications with proper documents using EBT within 24-48 hours. It is really fast and a great resource.
How has COVID guidance changed initiatives for Army families impacted in different ways?
The Relief Societies do compliment the branches themselves. Most things don’t turn on a dime, but we have done a good job responding to the need. We have extended assistance to Army Guard and Reserve that may be affected due to the inability to get pay from lack of drill. Anyone activated to respond to COVID-19 also qualifies for assistance. We have added new categories of assistance, such as homeschooling supplies and equipment– up to $500 per family to support homeschooling efforts. This category is retroactive (which is not the norm) so it can cover expenses going back to March 1. This can be a grant, a loan, or a combination. I love that we have a process where you fill out your budget. You apply for the assistance because you can’t afford to pay things up front. But going forward, a lot of schools are offering summer homeschool options, so this will help cover supplies, books, subscriptions, printers, tablets, wi-fi extensions, etc. You would need to show receipts and fill out a budget. Everything is always needs-based.
AER has also added a category called dignified storage of remains, for families who cannot travel and bury their loved one. Extending the funeral can be a costly process, and we don’t want families to be forced to miss a funeral due to Stop Move orders.
What COVID-related assistance are families seeking from the Air Force?
An emergency is an emergency, regardless of the cause. The COOs of the various Air Societies are in conversation regularly, and try to offer similar programs. Air Force families haven’t been asking for the school supplies, so we have not implemented that program yet. We aren’t receiving many requests for COVID-related assistance, because people have been on lockdown and aren’t doing the spending yet. But we want to be sure our centers are ready for the stampede that will happen when a new program roles out.
We do have an internal code for COVID requests. Usually, our requests are about 80% in interest-free loans, and 20% are grants. Most COVID cases we are pushing to change into grants. We are helping families get into a new residence. We have retiree spouses who have lost jobs and didn’t qualify for unemployment. The hardest cases are those where an immediate family member passed away and they want to travel. Commanders are allowing travel, but we sometimes need to assist with the funds.
If you don’t see a category listed, just make the ask! You never know what the answer will be unless you ask.
There are many families PCSing now, and it will increase. What kind of PCS-related expenses can families receive assistance with?
AER breaks PCS expenses into time before the move, travel during the move, and items needed after you get there. This can include utility bills, vehicle maintenance (oil changes and tires), expenses incurred during the move, then after you arrive food, utilities, new purchases, appliances, etc. Last year we started including the costs of spouse re-licensing and certification in a new state. This compliments the Army’s spouse certification program. We have over 30 different categories of assistance, but that aren’t the only things we cover.
Many service members worry about getting command involved when seeking financial assistance. What wisdom can you provide them?
When an Airman has an Emergency need, we don’t want their leadership to be a speed bump. If they know they have a problem and see the Family Center as a lifeline, we don’t ask commanders to get involved. We only ask the First Sergeant to get involved. We only involve a commander if we think it is bigger than Air Force Aid and they need help from the collective aid family. Sometimes a commander will bring an Airman in. We want to respect that and help, but we don’t want Airmen to feel like they need to ask before going to the Air Society. They are adults who fight for our country. They don’t need permission to ask for help.
AER provides financial assistance, but knows that they need more support than that. We have care teams and Family Readiness Groups to provide broader support. We want people to trust their command. We emphasize that asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. You may always be surprised at the support you receive when you loop the command in and let them know you are asking for help.
There is a lot of misinformation that you will lose a security clearance if you ask for aid. That is not true! Go straight to the source, don’t accept rumors about the aid societies.
How do the aid societies raise the funds?
All the military relief societies have a funding campaign, typically in February/March. Our Air Force campaign was in full swing, then COVID hit. We are not part of the combined federal campaign. The relief societies run their own campaigns, independent from other federal campaigns. COVID was a hard hit, so our campaign is planning to pick back up again in July. They want to do a quick 2-week campaign and get new donations. Over the years, donations have trended downwards. Our societies are all about the active duty and retiree population helping their fellow service members, prior generations and future generations. We need donations from anyone who is able to contribute!
AER has seen donations trend downward from active duty soldiers. I encourage families to look at the categories covered and consider donating to your own branch. You can’t get interest-free loans anywhere, even from your parents! We supplement areas that Tricare doesn’t cover. We know what Tricare covers, and we want to expand on that. We can do loans, grants, or a combination. The regulations state that you are allowed to talk about fundraising and the relief societies, and increase awareness. ⅓ comes from the active duty members, ⅓ from retirees, and the other ⅓ from “outside the gate” donations. Many of the campaigns are in-person gatherings, so that impacted our fundraising seriously.
Tips/ Resource/ Advice for PCSing?
Take the time to look through all the resources being offered now: Aid Societies, Blue Star Families, Webinars, etc. Educate yourself now, so that even if it doesn’t apply now, you can answer questions for your friends or help yourself in the future. Even if your service member is away, spouses can use the Aid Societies, and the society will connect with the service member downrange. Go through social media and participate in some of the informative events being offered.
There is almost information overload right now. The Relief Societies are always there for our service members, so start with them. All our programs are delivered face-to-face. Now with social distancing we have to rethink interactions, so our teams in the field are adjusting and delivering our capabilities. We are learning the pros and cons of virtual classes and getting groups educated online. We will try different things to see what works. The best resource is often military spouses, who have the best ideas!