A bipartisan group of 125 lawmakers on Capitol Hill is calling on the Pentagon to extend support to National Guardsmen on coronavirus-related missions across the country.
Under an existing federal order, 45,000 National Guardsmen who are deployed to help cities combat the coronavirus outbreak would have their mission cut short on June 24, one day before the service members would qualify for federal benefits.
“The National Guard has been critical in executing the nation’s pandemic response efforts,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to President Trump, Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper and Peter Gaynor, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Administration.
“We believe it is critical to ensure that all National Guard personnel are taken care of during this crisis and after, recognizing that the threat of COVID-19 will not immediately go away and the National Guard is likely to be called on again in the future,” they continued.
Lawmakers have slammed the move to end deployments at the specific date as “intentional” and “heartless,” while calls have been growing on Capitol Hill to extend benefits for the Guardsmen.
Rep. Max Rose, who has been deployed to New York City’s Staten Island with the National Guard amid the outbreak, said in a statement that “in peace time we should never balance our budget on the backs of our soldiers, so why anyone would think this is okay to do in the middle of a wartime effort is beyond human comprehension.”
“This decision must be reversed not only because it is deeply unpatriotic, but also economically unsound and puts our gains against COVID-19 at risk for some short-term, foolish budgetary gimmick,” the New York Democrat said.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Friday he would support extending their mission if needed to help combat the coronavirus in various cities.
“If they have a valid mission assignment that’s verified by FEMA, my view is we should extend those tours of duty,” he said during an interview with NBC’s “Today.”
“I’m fully committed to supporting our National Guard members,” he said. “I’m not worried about the number of days. What I’m worried about is making sure we win the fight against coronavirus and we fully support the young men and women who are serving on the streets of America in the National Guard.”
The group of 95 Democrats, 29 Republicans and one Independent called on the administration to provide deployed troops with healthcare benefits for 180 after their deployment ends, keep all Guardsmen on federal Title 32 status rather than transitioning them to state active duty orders early next month, and allow flexibility on how they can use accrued time off.
“We are proud of the incredible contributions of the National Guard. They have been a critical team member in the nation’s fight against COVID-19,” the lawmakers wrote. “We welcome your support in ensuring they are kept safe, healthy, and receive the benefits they deserve.”
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