DALLAS — The state Senate has unanimously approved a bill sponsored by state Sen. Lisa Baker to help a greater number of military families who have fallen on hard times for reasons that go beyond the battlefield.
“Many of our active-duty military are coming home from combat to face new battles at home, ranging from unemployment and mortgage foreclosure, to terminally ill children, post-traumatic stress disorder, homelessness, flooding and other unexpected tragedies,” Baker, R-Lehman Township, said. “This bill will provide emergency funding to soldiers who have laid their lives on the line but who are now struggling to obtain the necessities of life themselves.”
Senate Bill 923 will expand the eligibility guidelines for grants from the state’s Military Family Relief Assistance Program (MFRAP) to include more service members and their families in need, according to Baker, who has served as chairwoman of the Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee since 2006.
It now is being considered by the state House.
Baker said the program is funded through a voluntary check-off on the Pennsylvania Personal Income Tax refund. Grants are awarded in amounts up to $3,500 for service members and their families experiencing sudden financial hardship.
To provide additional flexibility, the bill will allow service members to receive aid for any pressing financial need beyond their control, not just those needs directly resulting from military service.
“Thanks to the generosity of so many patriotic Pennsylvanians, the MFRAP program has a healthy fund balance of more than $1 million,” Baker said.
She said the bill also will extend the time limit during which service members can apply — from one year to three years after release from active duty for reservists and for former members of the armed forces, its reserve or Guard. It extends the time limit from two years to four years if the member was injured in the line of duty and received a medical discharge.
MFRAP was created in 2005 as part of the “Support our Soldiers” initiative, recognizing that military service sometimes leads to an unexpected financial burden for military families, ranging from child care costs to travel, medical and funeral costs. MFRAP grants approved in 2012 totaled nearly $115,000.