Governors ask Trump to extend Guard coronavirus support missions set to end this month

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Governors ask Trump to extend Guard coronavirus support missions set to end this month

The National Governors Association on Monday asked President Donald Trump to extend deployment authorities for thousands of National Guard troops still working on coronavirus relief missions, saying the support will likely be needed “until a vaccine is available.”

About 30,000 Guardsmen are currently deployed in support of state missions. Many of those operations started in March, just weeks after the start of the ongoing pandemic. In May, Trump extended the federal authorizations for the work until Aug. 21.

In a message to the White House, the governors association said the assistance will be needed for longer than that, and plans need to be finalized soon.

Soldiers with the Louisiana National Guard’s 527th and 528th Engineer Battalions, 225th Engineer Brigade, package food to be distributed to residents in need during the COVID-19 response at Northeast Louisiana Food Bank in Monroe on April 23, 2020. (Staff Sgt. Thea James/Army National Guard)

“While we appreciate the administration’s support over the past few months, short-term extensions and last-minute authorizations are adversely impacting and disrupting state plans and operations,” the group stated.

“Though the current extension is authorized until Aug. 21, duty status cannot be changed on a dime. Over the weekend, states and territories were already forced to start the transition process for guard members to ensure compliance with required quarantine policy.”

The group did specify a new end date, but said the ongoing help remains “critically needed” in local communities.

In addition, Title 32 status helps those troops activated. Guardsmen who serve on Title 32 authorizations for at least 31 days are eligible for additional TRICARE coverage, certain education benefits, and time needed to qualify for military retirement.

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Arizona National Guard service members direct visitor check-in at a temporary COVID-19 testing site on the Navajo Nation May 19, 2020, in Tonalea, Ariz. (Tech. Sgt. Michael Matkin/Air Force)

The request comes as Trump has pushed for many states to reopen government functions and lift business restrictions after months of quarantining and social distancing. Earlier on Monday, the president tweeted that “much of our country is doing very well. Open the schools!”

Administration officials have said when a vaccine is developed for the fast-spreading illness, the military — and the Guard specifically — will play a key role in distribution of it to all Americans.

Last month, Air Force Gen. Joseph Lengyel, head of the National Guard Bureau, said he expects continued mobilizations related to coronavirus support missions to last for the the next six months to a year.

Last week, officials from the governors association said Congress will need to provide significant financial help in coming months to offset losses from the virus, totaling an estimated $500 billion.

About 4.6 million Americans have contracted the coronavirus since the start of March, and more than 154,000 individuals have died from complications related to the illness.

About

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.

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