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States could lose National Guard virus workers just as risk rises for second wave of infection

Politico reports:

More than 40,000 National Guard members currently helping states test residents for the coronavirus and trace the spread of infections will face a “hard stop” on their deployments on June 24 — just one day shy of many members becoming eligible for key federal benefits, according to a senior FEMA official.

The official outlined the Trump administration’s plans on an interagency call on May 12, an audio version of which was obtained by POLITICO. The official also acknowledged during the call that the June 24 deadline means that thousands of members who first deployed in late March will find themselves with only 89 days of duty credit, one short of the 90-day threshold for qualifying for early retirement and education benefits under the Post-9/11 GI bill.

The looming loss of crucial frontline workers, along with questions about whether the administration is shortchanging first responders, would require a delicate messaging strategy, the official — representing FEMA’s New England region — told dozens of colleagues on the interagency call.

“We would greatly benefit from unified messaging regarding the conclusion of their services prior to hitting the 90-day mark and the retirement benefit implications associated with it,” the official said.

Top National Guard and other federal officials on the call did not dispute the June 24 cutoff or raise the possibility of an extension. In a statement, FEMA acknowledged that President Donald Trump’s current order for the federal government to fund the troops expires on June 24. But a National Guard spokesperson said a decision to extend the deployments could still be made in the coming weeks.

“We’re not there yet on the determination,” the spokesperson, Wayne Hall, said. “Nobody can say where we’ll need to be more than a month down the road.”

Governors and lawmakers in both parties have been pleading with the White House to extend the federal order for several more months or until the end of the year, warning in a letter to Trump that terminating federal deployments early in the summer just as states are reopening “could contribute to a possible second wave of infection.” [Continue reading…]

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