The reversal comes after a wave of backlash from lawmakers and top defense department officials.
Following a week of backlash, the Trump administration announced Thursday it would extend the federal deployment of more than 40,000 National Guard troops across the country rather than cutting short their service one day before they stood to qualify for key retirement and education benefits.
“The men and women of the National Guard have been doing a great job fighting the CoronaVirus. This week, I will extend their Title 32 orders through mid-August, so they can continue to help States succeed in their response and recovery efforts,” Trump wrote in a Thursday tweet.
The Trump administration previously announced that it would terminate funding for the deployment on June 24, one day before the soldiers’ benefits kicked in. Thursday’s reversal comes after a wave of backlash from Democrats, some Republicans, and top defense department officials. Some lawmakers said the June 24 cutoff was clearly intended to prevent troops from receiving their benefits, which kick in after 90 days of service during a federal emergency.
“Intentionally ending orders one day short of a deadline for National Guard soldiers to receive benefits for their heroic sacrifices is the definition of heartless,” Rep. Max Rose (D-NY) said in a statement.
Politico reported that the Trump administration set the June 24 date despite being well aware that it would deprive soldiers of their benefits. “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,” one official said on an interagency phone call, the recording of which was obtained by Politico.
The early termination also threatened to harm states’ efforts to combat the coronavirus pandemic. The National Guard members, first deployed in March, have provided a huge boost to states and U.S. territories as they’ve battled COVID-19 outbreaks in recent months. Had the Trump administration gone through with its initial plan, states that currently rely on the National Guard would have been forced to cover the cost of the deployments, or else find themselves understaffed as they try to ramp up testing, contact tracing, and other public health strategies.
Citing these concerns, a bipartisan group of more than 100 lawmakers, including Rose, called on Trump to extend the Guard’s deployment. “Cutting off your Department’s support to our states on June 24th would undermine our whole-of-nation response and shift the full burden to states whose budgets are already under great strain,” the lawmakers wrote last week.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper, National Guard Chief General Joseph Lengyel, and 42 governors also urged Trump to continue providing federal support for the Guard.
On Thursday, Rose celebrated the administration’s reversal.
“I will never tolerate any level of government trying to nickel-and-dime our soldiers,” Rose said in a statement. “They earned these benefits and I thank President Trump for hearing our call and reversing this heartless policy.”