Army Emergency Relief campaign begins March 1
February 25, 2010
By J.D. Leipold
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Feb. 25, 2010) -- The annual <a href="http://www.aerhq.org/" target=Aca,!A?_blank">Army Emergency Relief</a> campaign kicks off March 1 and will run through May 15.
During the campaign this year, AER officials want to promote awareness to Soldiers and their families that donations generate interest-free loans to fellow Soldiers and families in times of need.
Founded in 1942, the AER has provided more than $1.2 billion in assistance, and in the last five years alone has distributed nearly $300 million to more than 280,000 Soldiers and families for unforeseen cash flow problems, said Andrew H. Cohen, AER deputy director for finance.
"This is about 'Soldiers helping Soldiers' because most of the money was donated by Soldiers to help other Soldiers and their families," Cohen said. "Most assistance is given as a loan and paid back to the fund so Soldiers can continue to help the next Soldier in need."
Generally, AER interest-free loans have been under $1,000 for terms of between 12 and 24 months but in the case of larger loans, extensions may be granted on a case-by-case basis.
"Not only are extensions possible, but if repaying a loan creates an undue hardship, a Soldier can convert the loan to a grant," Cohen said. "There's no boiler plate solution to take care of a Soldier and his family."
Cohen said the loan process has become easier for requests under $1,000 due to the command referral program whereby company commanders and first sergeants have the authority to approve a loan. Local installation AER sections can approve cases up to $3,500. For more than $3,500 in emergency funds, the local AER will forward the case to AER headquarters in Alexandria, Va.
It's not uncommon for an emergency fund request to be dropped off at the local base AER office in the morning, then return at lunch to pick up their assistance checks. Cohen said it's much quicker and easier than going outside the gate and having to pay a huge interest rate.
In 2009, AER provided $79 million in assistance to more than 71,000 Soldiers and their families and 90 cents of every donated dollar goes to Soldier and family programs.
The retired Army colonel said the top reason Soldiers borrow emergency funds is for rent or housing. He added Soldiers and their families may show up at a new duty station and be short on deposits for utilities and apartments and that constitutes an emergency.
Essential car repair, such as a transmission replacement or a new set of tires can be funded through the AER as well as emergencies involving temporary problems with pay, medical insurance issues and last-minute travel to be with a sick or dying family member.
"We don't fund experimental medical or pay fines, tax liens, or buy cars, but all those things we don't do, we have done as an exception to policy," Cohen added. "If it's in the best interest of the Soldier, the family and the Army to make a loan, we'll do it."
For more information on how AER benefits Soldiers and their families and how to contribute, visit the AER at: <a href="http://www.aerhq.org/" target=Aca,!A?_blank"> http://www.aerhq.org/</a>.