Senators OK mortgage protection measures

A package of legislative provisions designed to beef up home mortgage protection for military families has passed the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs. The bill, S. 3322, known as the Servicemembers’ Protection Act of 2012, enhances the already existing Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), abuses of which made headlines earlier this year.

The bill, OK’d on Sept. 12, was introduced by Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, to "fill the gaps" in the SCRA which, say advocates of the measure, leave military families unfairly vulnerable to foreclosure and other penalties related to home ownership or rental. One key provision of S. 3322 would "provide foreclosure protections for servicemembers eligible for hostile fire or imminent danger pay, surviving spouses of servicemembers who died during military service, and servicemembers who are medically retired and have a total service connected disability or disabilities." Another provision would allow a servicemember to terminate a residential lease without penalty if on-base housing becomes available to him or her and family.

Other sections of the Servicemembers’ Protection Act relate to enforcement of the existing SCRA. For instance, fines against violators of the SCRA, such as mortgage banks, would be doubled. Earlier this year, several mortgage banking institutions were "called on the carpet" by Congress for assessing penalties and even foreclosing upon military families in violation of the SCRA. At the time, the banks claimed lack of knowledge of or training about the law and pledged to take corrective measures.

The SCRA-related provisions of the committee-passed bill must now be reconciled with a similar House measure, the Military Family Home Protection Act. This bill originally was introduced by Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., in mid-May. Then-American Legion National Commander Fang A., Wong sent a letter of support to Cummings stating, in part, "Our servicemembers should be afforded every protection and right possible when deployed in service to our nation. These safeguards should be in place regardless of their status as an active duty member and they should extend to their families in situations of serious injury or death."

Cummings himself expressed gratitude for the Senate committee’s acceptance of its version of his bill, telling the Legion, "I applaud the committee for taking action to provide our servicemembers and their families with the protections they deserve against foreclosure abuses. I call on the Senate and the House to immediately pass this critical piece of legislation. Our men and women in uniform should not have to fight to keep their homes while they protect our freedom on the battlefield."