The last six weeks have flown by in the General Assembly, with lawmakers discussing a number of important policy initiatives designed to better the welfare of our state and the lives of Hoosiers. As we enter into the final month of the legislative session, I wanted to take an opportunity to focus on one important initiative I have supported. This measure will help honor our brave Hoosier military members who have sacrificed so much for our country, and provide their families with additional help for basic needs — like food, shelter and transportation —during economic hardships.
There is no question that we, as free Americans, owe a great debt to our veterans, both past and present, for their personal sacrifices and dedicated service. To date, 75 Hoosiers have been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor as a proud testimony to their remarkable courage and sacrifice. Today, Indiana is home to nearly 550,000 veterans and 52,000 veterans and survivors collect disability compensation or pension payments.
Before I get into the initiative I have supported, let me take a minute and give you some background on this issue. Since January 2, 2007, the Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs (IDVA) has been accepting grant applications from the families of deployed or recently deployed Indiana National Guard members and members of the Selected Reserves to receive financial assistance from the Military Family Relief Fund (MFRF). In 2006 I authored Senate Bill 75, which created the MFRF, to provide short-term funds to miliary veterans and their families during hardships.
Grants from the MFRF are currently available to veterans for one year after deployment. The emergency grants can be used by the families for needs such as food, housing, utilities, medical services, transportation and other essential family support expenses, which during a recession, have become difficult for many to afford. The overwhelming benefits of the MFRF aren't hard to imagine and the help they're providing is indisputable. The Indiana Division of Veteran Affairs reports over $700,000 in grants have been awarded to almost 300 families since the fund was created.
Currently, service members only receive assistance for up to one year after deployment. My Senate colleagues and I wanted to lengthen that period, because we understand that sometimes one year is not enough. In an effort to do more for these deserving veterans, Senate Bill 31 allows Indiana service members and their families to receive financial assistance from the MFRF for up to three years after deployment. In addition, SB 31 would allow our National Guard members activated for state duty to receive this emergency financial assistance. Right now, members of the National Guard who serve on state duty for less than 30 days during a time of national conflict or war are not eligible for benefits from the MFRF.
I'm happy to report the measure has passed the Senate and is now under further consideration in the House of Representatives. It is my hope and expectation that this initiative becomes law and delivers better support for our Hoosier military families.
There is no greater privilege than to honor those who have given so much. While this measure is only a small token of our overwhelming gratitude, it is my hope that it goes a long way towards providing some much-needed financial aid in the months and years to come.