How the G.I. Bill Came to Be
The G.I. Bill is considered one of the most successful pieces of legislation in the 20th century for the United States. It came into effect right at the end of WWII and provided millions of military service members with the tools they needed to readjust to civilian life. To this day, members of the armed forces receive GI benefits that help them start a new life for themselves outside of the military. Learn the surprising story of how the G.I. Bill became law of the land.
Signing the Act into Law
The G.I. Bill, also known as the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, was designed to help service members transition out of the military after the end of WWII. Veterans’ benefits were a tricky political subject back in the 1920s and 1930s, with a number of politicians refusing to give in to the other party’s demands. At the time, President Franklin D. Roosevelt knew that he had to do something for the millions of soldiers who were about to return home from the war. His initial idea was to create an assistance program for veterans and the poorest members of society. However, Congress wanted to concentrate the bill’s resources squarely on veterans.
Four U.S. senators are credited with authoring and sponsoring the original G.I. Bill: Harry Colmery, Ernest McFarland, Warren Atherton, and Edith Nourse Rodgers. The first bill provided veterans with important benefits such as low-interest, zero-down-payment home loans. Service members could return home from the war and buy a house, even if they didn’t have any money in the bank. That benefit alone is responsible for helping millions of veterans settle down and accumulate wealth. It also moved a large portion of the population into the suburbs and out of the cities. The bill also provided a year’s worth of unemployment benefits to help service members pay the bills as they looked for work. It also included education benefits to help veterans finish high school or go to college. FDR signed the bill into law on June 22, 1944, at the White House.
Different Rules for Different Races
Not everyone benefited equally from the G.I. Bill. Most of the benefits provided by the bill were in the control of mostly white local officials. Benefits were administered on a case-by-case basis, stripping away the impact of the bill for anyone that wasn’t white. There were 67,000 mortgages issued using the G.I. Bill right after the end of WWII. Of those, fewer than 100 went to nonwhite service members. To make matters worse, many banks and mortgage agencies refused to loan money to nonwhite veterans.
Minorities faced similar problems when they tried to go to school using the bill’s education benefits. As of 1946, only one-fifth of black veterans who had applied for education benefits actually registered at a university. Segregation was still rampant in the U.S. at this time, with fewer resources going to historically black colleges and universities. When black service members enrolled in college, many schools did not have the funds to properly train them for a suitable career.
Later Versions of the Bill
New versions of the bill were introduced throughout the 20th century to accommodate the needs of new generations of veterans. The Veterans’ Readjustment Act of 1952 was signed into law to help those who served in the Korean War. This version of the bill provided veterans with added monthly income to help pay for their education instead of sending money directly to an institution. This was a way of protecting the Readjustment Bill after it was discovered that some colleges and universities were overcharging service members in order to get more money from the government.
Another bill was introduced during the 1960s known as the Veterans’ Readjustment Benefits Act of 1966. This bill did not differentiate between veterans of war and veterans who had served during times of peace. As time wore on, Congress and the White House continued to butt heads over how much money the government should provide veterans. Inflation and rising tuition costs forced politicians to continually raise the amount of money veterans could receive through the program.
The G.I. Bill continues to help service members get back on their feet when they return home from the battlefield. It’s just one way that the government can give back to those that have sacrificed so much for this country.