Lawmakers push foreclosure relief for military

WASHINGTON Fri May 18, 2012 11:51am EDT

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The House of Representatives on Friday voted to further insulate some service members from home foreclosures and extend borrower protections to disabled veterans and surviving military spouses.

The measure passed 394-27 on a bipartisan vote and was attached to a $554 billion defense spending bill that is set for a final vote Friday in the Republican-controlled House. The White House has said the defense bill would face a presidential veto if it hinders the Pentagon's defense strategy.

The foreclosure relief amendment would extend some provisions included in a longstanding federal law, the Servicemembers' Civil Relief Act. The law protects active-duty service members from foreclosure and gives military personnel and their families some financial and legal protections.

The measure, written by Democrats, would extend some protections that are about to end, give more time for foreclosure proceedings, and raise civil penalties for Relief Act violations by the mortgage industry. It would also expand the law to cover surviving military spouses, veterans who are disabled at the time of discharge and personnel serving in a contingency operation, such as a national emergency.

"Our troops fighting overseas in Iraq or Afghanistan should not have to fight here at home just to keep a roof over the heads of their loved ones," said Representative Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Since the 2006 collapse of the real estate market, tens of thousands of military have lost homes to foreclosure and lenders have come under scrutiny for Relief Act violations.

"This bill takes a much-needed step toward protecting deployed servicemembers and their families, discharged veterans with a 100 percent service-connected disability, and surviving spouses," said Representative Adam Smith, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee.

The amendment would stay a foreclosure against military borrowers for 12 months instead of the current three months.

The House would also require lending institutions to set up a toll-free phone number for service members to discuss their mortgage terms and legal rights under Relief Act.

Democratic Senator Jack Reed has introduced a separate bill similar to the House amendment.

(Reporting by Margaret Chadbourn; Editing by Jackie Frank)

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