OnWatch is a quarterly newsletter of the Fleet Reserve
July 10 , 2023
Supporting Servicemembers and Their Families Amidst the High Cost of Living
As inflation surges, there is an urgent need to prioritize support for service members and their families. In this critical endeavor, the Fleet Reserve Association's unwavering dedication to military personnel issues becomes increasingly paramount. The Association has played a pivotal role in advocating for policies that directly impact service members, such as securing annual active duty pay increases that are at least equivalent to the Employment Cost Index (ECI), and costs of labor for businesses in the United States economy. Under current law, military pay raises are, by default, set to equal the percentage change in the U.S. Employment Cost Index (ECI). The ECI is prepared by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in the U.S. Department of Labor. The recent 5.2 percent pay raise for all service members in the House and Senate FY24 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is the current ECI. FRA noted in recent testimony that there is no more critical morale issue for active-duty warriors than adequate pay. It should be remembered that the Obama administration supported and obtained an annual pay increase 0.5 percent below the Employment Cost Index four times in eight years. That is why the FRA supports annual active duty pay increases that are at least equal to the ECI. The Subcommittee should consider a pay increase in the FY 2024 NDAA that keeps pace with the recent spike in inflation. FRA is thankful that the Biden Administration’s budget provides for a pay increase that keeps pace with civilian pay increases (5.2 percent). However, a larger increase is needed because the ECI increase does not keep pace with inflation.
The House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee FY2024 spending bill for the Department of Defense includes a massive rewrite of the military’s pay tables proposed by House Republicans on the Subcommittee. The still unnumbered bill will provide at least a 5.2 percent increase for all active duty and a pay increase of more than 40 percent for some junior enlisted. The move would guarantee that even the lowest-ranking service members would make at least $31,000 annually in base pay. Troops will still receive other financial compensation in the form of housing stipends, free health care coverage, and food stipends. The proposal — which still must survive numerous rounds of negotiations on Capitol Hill — comes in direct response to concerns that thousands of military families are living at or below the federal poverty line, struggling to keep up with rising inflation costs.
Typically, the defense appropriations bill largely pertains to financial issues and equipment costs, while broader policy debates are reserved for the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Members can weigh in on the issue through the FRA Action Center on the website (www.fra.org).
The FY24 NDAA also addresses critical concerns, including childcare challenges, rising housing costs, the exclusion of Basic Allowance for Housing from household gross income calculations, and the commendable recommendation for full BAH. These initiatives, driven by the Association's advocacy, and by the support of key legislators in the House and Senate demonstrate a concern for the well-being of service members.
Addressing Childcare Challenges: Strengthening Family Support and Recruitment:
The Fleet Reserve Association recognizes the childcare challenges faced by military families. By advocating for assessments of on-installation childcare capacity and addressing staff hiring challenges, the Association strives to provide reliable and accessible childcare options. This vital support alleviates the burden on servicemembers, allowing them to fulfill their duties without distractions. By addressing these challenges, the Association contributes to the overall well-being of military families and reinforces the appeal of military service for potential recruits while also facilitating the decision to continue serving for current personnel.
Exclusion of Basic Allowance for Housing: Enhancing Food Security and Family Support:
The Fleet Reserve Association acknowledges the importance of addressing food insecurity among military families. By advocating for the exclusion of Basic Allowance for Housing from household gross income calculations, servicemembers may become eligible for programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). This exclusion helps alleviate food insecurity issues and ensures that military families have access to adequate nutrition, further supporting their overall well-being and reducing financial stress. Furthermore, the restoration of full BAH, an issue the FRA has long advocated for, brings this legislative goal closer to fruition. The recommendation from the military personnel subcommittee to eliminate the 5% out-of-pocket housing cost for service members in response to competitive housing markets demonstrates a commitment to supporting servicemembers and their families.
The Fleet Reserve Association's unwavering commitment to supporting servicemembers and their families amidst the high cost of living extends far beyond financial assistance. Through advocating policies such as pay raises, addressing childcare challenges, advocating for the exclusion of Basic Allowance for Housing from household gross income calculations, and the restoration of full BAH, the Association tackles crucial issues that directly impact recruitment, retention, and food security. FRA’s commitment to addressing these challenges strengthens the military community and upholds its steadfast support of servicemembers and their families during times of economic uncertainty.
OnWatch is a quarterly news update for active duty and Reserve personnel, written by Theo Lawson. He served 8 years total reserve and active duty in the United States Marine Corps and has a personal interest in these matters. As the assistant director of Legislative Programs for the Fleet Reserve Association (FRA), he’s also committed to FRA’s mission to maintain and improve the quality of life for Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard personnel and their families. He looks forward to keeping you up to date on FRA’s legislative efforts to protect and enhance your earned military and veterans’ benefits.