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House Panel Vows Massive Boost To Enlisted Military Pay Amid Recruiting Crisis

Enlisted troops could see an unprecedented bump to their base pay in the coming years under a plan Congress unveiled Thursday that could help recruiting and retention.

The plan is the result of more than a year of study and back-and-forth with military leaders and advocates to get to the root of pervasive quality of life issues beleaguering the military by a bipartisan panel of the House Armed Services Committee. Among six recommendations addressing compensation alone included in the panel’s final report, the committee promised to write a 15% pay raise for junior enlisted troops into law next year, adding “real value” to wages.

“We intend to take all of these recommendations and put them into the national defense authorization act,” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mike Rogers of Alabama said at a press conference during the report’s unveiling. “We intend to get that across the finish line with these recommendations. So we are going to do what is in the report.”

The panel called for increases to basic housing and food allowances stacking on top of basic pay, better compensation for military child care workers, policies to ease the burden on military spouses and making health care easier to access. It also calls for “fully funding” housing programs, noting the military has consistently failed to request enough money each year to modernize deteriorating barracks.

Lawmakers said they would implement every single recommendation included in the report, although they will face major budget constraints. Improving quality of life is critical to resolving the military’s recruiting crisis, they argued.

“Military quality of life is a central national security issue, and we can no longer ignore the clear warning signs,” Republican Rep. Don Bacon, who co-led the panel, said Thursday. “For 50 years we’ve recruited America’s best, but when you can’t, when the quality of life is down … we cannot ignore it,” he said.

A RAND study found that roughly 25% of service members are food insecure, with most of those troops being early to mid-career enlisted personnel and mostly in the Army. Service members who lived on base were also more likely to be food insecure than those living off post.

Basic pay accounts for about 60% of a service members’ total compensation but has lagged behind inflation since 2020, according to the report. Pay increases for junior enlisted service members has also lagged behind those of more senior enlisted personnel.

The senior enlisted leaders of each service told the committee as part of its efforts to expose and solve quality of life issues in January that pay is the top issue affecting troops, the report said.

The president’s defense budget request for fiscal year 2024 included the largest troop pay raise in more than two decades at 5.2%. Congress authorized a 4.2% pay raise in the defense budget for the year prior, alongside a small increase to the separate Basic Needs Allowance.

However, members of Congress, both Republican and Democrat, have argued that the pay raises are not enough to outpace inflation and send a message to junior troops their contributions to the country are not valued.

“With inflation affecting everything from gas prices to groceries to rent, some Soldiers and their families are finding it harder to get by on the budgets they’ve set and used before,” Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael A. Grinston said in August 2022.

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