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Pentagon helping troops pay bills, but less than Congress wants

John M. Donnelly, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON — Pentagon officials announced Thursday that U.S. military personnel who face a rising cost of living will be getting financial help soon, but the initiative falls short of what many lawmakers have sought.

The changes were laid out in a Thursday memo from Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III to military leaders, in which the secretary outlined enhanced compensation to offset the rising cost of food, housing, child care and family relocations.

“The Department of Defense has a sacred obligation to take care of our Service members and families,” Austin wrote. “Doing so is a national security imperative.”

Included in the new Pentagon initiative is paying a so-called basic needs allowance to ensure lower-income troops make no less than 130% of the poverty-level income in their region.

Unmentioned in Austin’s memo is the fact that this program was required by the fiscal 2022 defense authorization law — and that the Pentagon had resisted it previously, according to advocates of the allowance.

Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Gil Cisneros and other officials provided additional details at a Pentagon news conference.

 

Jeri Busch, the Pentagon’s director of military compensation, disclosed “rough” official estimates for how much money service members would get under the basic needs allowance.

The payments would range from about $990 to $30,000 a year, depending on a service member’s pay grade, number of dependents and where the person lives, Busch said.

Of note, however, Austin stopped short of increasing the benefit from 130% to 150% of the poverty line, as the Senate’s fiscal 2023 NDAA recommends, a change that would provide more money to more service members.

Nor would Austin include in his plan a so-called inflation bonus, as proposed in the House-passed NDAA.

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