Extra Cash for Low-Income Military Families, 3% Pay Raise in House Proposal

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Military pay. Military OneSource photo
Military pay. Military OneSource photo

The first draft of the House Armed Services Committee's fiscal 2021 defense policy bill contains a 3% pay raise for troops, along with measures that would increase service members' access to child care and introduce a new allowance for military families who live below the poverty line.

The proposal also contains provisions designed to encourage victims of sexual assault to report incidents and to ensure that the Pentagon is keeping close tabs on diversity in its officer corps, extremism in the ranks and domestic violence in military families.

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The House Armed Services personnel subcommittee, led by Rep. Jackie Speier, D-California, issued details of its portion of the fiscal 2021 National Defense Authorization bill, H.R. 6395, on Monday and is expected to vote on it Tuesday.

The measure supports the Trump administration's budget request for a 3% pay raise -- a proposed increase also included in the Senate's proposed defense policy bill, which nearly assures that active-duty personnel will receive the raise come January.

The raise would increase the paycheck of an E-3 with more than two years of service by $780 a year and an O-3 with at least six years of service by more than $2,200 a year.

The subcommittee's proposal also includes a basic needs allowance for military families that make less than 130% of the federal policy guidelines, or $26,200 for a family of four. Designed to help struggling military families who qualify for food stamps or other assistance, the allowance, which last year was estimated to be nearly $400 a month, would provide assistance for "essential needs" such as food, clothing and toiletries.

But the White House has said it opposes such a measure, arguing that junior enlisted pay is comparable or better than private-sector wages for civilians of the same age and education.

Last year, a similar provision proposed by the same subcommittee was stripped from the final version of the bill.

This year's draft contains several provisions designed to increase service members' access to child care, including a requirement that the Defense Department make child care services available at locations where troops work around-the-clock shifts.

The measure also would give housing priority to military spouses who agree to provide child care services in their on-base home.

In addition, the proposal would require the Pentagon to standardize the individual services' Exceptional Family Member Programs. While the DoD has improved its oversight of the programs, military families and advocates have long been frustrated by the differences and quality between programs and services, especially as they move from base to base.

The subcommittee also seeks to tackle domestic violence in its proposed legislation, requiring the DoD to establish a task force on domestic violence, made up of experts from both the government and the private sector.

The proposal includes a number of measures to address sexual assault reporting and investigation, including a proposal that would allow service members to report an incident of harassment or assault without fear of reprisal if they themselves were engaged in misconduct, like under-age drinking or fraternization during an alleged incident.

The draft legislation also would require the DoD and the Department of Veterans Affairs to work together to establish standards of care for personnel and veterans who are victims of sexual assault.

The subcommittee sought to address a number of social concerns, including diversity, racism and supremacism in the armed forces. It would require the DoD to include questions addressing these issues in its workplace surveys and to track all investigations into behavior by any extremist groups or gangs within the military.

It also would require the DoD to provide Congress with a report on diversity in its officer ranks.

The proposal includes numerous health care provisions, seeking to improve service member and family access to mental health services and challenging changes underway in the military health system. It carries measures to slow the transfer of more than 200,000 beneficiaries to civilian health programs, as well as cuts to the number of active-duty military medical personnel.

The subcommittee proposal is just the first step on the legislative path to a National Defense Authorization Act. The House Armed Services Committee is expected to take up the bill next week and amend it before forwarding it to the full House for approval, expected later this summer.

The Senate must approve its version of the bill, and the two must be reconciled before both chambers vote on it and it is forwarded to the president for a signature.

The panel's draft legislation received a boost Monday from Texas Rep. Mac Thornberry, the ranking Republican on the full committee. He praised the panel for working together to focus on military families.

"Family readiness is directly tied to overall military readiness. Including these ideas in this year's draft of the NDAA is important. As members of Congress, we have a long history of putting partisan differences aside to support our troops and their families," he said.

-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Patricia.Kime@Monster.com. Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.

Related: Troops Get Another Big Pay Raise in 2021 Budget Request

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