Monthly bonuses for junior troops included in defense budget plan

by Vern Evans

Junior enlisted troops could receive financial support bonuses within a few months after congressional appropriators included funding for the economic support initiative as part of their final $824 billion defense budget proposal for fiscal 2024 released Thursday.

Lawmakers also included money to cover troops’ 5.2% pay raise this year and a pledge to push for even more improvements to military pay tables next year, calling the low pay of some enlisted troops a “crisis” that must be addressed soon.

“The Department of Defense must work with Congress during fiscal year 2025 to provide legislative options … to include increases to junior enlisted basic military pay as well as other ways to incentivize new recruits and prepare them for duty,” appropriators wrote in a report accompanying the defense spending bill.

Congress has until Friday night to adopt the full-year appropriations bill, already nearly six months late. If not, the Defense Department will head into a partial shutdown, with troops’ paychecks delayed and hundreds of thousands of workers at risk of furlough.

The monthly bonuses for junior enlisted troops were already approved as part of the annual defense authorization bill approved in December. But money to fund the bonuses has been held up by the appropriations delay.

The new budget plan includes $43 million for the program, which allows the Defense Secretary to award “junior enlisted monthly economic hardship bonuses” for troops of rank E-6 and below “as economic conditions dictate.”

The monthly bonuses are only authorized for 2024, and are not expected to carry over into 2025.

The exact amounts and timing of the program are still to be determined by Pentagon leaders following passage of the legislation. Department officials have not yet publicly announced any details of those plans, or if they may decline the option to award bonuses altogether.

But lawmakers are hopeful the extra money will help offset low salaries for some of the youngest service members. Under the current pay tables, some junior troops can make as little as $23,000 annually in base pay.

Pentagon officials are currently conducting its Quadrennial Review of Military Compensation, expected to be delivered to Congress early next year.

The appropriations bill includes language “to more rapidly review and consider any proposed changes to compensation” and mandates an interim report on findings by May, to help inform potential legislative changes for 2025. House and Senate members have already eyed plans to boost all troops’ basic pay to at least $31,000 annually.

Lawmakers are expected to vote on the full $1.2 billion appropriations package in the next few days.

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.

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