Senators unsure about House plan to boost troop pay, housing stipends

by Vern Evans

House lawmakers are pushing ahead with plans to boost junior enlisted pay and other military family financial support as part of an ambitious quality of life overhaul for troops, but Senate lawmakers still aren’t sold on the idea.

Last week, leaders from the House Armed Services Committee announced their Servicemember Quality of Life Improvement Act would serve as the basis for this year’s draft of the annual defense authorization bill.

The move signals that discussions regarding increasing military pay and support services will be at the center of the committee’s upcoming work on the must-pass authorization legislation.

“Service members should never have to worry about making ends meet, putting food on the table, or affording housing,” committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Ala., said in a statement. “Improving the quality of life for our service members and their families is my number one priority. We’re going to get this done.”

The legislation — crafted over the last year by a special panel interviewing troops, families and military advocates — includes a 15% pay increase for junior enlisted troops, boosting housing allowances for all service members, expanding child care and military spouse job training programs, and other provisions aimed at easing financial challenges facing members of the military.

The measure has bipartisan support in the House committee despite a price tag which could reach $5 billion. Outside advocacy groups have also been lobbying for its adoption, calling the improved benefits long overdue.

But passing the measure into law will require agreement with the Senate, and key lawmakers there are not yet ready to endorse the measure.

“I think we’re gonna look closer at the plan, but, as we always do, we’ll add or subtract from it,” said Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack Reed, D-R.I. “You’d like to be able to compensate our military personnel for the amazing job they do. But how to pay for it is always challenging. It’s a big number, and we have to provide resources for other priorities.”

In recent months, Reed has voiced support for the increased pay for younger troops. But his committee in past years has also knocked down House plans to increase housing stipends, making that part of the plan potentially problematic.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and chairwoman of the Senate committee’s military personnel panel, said that the house plan “highlights some of the critical challenges facing our service members and their families.” Warren also stopped short of directly endorsing it.

“I’m going to keep fighting to make sure we support military families in this year’s NDAA, including fixing unacceptable child care shortfalls and making sure our troops have the quality, affordable housing they deserve,” she said.

Similarly, Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., and ranking member of the Senate personnel panel, said he still has not made any decisions on the House plan.

“We’ve got to do everything we can to make the military a place where people have the opportunity to serve their country but also have the opportunity to have a quality life,” he said. “So, we’ll be going through all of those ideas.”

The targeted junior enlisted pay increases would bring most service members base pay above $31,000 annually — roughly the equivalent of a $15-an-hour wage in the civilian workforce. Currently, some troops can earn less than $25,000 in base pay.

The housing stipend increases could also mean several hundred dollars more each month for military families.

The White House has already proposed a 4.5% pay raise for all troops in 2025 as part of their federal budget request for fiscal 2025. That idea appears to have bipartisan support in both chambers.

House Armed Services Committee members are expected to fine-tune their draft of the annual authorization bill over the next few weeks, with an eye towards passing a final draft on May 22. Senate committee members are expected to unveil their draft of the legislation by June 14.

The two committees will spend the rest of the summer working with chamber leadership to amend and refine the proposals, in the hopes of final passage before the end of September.

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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