Junior enlisted troops could see monthly paycheck bonuses next year and higher housing stipends under plans to be unveiled by House lawmakers next week, according to a draft copy of the annual defense authorization bill obtained by Military Times.
The moves follow House Republicans’ promises over the last year to better financially protect young troops and their families from high inflation and other unexpected costs associated with military life. Although all troops receive an annual pay raise, many junior service members make less than $30,000 a year in base pay, below federal minimum wage.
Defense Department leaders in the last year have discussed the idea of a one-time pay boost for junior troops — especially enlisted members, whose pay is significantly below officers — as a way to adjust take-home pay in the middle of the annual budget cycle.
But the House plan to be considered next week goes further than that, authorizing “monthly bonus pay” for troops rank E-6 and below “as economic conditions dictate.” The exact amounts would be determined by Pentagon officials after passage of the legislation.
Similarly, the bill calls for significant changes in how basic housing allowance stipends are awarded, with an eye toward increasing amounts for service members living in regions with high rent or scarce availability. Language in the draft calls for “greater flexibility to adequately respond to the housing estimation challenges posed by rapidly changing housing market conditions across the United States.”
Lawmakers would also change eligibility requirements for the military’s Basic Needs Allowance program, designed to provide extra financial support to troops whose family income is below or just above the federal poverty line.
Under the change, housing stipends would be excluded from household income calculations, a move that could make thousands more troops eligible for the payouts. Reports from the Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy earlier this spring found that only 85 service members are eligible for the assistance under current rules.
The draft also calls for expanding a pilot program that gives troops fee assistance for home child care options, part of an effort to ease pressure on families with limited child care options.
Military pay and compensation has been a focal point of the House Armed Services Committee in recent years, particularly as Defense Department recruiting efforts have lagged.
All service members received a 4.6% pay increase in January, the largest annual boost since 2003. Federal calculations call for a 5.2% increase in January 2024, but lawmakers in the House and Senate won’t offer their recommendations on the issue until later this month.
The defense authorization bill has passed out of Congress for more than 60 consecutive years, and contains hundreds of budget and operational policy measures for the upcoming fiscal year. Work on the fiscal 2024 bill has been delayed for about a month due to the now-resolved congressional fight over raising the country’s debt ceiling.
Senate Armed Services Committee officials aren’t expected to unveil their personnel priorities for next year until June 21, amid members’ week-long debate over their draft of the massive defense policy bill. Both that committee and their House counterpart are expected to finalize their separate drafts before the end of the month, and send them to their chamber floors for full member approval later this summer.
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.
Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.