Micaela Burrow, DCNF
- Like many Americans, some military personnel are struggling to make ends meet while prices and inflation are projected to remain high for months.
- In August, the Army recommended service members apply for food stamps, and the Air Force is cutting incentive pay for difficult assignments.
- Military pay raises authorized in the National Defense Authorization Act for 2023 don’t keep pace with inflation.
- “No service member should be asked to defend our country and struggle near or even below the poverty line,” Republican Rep. Mike Garcia of California said in a statement to the Daily Caller News Foundation.
The U.S. military is falling short on compensation for service members as greater numbers are feeling the effects of soaring costs of living.
Inflation in the U.S. stood at 8.5% in July, and high energy and transportation costs will likely continue to drive up prices of food, rent, utilities and other items that stretch the financial resources of Americans across the country. While military leaders acknowledge that some servicemembers are struggling to remain afloat, the Department of Defense (DOD) has cut pay for some and encouraged others to reach out to federal assistance programs as next year’s budget requests fall short.
“With inflation affecting everything from gas prices to groceries to rent, some Soldiers and their families are finding it harder to get by on the budgets they’ve set and used before,” Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael A. Grinston said in August. Grinston outlined several DOD resources available to soldiers as well as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also called food stamps.
Reserve and National Guard troops experienced food insecurity at almost twice the rate of the general population regardless of other demographic factors, data from the U.S. Census Bureau in June 2021 showed, the Washington Post reported. Record deployments to deal with natural disasters, COVID-19 vaccine administration, civil unrest and other duties in 2020 drew troops away from their civilian jobs, slashing income for some.
Roughly 23,000 military personnel received benefits from the food stamps program in 2013, the last year for which complete data is available, according to the Government Accountability Office, and the DOD does not have a method for consistently obtaining data from USDA to track food stamp consumption.
National Guard deployments continued at historical levels into 2022, helping with the Afghanistan evacuation, trainingUkrainian troops and deploying to the nation’s capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, Gen. Daniel R. Hokanson, National Guard bureau chief, told Congress in a June testimony.
Soldiers w/1st Bn., 185th Inf. Regt., @CalGuard, are deployed w/ @NATO's Battle Group Poland. Training w/ allies from Poland, Romania & the U.K. has included live-fire exercises, recon, close air support & maneuver techniques. That ups readiness, strengthens our NATO partnership. pic.twitter.com/bjsIOW98q6
— Lt Gen Jon Jensen (@ARNGDirector) September 12, 2022
Costs for reservists and National Guard members enrolled in the Tricare health insurance program will also go up in 2023, according to Military.com.
The Air Force is also considering cuts to Special Duty Assignment Pay, financial incentives for enlisted airmen assigned to duties involving extra difficulties, citing budgetary constraints, Military.com reported. Troops could lose an additional $900 to $5,400 annually starting in October.
Those affected include recruiters, who qualify for the additional incentives and are already overstretched, working extra hours to help the Air Force catch up to its recruitment goals for the year, according to Military.com. The Air Force saw a 28% drop in applications in 2022 compared to the previous year.
Every branch of the U.S. military is seeing a significant drop in recruitment; the Army is slated to miss its recruitment goals by as much as 25% in 2022, and only 23% of 17 to 24-year-old Americans are eligible to enlist. The DOD has attributed the recruiting crisis to a multiplicity of causes, including an enhanced competition with private sector companies who can offer higher pay for a diminishing number of qualified individuals among the population.
“We count on our servicemembers being intelligent, being educated, being technically and tactically proficient and … competitive for civilian employment as well,” John Byrnes, deputy director of Concerned Veterans for America, told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
An enlisted servicemember with three years of experience earns $27,778 base pay, which with other regular allowances and tax breaks could reach $43,746 annually. Congress authorized a 2.9% pay increase for 2022 that still fell beneath the average rise in the price of goods and services, resulting in a net pay cut, Fox News reported.
While the House’s proposed defense bill for 2023 authorizes a 4.6% military pay raise and falls just under President Biden’s total budget request for personnel, the salary bump still lags behind current inflation rates. The House rejectedCalifornia Republican Rep. Mike Garcia’s amendment to establish a minimum base pay of $31,200 annually, equivalent to a $15/hr minimum wage, by a vote of 29-28.
“No service member should be asked to defend our country and struggle near or even below the poverty line. If the government is paying for our service members to live on food stamps, we may as well pay them through base pay on the front end instead,” Garcia said in a statement to the DCNF.
“Over the past year, the Department of Defense has focused on ways to take better care of our Service members and their families, and we still have more work to do,” Pentagon spokesperson Maj. Charlie Dietz told the DCNF, adding that DOD “will continue to develop and implement solutions” for personnel facing financial difficulties.
Byrnes said the best solution would be for the military to more clearly define its goals and construct a specialized force. A narrower set of objectives could steer DOD away from “boondoggles of spending,” like broadly-defined ventures overseas and wasteful procurement programs, that “do not do right by the American taxpayer,” he said.
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