House panel sticks with 4.6% military pay raise, but that could change

Congress is concerned inflation rates may outpace the current pay increase.

At least a 4.6% pay increase for service members is looking more likely as the House Armed Services Military Personnel Subcommittee approved its markup for the 2023 defense authorization bill.

The raise could be a floor though, considering the current inflation rates and housing markets. While the markup officially has the president’s requested 4.6% bump in it, House Armed Services Committee staff said that’s not necessarily set in stone.

“We’re certainly concerned about inflation,” a staff member said. “We’ll continue to look at that. I think right now, our understanding is 4.6% is what we have. Until we make it further congressional action on this, we don’t know if we will or not, but 4.6% is the pay to pay raise the pay increase right now.”

Some service members are already having issues with pay. Last year, Congress passed a law allowing the Defense Department to implement a basic needs allowance for troops who were food insecure. A Blue Star Families survey also found that more than three-quarters of service members are paying more than $200 out-of-pocket for housing after their basic allowance for housing (BAH) benefit.

“Military families are subjected to the same inflationary pressures as their civilian counterparts and they are doing it with far fewer structures of support, and they’re doing it often on a single income,” said Jennifer Akin, co-director of research at Blue Star Families. “Even if a service member’s pay is keeping up with inflation, that doesn’t solve long standing issues with military spouse unemployment and underemployment. It doesn’t solve the compounding costs of multiple relocations, and those things just add up over time. Even if pay is keeping up with the rate of inflation that is not accounting for some of these other variables that can make it difficult to gain to gain leverage on your own finding long term financial stability.”

If Congress wants to increase the pay raise it will need to do it as an amendment in the full committee markup, an amendment on the full House vote on the bill, in the Senate version of the bill or in the reconciliation process.

The markup also requires DoD conduct a study on the value and validity of the basic pay model for service members.

As far as BAH goes, Congress wants to see if there are systemic issues with the benefit. The markup allows for a study to assess the validity of BAH calculations. In the past, some payment increases have seemed arbitrary.

End Strength

The Army said it’s basically taking a pass on any hardcore recruiting this coming year. With the labor market stretched thin and unemployment at a low point, the service said it isn’t going to expend too many resources going after a small number of recruits.

Because of that, the service will temporarily let its end strength drop about 12,000 soldiers to 473,000 active duty. The personnel subcommittee said it will play along with the Army’s tactic, but it’s still concerned about the risk.

“We did use the Army’s number because they based it their ability to meet the requirements,” committee staff said. “We felt that we would go with the number that they have. We’re going to be very much scrutinizing it because it’s such a big change. So bottom line, we took the number, obviously we’re skeptical, but we just need to make sure that they’re meeting mission requirements.”

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