President Joe Biden released his fiscal budget plan for 2024 on March 9, calling for a 5.2 percent increase in basic military pay, which would be the largest increase in decades.
If passed, it would be the largest military pay increase since 2002, and many military members say is desperately needed.
Unlike civilian employment, military basic pay is set to align with the Employment Cost Index (ECI). Congress passed the Military Pay Compatibility Act in 2003, mandating that annual basic pay increases are indexed to the ECI, which measures the changes in prices for civilian labor.
As the nation struggles with record inflation, however, military members have felt the impact of keeping up on fixed incomes that left some members struggling even before the pandemic.
According to Military.com, 280,000 service members reported food insecurity in 2019, while only 22,000 reported using the government-funded Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The disparity is thought to stem from the inclusion of military members’ Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) in income reporting, which disqualifies many members from assistance eligibility.
Senators Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), reintroduced the Military Family Nutrition Act in 2023 in response to food insecurity among service members.
BAH has also proven to create a deficit for military families, who are struggling to secure housing in the economy as rents exploded in response to inflation. Many military installations either don’t offer housing, or members encounter long wait lists for available units, leaving them vulnerable in an inflated rental market.
Kate Needham, a veteran and founder of the non-profit Armed Forces Housing Advocates, is working to address the housing struggles active duty members are facing, according to Fortune Magazine.
“We have families coming to us that are on exorbitantly lengthy waiting lists and sitting in homes they can’t afford, like an Airbnb rental, or they’re at a hotel or camping in tents or living in RVs,” Needham said.
Not only is the disparity between military pay and cost of living creating strain for military members, but it may also be a leading factor in the low recruitment and retention that all branches of the military have been struggling with.
President Biden’s proposed budget approaches solutions to these issues, as well as proposes funding to strengthen protections for veterans.
According to a fact sheet posted by the White House website on March 9, the proposed budget also hopes to provide $20.3 billion to the War Toxic Exposures Fund (TEF), established as part of the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act, increase Veteran Affairs (VA) Healthcare funding by $2.3 billion over 2023’s budget, allot $139 million to VA mental health services and suicide prevention, create housing vouchers for very low-income veterans, and provide $2.4 billion for caregivers support as well as establish protections for military spouse employment.