By Breasia Williams

The Senate Armed Services Committee has hinted that reforms to junior enlisted pay raise policies will be under consideration during the annual defense policy bill debate process. Specifically, the question the panel is considering is whether there is a better model to give pay raises to lower-ranking service members. Lawmakers are now signaling just how serious they are about increasing the quality of life in the military.

Update May 2024: In addition to the 15% increase for the junior enlisted pay raise in 2025, the House Armed Services Committee is seeking to add another 4.5% increase across the board which would lift next year’s total to a 19.5% pay hike for some of the lowest earning troops in the military.

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What Are the Current Junior Enlisted Pay Raise Policies?

For years, service members of all ranks have gotten the same annual raise. The problem is that in raising pay by the same percentage for all service members, a large and continuously growing gap has been created between the highest-paid troops and the lowest-paid ones.

Additionally, the current junior enlisted pay raise policies do not keep pace with the economy, despite recent hikes in the raise percentage. This year, troops got a 5.2% raise, the biggest boost in two decades.

Under the current pay tables, some junior troops can make as little as $23,000 annually in base pay. The House has proposed a plan ensuring that the base pay for the lowest-ranking enlisted members would reach a minimum $31,000 threshold.

The Servicemembers Quality of Life Improvement Act was proposed by Congress Thursday, enacting many of the key recommendations from the military-quality-of-life report. This includes giving servicemembers a 15% raise in their base pay.

To close the gap between troops and ensure that quality of life for junior troops is attractive, lawmakers in recent years have proposed overhauling the pay chart to give targeted raises to junior enlisted troops.

Past efforts by lawmakers to give a military junior enlisted pay raise have been hindered by resistance from Pentagon officials who argue major changes to the pay chart would be premature, as an ongoing comprehensive review of military pay is expected to be done by early 2025.

However, backing from the leadership of both the House and the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee could make these efforts more successful this year.

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What Will The Junior Enlisted Pay Increase Look Like?

The committee will not only be looking at incentive pay in terms of the junior enlisted pay increase, but it will also be looking at whether pay increases have to be uniform across all ranks.

When asked about the quality-of-life bill, committee Chairman Mike Rogers explained, "Servicemembers should never have to worry about making ends meet, putting food on the table, or affording housing. Improving the quality of life for our service members and their families is my number one priority -- we're going to get this done."

However, there is an issue with the proposed pay increase. Lawmakers have to contend with budget caps they previously agreed to for the year, which could make the junior enlisted pay raise reforms a multi-year process.

The strict budget caps agreed upon by Congress limit the scope to give additional, targeted pay increases to troops. Another military quality-of-life issue that is being threatened by congressional budget caps is the Army's request to improve crumbling barracks in 2025.

These initiatives are important for strengthening the living conditions of service members and their families.

So, If Budget Is a Problem, What’s Next?

Congress members recognize the need for both financial and housing reforms in the military. At the same time, they recognize the dilemmas that arise when recognition of these needs comes at a crossroads with budget caps.

To achieve these goals, either difficult trade-offs within the defense budget may be required or the living conditions and financial stability of troops are at risk.

Under these budgetary restrictions, balancing enhancements in servicemembers' welfare–such as the junior enlisted pay raise–with the procurement of crucial military hardware presents a challenge.

Junior Enlisted Pay Raise Will Increase and All Service Members Could Greatly Benefit

Included in this proposal are additional recommendations that could reap great benefits for troops. Other recommendations include: updating the barracks, requiring salaries for child-care workers on bases, making it easier for military spouses to use their professional licenses in other states, and allowing troops to seek out specialty health care without a referral.

In addition to these recommendations, if passed, the report details that the Basic Allowance for Housing will cover 100% of housing costs, increasing from the current 95% coverage. Additionally, the BAH will be expanded to help troops battling food insecurity.

All of these proposals and debates in April 2024 set the stage for an even closer look at compensation in May, with a 4.5% across-the-board pay raise being proposed by the House that would be in addition to the 15% raise for junior enlisted troops.

If the plan becomes law, and there are several steps and obstacles before we get to that point. Furthermore, the NDAA is going to heavily boost the pay rates of E-1s through E-4s throughout the American Armed Forces.

Getting a raise is an annual guarantee for service members by law but that doesn’t mean there aren’t economic issues that require extra attention.

Both the impact of inflation over the last few years along with recruiting woes, in part due to competitive compensation from even entry-level jobs, has the military and lawmakers searching for solutions.

A debate in the House on its version of the NDAA is scheduled for late May. The outcome is one to continue to watch as efforts to push the junior enlisted pay raise even higher grow stronger and stronger.

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Updated by Buddy Blouin 5/17/2024




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