To put it mildly, 2022 was a difficult year for those who serve in America’s military. The challenges are numerous: constant deployments, manpower shortfalls, and reduced standards of living due to sky-high inflation, including an energy crisis for many of those living abroad. Slow to address these and other problems, the Pentagon has placed blame on others and failed to ask Congress for help.
Thankfully, there’s at least one area where the Pentagon can take action, and that’s reducing the financial burden on our troops and their families. It can do so right now and start the new year showing that this will be a year of taking care of U.S. military members and their families.
The Pentagon has taken advantage of one opportunity with an increase in the housing allowance by about 12.5 percent. Although the Pentagon deserves credit for this, it comes far too late. Rent prices have accelerated at a rate unseen for decades, and though the Pentagon made adjustments in the housing allowance for certain markets in the fall, those came 10 months into the year and at the expense of reduced bank accounts for our military families. A once-a-year adjustment is acceptable when inflation is low, but with rent rising by the double digits, the delay was inexcusable.
The second step comes courtesy of Congress. Section 611 of the recently passed National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) authorizes the Pentagon to raise the limits of the new Basic Needs Allowance from 130 percent of the poverty level to up to 200 percent. The Pentagon should announce this change immediately and begin using the authority, now that President Biden has signed the NDAA into law. It took the Pentagon many months to put in place the system to implement this new allowance, so waiting another month, or even a year, to change the level would be irresponsible.
Last, but not least, is the 2024 pay raise that will be included in the president’s budget, set to be released in February 2023. By statute, the 2024 pay raise should be 5.2 percent, but the Pentagon has the latitude to ask for a higher raise. In 2022, inflation was about 7.1 percent but our military members received a raise of less than half that: 2.7 percent. For 2023, the pay raise is set to be a little higher at 4.6 percent.
Since January 2021, inflation has increased more than 13 percent. No matter how you look at the numbers, our military has taken a pay cut in real terms. To compensate for this loss in buying power, the Pentagon should announce that the pay raise it will request in 2024 for the enlisted force will be 3 percent higher than required by statute, putting it at 8.2 percent. This announcement could be made today; there’s no real reason to wait until the release of the president’s budget. All the more reason to make this change would be the morale boost it would create.
While these actions amount to needed encouragement for our hard-working men and women in uniform, they also are extremely important to maintaining the readiness of the force at a time when war is raging in Europe and China is increasing its regional aggression. While there are many reasons that the services are having difficulty in manning the force, one of the main reasons is financial.
This is easily fixed. Some in the Pentagon may worry that using additional funds for higher benefits and pay will take money away from projects to modernize the force. However, in today’s high inflationary environment, the Pentagon should be doing more to ensure that the costs of manning the force aren’t passed from the services to the bank accounts of our military families. The Pentagon can and should do the right thing — act now.
Retired Army Maj. Gen. John Ferrari, a nonresident senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, is a former director of program analysis and evaluation for the Army.
Department of Defense