Biggest Military Pay Raise in 2 Decades Finalized in Newly Released Defense Bill

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U.S. currency from within the cash cage during an immersion tour at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey
Tech. Sgt. Adelumola Ajibola, 39th Comptroller Squadron deputy disbursing officer, shows a stack of U.S. currency from within the cash cage during an immersion tour at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, Oct. 27, 2020. (Malissa Lott/U.S. Air Force)

Service members will get a 5.2% pay raise come January under the compromise annual defense bill unveiled Wednesday night.

The pay bump endorsed by the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, will mark the biggest raise for service members in more than two decades.

A 5.2% raise in basic pay means anywhere from about $1,100 more per year for the most junior service members to more than $10,000 more per year for senior officers.

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The bill, the result of months of negotiations between the House and Senate, must still win final approval from each chamber and be signed by President Joe Biden before becoming law. But it's expected to easily pass Congress before the end of the year.

This year's NDAA-endorsed raise matches what the Biden administration requested, which in turn matched what a formula set in a separate federal law said troops would be entitled to next year.

The 5.2% increase is the highest since service members got a 6.9% increase in 2002. It also comes after troops got a 4.6% raise this year.

Federal law mandates a pay raise for troops every January independent of the NDAA. But lawmakers have also been increasingly concerned about service members' compensation amid a heightened focus on quality-of-life issues and efforts to reverse a recruiting crisis.

In addition to the pay raise, this year's NDAA seeks to improve junior service members' finances by allowing the military services to give E-6s and below a monthly bonus if “prevailing economic conditions ... adversely affect” them. The rate of the bonus, which would only be allowed in 2024, would be set by the service secretaries.

The compromise bill would also allow the service secretaries to exclude the Basic Allowance for Housing from income calculations for a stipend to help food-insecure troops if a service member has a "demonstrated need" for extra income to meet basic needs. That falls short of the original House draft of the bill that would have categorically excluded BAH from income calculations for what's known as the Basic Needs Allowance.

Meanwhile, the compromise NDAA would also allow for more flexibility to adjust BAH to respond to housing market conditions.

The NDAA may not be the last word on 2024 military pay. House Republicans included in their version of the separate annual Pentagon spending bill a 30% boost in pay for E-6s and below to ensure no service member makes less than the equivalent of $15 per hour.

But an effort to do the same thing in the NDAA was unsuccessful, with negotiators on the compromise NDAA noting several studies of military pay are still ongoing, including by the House Armed Services Committee's quality-of-life panel.

The White House has also said it "strongly opposes" overhauling the pay chart in the appropriations bill while the administration is in the midst of a comprehensive review of military pay. The 14th Quadrennial Review of Military Compensation was launched at the beginning of this year and is expected to wrap by January 2025.

Lawmakers are continuing to negotiate a final spending bill, which faces a February deadline.

Related: Tax-Free Pay, 2-Year Leave of Absence for Parents Among Ideas Being Floated by House's Military Quality-of-Life Panel

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