'Restore Real Value': House Panel Wants to Give Junior Enlisted Troops 15% Pay Raise

(U.S. Army photo by Elizabeth Caraway)
(U.S. Army photo by Elizabeth Caraway)

The military's most junior service members should get a 15% hike in their base pay in order to "restore real value" to military pay, a key bipartisan congressional panel formed to improve the lives of troops said Thursday.

The recommendation on boosting paychecks is part of the final report from the House Armed Services Committee's military quality-of-life panel, a group of Republican and Democratic lawmakers that spent months analyzing service members' pay, housing, health care, child care and spouse employment.

The panel hopes to use the report to push improvements for troops this year. It also calls for a raft of other changes: increased allowances for housing and food insecurity; fully funded barracks renovations; exploring barracks privatization; offering more competitive pay for child care workers; evaluating health care access standards; and making permanent a pilot program for fellowships for military spouses, among other recommendations.

Read Next: Pentagon Asks Watchdog to Investigate Abuse Issues in Base Day Care Centers After Military.com Report

At least some of the recommendations are expected to be included in the Armed Services Committee's annual defense policy bill, though lawmakers must also contend with budget constraints this year.

"Fundamental to improving and sustaining an all-volunteer force, it is imperative we commit the right amount of resources to address quality-of-life concerns for service members and their families," the panel wrote in its report.

The panel, led by Chairman Don Bacon, R-Neb., and ranking member Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, D-Pa., was created last year amid concerns that the military's recruitment crisis is in part being caused by declining quality of life, including pay that is not keeping pace with the private sector and persistent reports of disgusting housing conditions.

The panel held several closed-door meetings with defense officials, military family members and military advocates, and two open hearings with Pentagon housing officials and the senior enlisted leaders for all the services.

At the hearing with the senior enlisted leaders, all identified pay and housing as the top areas Congress should enact fixes for immediately.

In its final report, the panel noted the enlisted advisers' comments on increasing pay and expressed concern that basic pay has lagged behind inflation since 2020.

"Further, since the start of the all-volunteer force, junior enlisted basic pay in the ranks of E-1 through E-4 declined relative to E-5 pay," the report added, explaining that is because of several years without raises or with raises that were smaller than other enlisted ranks.

To fix that, the report recommends that E-1s through E-4s be given a 15% raise. For 2025, that would make the pay chart:

  • $2,319.90 per month for E-1s
  • $2,600.10 per month for E-2s
  • $2,733.90 to $3,082.20 per month for E-3s, depending on years of service
  • $3,028.80 to $3,677.10 per month for E-4s, depending on years of service

While a significant boost, the panel's proposal is less than what some other lawmakers have pushed for in recent years: that no service member earn less than $31,200 per year, or the equivalent of $15 per hour for a 40-hour workweek.

But the panel is also pushing for several changes in other forms of compensation, including changes to the Basic Allowance for Housing and the Basic Needs Allowance.

Housing affordability was a top concern the panel heard throughout its work, but the BAH does not cover 100% of housing costs and is being incorrectly calculated in many places, the report said. The panel recommended increasing BAH from 95% of housing costs to 100% and updating the Pentagon's method for calculating the allowance.

Meanwhile, the Basic Needs Allowance was created to help alleviate food insecurity among service members, but less than 1% of troops who reported being food insecure are eligible for the stipend under current rules, the report said. The panel recommended expanding eligibility by increasing the income cap from 150% of federal poverty guidelines to 200%, something the Pentagon also asked Congress to do in its fiscal 2025 budget request.

Housing conditions

On housing, the panel said that, while progress has been made on improving privatized family housing since a 2019 Reuters investigation uncovered deplorable conditions, barracks are still having the same "unacceptable issues" with habitability, as demonstrated by a Government Accountability Office report last year.

Yet, the panel added, the military services are funding facilities sustainment at only about 80% of what's actually needed to maintain their buildings. As such, the panel recommended Congress mandate the services track and report the total funding needed for facilities maintenance, with a particular focus on barracks.

The panel also found "significant interest" in privatizing barracks throughout its work, the report said. Officials from the Army and Navy, which already have a small number of privatized barracks, told the panel they were considering expanding privatization.

The Air Force told the panel it submitted a request to the White House budget office for "consultation" about privatized dorms at one base, and the Marine Corps said it was "conducting a study to assess the feasibility" of privatized barracks at two bases, according to the report.

Signaling its own interest in the idea, the panel called for the Pentagon to produce a report that should "detail lessons learned from previous" privatized barracks attempts and analyze the cost-effectiveness of privatization versus government-owned housing. It also said Congress should explore "expanded authorities" for funding privatization projects.

"Additional authorities or new payment models could overcome the usual obstacles to [barracks] privatization," the report said.

Child care access

The panel also made several recommendations to improve access to child care, for which military families have faced monthslong wait-lists exacerbated by staffing shortages, that focus on alleviating those shortages.

In many cases, military child care staff are leaving to work in retail because it has better pay, according to the report, which cited closed-door testimony from defense officials. Congress should amend the law to ensure employees at military child care centers get "rates of pay competitive with market rates" while also making sure the cost of increased pay is not passed on to families with increased fees, the panel recommended.

On health care, for which service members and families have also struggled to gain timely access, the panel recommended the Defense Health Agency evaluate its access standards; that Congress establish an access standard for those who have "urgent referrals for specialty behavioral health care;" that the military services survey specialties where there are a shortage of providers to determine why doctors are leaving; and that Congress expand access to certain specialties without a referral, including for women's health.

Spouse employment

Finally, the panel looked at ways to alleviate the "stubbornly high" unemployment rate for military spouses. Among its recommendations was that a pilot program known as the Military Spouse Career Accelerator Pilot, which provides 12-week paid fellowships to spouses in various industries, be made permanent. Of 422 fellows in 2023, 85% were offered a permanent job after their fellowship with an average salary of more than $65,500, according to the report.

The report also recommended giving the Pentagon permanent authority to negotiate agreements to allow military spouses to use their professional licenses across state lines when they have to move for a permanent change of station. The department's current authority to work with the Council of State Governments to develop interstate licensure compacts expires in September.

Because those compacts are ultimately up to individual states to agree to, Congress passed a law in 2022 requiring states to recognize most professional licenses when service members and spouses have to move for a PCS. But the federal government has found it difficult to get states to comply with the law.

Related: Immediate Action Needed to Boost Military Pay and Improve Housing, Senior Enlisted Leaders Tell Congress

Story Continues