Smaller Military Pay Raise, Increased Parental Leave Included in Senate's 2022 Defense Bill

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The Senate Armed Services Committee approved an authorization bill for the military that includes the Biden administration's requested 2.7% pay raise for the military, and increases leave benefits for all new parents. (Jason Bortz /U.S. Navy)

The Senate Armed Services Committee approved an authorization bill for the military that includes the Biden administration's requested 2.7% pay raise for the military, and increases leave benefits for all new parents.

The committee on Thursday voted 23-3 to advance the fiscal 2022 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) in a markup session. The full Senate will next debate the bill and vote on it over the next few months, while the House will consider its own version.

"This year's markup provides our troops and Defense Department civilians with a well-deserved pay raise, as well as new tools and reforms to protect the health and well-being of our servicemen and women and their families," committee chairman Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., said in a Thursday press release. "This bill makes critical investments in the readiness and well-being of our total force, including active-duty, reserve, National Guard, civilians and their families."

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In a summary of the marked up bill, the committee said the NDAA will provide $777.9 billion in all for national defense. This includes topline budget amounts of roughly $740.3 billion for the Defense Department, $27.7 billion for the Energy Department's national security programs, and another $9.9 billion for other defense-related activities.

The 2.7% raise would also apply to Defense civilian employees in addition to service members. In 2021 personnel received a 3% pay raise.

The bill contains multiple provisions that would increase service members' leave and benefits.

All service members would receive 12 weeks of parental leave after the birth, adoption or foster care placement of a child under the proposed NDAA. This would equally cover both primary and secondary caregivers of the child, the committee said. Leave for secondary caregivers was previously called paternity leave, but is now referred to by a gender-neutral term.

That would standardize parental leave benefits across the military, which now vary by service and by parent.

Currently, troops who give birth receive six weeks of maternity convalescent leave, which starts right after they leave the hospital. The birth parent, or if necessary, an active-duty spouse who is the primary caregiver for the child, can also receive another six weeks on top of that.

Soldiers and airmen who are secondary caregivers can take three weeks of leave, but sailors and Marines only get two weeks.

The NDAA also would establish a Basic Needs Allowance to ensure service members can adequately provide for their families, and lessen their need for food stamps to feed family members.

In the most recent available study, the Government Accountability Office in 2016 found that more than 23,000 active-duty troops used the food stamp program in 2013, or roughly 1.7% of the 1.4 million active-duty force that year. That's far less than nationwide food stamp use rates, which were around 13% of the U.S. population in 2016, but enough to raise eyebrows and concerns that some military service members are having a hard time keeping food on their tables.

Typically junior service members with several people in their homes such as children, stationed in low cost-of-living areas, qualify for their states' Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Basic Allowance for Housing payments are factored in when determining SNAP eligibility, which means troops who receive lower payments may be more likely to qualify.

In 2001, the military created the Family Subsistence Supplemental Allowance program in response to concerns about food stamp use. Eligibility for this program varied depending on household income and size and duty station, but overall aimed to raise service members' household income to 130% of their areas' federal poverty level.

But in 2016, that program was shut down for U.S.-stationed military families after a commission found SNAP benefits were a more efficient way to help them.

The NDAA also would create a new bereavement leave option that would allow service members to take leave for up to two weeks to mourn the death of a spouse or child, the committee said.

And it would extend through the end of calendar year 2022 a variety of bonus and special pay authorities that are now slated to expire. This would include special pays and bonuses for reserve personnel, military healthcare professionals, and nuclear officers, as well as consolidated pay authorities for officers and enlisted service members.

And the bill calls for active-duty service members and reserve component members to receive equal special payments and incentive payments.

-- Stephen Losey can be reached at stephen.losey@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @StephenLosey.

Related: Army Doubles Parental Leave for Secondary Caregivers

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