Bill Seeks to End 'Pink Tax' for Women Buying Uniforms

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A female Marine undergoes a uniform inspection.
Pfc. Kathy Espinoza of New York City inspects the uniform of Pvt. Arella Aleman of Dallas, Nov. 9, 2018, at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C. (Staff Sgt. Tyler Hlavac/U.S. Marine Corps photo)

A bipartisan pair of senators is looking to cut down on out-of-pocket costs female troops face when buying items for their uniforms.

A bill introduced Wednesday by Sens. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., and Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, aims to eliminate the so-called "pink tax," or the higher costs of female uniforms compared to male uniforms.

"It is absurd that we are forcing service members to fork over thousands of dollars in order to pay for necessary clothing items that they wear while serving our country," Hassan said in a statement last week when introducing the bill. "This disparity in uniform costs is particularly stark for women, who are in some cases paying almost twice as much for the same uniform item as their male counterparts."

The bill would require the Pentagon to review any changes to uniforms for potential out-of-pocket costs between genders, as well as mandate a report on the retail costs of items for male and female officers and enlisted personnel.

The bill comes after the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office earlier this year confirmed women have more out-of-pocket costs for uniform items than their male counterparts.

Enlisted service members receive a uniform when they enter the military and an annual clothing allowance after that to replace items. Officers generally receive a $400 clothing allowance when they first report for active duty, but do not receive an annual stipend for replacements.

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Women face higher out-of-pocket costs to replace uniform items because articles that are not considered "uniquely military" -- and so can't be paid for with the clothing allowance, such as underwear -- generally cost more for women than men, according to the GAO.

"Other uniform items that the services have determined are required and that enlisted female service members must pay for beyond initial issuance in fiscal year 2020 include handbags for the Army, swimsuits for the Navy, and dress pumps for the Air Force and the Marine Corps," the report said.

Over time, those costs add up to wide disparities in what men and women have to pay. A female soldier, for example, could face more than $2,000 in out-of-pocket costs after five years of service, compared with about $1,200 for a male soldier, according to the report. After 20 years, that becomes $8,000 in out-of-pocket costs for a female soldier, compared with about $4,000 for a male soldier.

Another factor that can increase costs for female uniforms is the Defense Logistics Agency ordering fewer items for women than men, driving up individual costs, military officials told the GAO. For example, the Army estimated its new Army Green Service Uniform dress coat will cost about $163 for enlisted women and $82 for enlisted men.

To address those disparities, Hassan and Ernst's bill, officially called the Military Forces Assuring that Treatment of Items by Gender are Uniform and Equal across the Services (FATIGUES) Act, would require the Defense Department to implement the GAO's recommendations, including developing "consistent criteria" for deciding which uniform items are "uniquely military."

The bill is similar to one that was introduced in April in the House by Democratic Reps. Jackie Speier and Julia Brownley of California and Republican Elise Stefanik of New York. Brownley sponsored the provision in the fiscal 2020 defense policy bill that required the GAO report.

In addition to requiring the Pentagon to implement the GAO's recommendations, the House bill would provide a one-time allowance to female service members to make up for the disparities in out-of-pocket costs over the last decade.

The House bill was included in the lower chamber's version of this year's defense policy bill, known as the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA. The House passed its version of the NDAA in September. The Senate is expected to act on its legislation later this fall, after which the two chambers will need to reconcile their versions before the bill becomes law.

-- Rebecca Kheel can be reached at rebecca.kheel@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @reporterkheel.

Related: Yes, There Is a 'Pink Tax' on Women's Military Uniforms, Report Finds

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