The Pentagon will undertake a series of reforms meant to make housing, moving and groceries cheaper for troops and their families as high inflation cuts into service members’ salaries.
In a memo issued Thursday, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin outlined several actions the Defense Department will take “to improve how we support our service members and their families,” Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters.
Austin “wants our military men and women to be able to come home, to put food on the table and to have the money in their pocket that they need to be able to live a healthy life, a comfortable life while they serve our nation,” Ryder said Thursday.
The changes follow record-level U.S. inflation and a robust labor market that means the military services must compete for talent with the private sector.
To meet active-duty recruitment goals this year, several of the services have introduced enlistment and recruiting bonuses.
Congress has also attempted to soften the blow of inflation by including in the annual defense authorization bill a 4.6 percent pay increase for service members beginning in January. The legislation is expected to be signed into law by the end of the year.
Ryder stressed that the new round of changes is part of a benefits reform package across the military and not related to the inflation uptick.
“Absolutely not,” Ryder said when asked about the correlation, noting that the alterations come after the Pentagon chief met and spoke with service members across the country and globe over the past 20 months to identify areas of most concern.
“This is one of [Austin’s] priorities, I mean, from day one, taking care of people,” he added.
The biggest shifts will affect housing costs and allowances given for those changing bases, as well as lower prices at military commissaries. Those alterations will take effect “in the next couple of weeks,” Ryder said.
Military families can expect to see savings of at least 25 percent on grocery bills compared to their local marketplace, he noted.
Service members living in 28 high-cost areas, meanwhile, will be given increases in their housing allowances beginning Oct. 1. And all troops will get offsets for moving costs and child care.
In addition, the Pentagon will review the upcoming 2023 basic housing allowances to make sure that they reflect increases within the U.S. housing market.
“Our service members and families must be able to secure affordable basic needs. It is a matter of bedrock financial security and a critical individual readiness issue,” Austin wrote in his memo.
The Pentagon also plans to make “significant investments” in child care facilities and give employees that work at such locations a discount for child care themselves.
The reforms will even reach spousal employment, with Austin directing a handful of efforts including a pilot program next year to match military spouses with fellowships.
Ryder stressed that the steps are “not the last” that Austin and other defense leaders plan to take.