‘We Need To Do Better’: GOP Rep Says Congress Must Act To Improve Military Recruitment, Retention

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Micaela Burrow Investigative Reporter, Defense
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  • The House of Representatives passed California Republican Rep. Mike Garcia’s bill that could help military spouses stay employed as servicemembers cope with soaring costs of living.
  • While Congress has authorized a 4.6% pay raise for troops, it falls under the going inflation rate and doesn’t do enough to attract and retain troops, an issue the military is facing across the services.
  • “You have members of Congress touting this,” Garcia said to the Daily Caller News Foundation. “That’s anemic, and we need to do better.”

A House bill to help military spouses maintain employment could alleviate the economic burden on servicemembers, but Congress will have to up the financial benefits for joining the ranks to bring about a resolution to the ongoing recruiting problems, Republican Rep. Mike Garcia of California told the Daily Caller News Foundation.

The bill, which passed the House on Wednesday evening, will allow military spouses to transfer professional licenses when their husbands or wives are redeployed, potentially saving thousands in relicensing and unemployment fees, according to Garcia. It could also help alleviate the ongoing recruiting crisis by improving quality of life and financial stability for servicemembers as Congress and the Pentagon struggle to maintain force retention and readiness.

“Imagine not having two incomes, making $23,000 a year … living in some of the most unaffordable, not just regions, but also most unaffordable era that our nation has ever been in,” Garcia told the DCNF. “It’s backbreaking.”

Active-duty servicemembers relocate roughly every two to three years, and 34% have spouses whose jobs require professional licensing, Garcia explained. License reciprocity rules vary state by state, so spouses may lose their ability to work and be required to complete an expensive, time-consuming process to obtain a new license.

A recent poll found that military spouse unemployment can have a significant negative effect on financial stability in retirement, according to Military Times. (RELATED: ‘Boondoggles Of Spending’: Military Personnel Are Struggling To Get By As Pentagon Budget Falls Short)

“We are actually creating a disincentive for active duty service members to stay,” said Garcia.

As young, single recruits begin to move up through the ranks while building families, they often leave the service in order to better take care of their families, according to Garcia. Garcia’s bill, and its companion in the Senate, could keep lower-ranking servicemembers with households of three or more above the poverty line and add incentives to attract new recruits.

However, the House rejected Garcia’s amendment to establish a minimum base pay of $31,200 annually, equivalent to a $15 per hour minimum wage, in the House’s defense budget for 2023, even though the Biden administration raised wages for federal workers and defense contractors to $15 per hour in January.

Defense industry leaders revealed in a letter to Congress on Monday that inflation is costing the Pentagon an additional $6 billion per month and argued the added costs should be included in this month’s stopgap budget bill, according to Defense News. The letter followed the day after the DOD announced measures to counter the “extraordinary circumstances” brought by inflation by allowing contractors to request additional funding from the Pentagon.

Many servicemembers don’t have access to the same relief, according to Garcia. The House and Senate’s record $840 billion defense budgets authorize a 4.6% pay raise for troops and a minimum 2.4% “inflation bonus” for lower-paid personnel, as inflation hit 8.3% in August.

“It doesn’t really close the gap for our service members and helping them keep up with this massive inflation problem,” said Garcia.

“You have members of Congress touting this,” Garcia said. “That’s anemic, and we need to do better.”

The Pentagon is running a $110 billion inflation deficit from 2021 to 2023, resulting not only in production shortfalls but “further disruptions to recruiting and retention … reducing force levels and readiness,” according to a report published by defense trade groups Tuesday.

Army officials in July slashed force size projections by 10,000 for 2023 in the midst of a historic recruitment struggle across all services, not just the Army.

“Decisive action now is essential,” David Norquist, one of the report authors and former deputy defense secretary, told Defense News. “The cost of failing to act now will be felt across the length and breadth of the DOD … for years to come.”

The DOD declined to comment.

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