Life - Finance

House Panel Backs 3.9% Pay Raise

Stars and Stripes | Leo Shane III | May 2008

WASHINGTON -- A House panel Wednesday backed a 3.9 percent pay raise for all military personnel next year, mirroring Senate plans to give troops a bigger boost than Pentagon officials had requested.

Members of the House Armed Services military personnel subcommittee included the money in their draft of the new defense authorization bill, which sets spending and policy priorities for the military in fiscal 2009.

Chairwoman Susan Davis, D-Calif., said the larger pay raise is needed to help shrink the gap between military wages and private sector paychecks.

If passed, the pay raise would be the highest for troops since 2004 and the 10th consecutive year military pay has outpaced the employment cost index.

Defense officials had requested a 3.4 percent increase, equal to the index's inflation estimate. But earlier this month Senate lawmakers backed the 3.9 percent figure, indicating that both chambers will likely adopt the higher raise when they negotiate compromise legislation later this year.

For an E-4 with four years' military service, the Senate plan would mean an increase of $79.86 a month, about $10 more than the Pentagon plan. For an O-4 with four years, it would be $189.25 a month, about $24 more than the Pentagon plan.

The House panel also announced plans to eliminate co-pays for preventive care procedures such as cancer screenings and cholesterol tests in an effort to encourage more Tricare patients to seek medical advice before serious problems occur.

Davis said the plan covers all beneficiaries except those enrolled in Tricare for Life. She said lawmakers were unable to find enough money to extend the same coverage to that group along with other Tricare members.

It also includes a pilot program for military spouses to receive job training in "portable" careers as they move from base to base, and another to allow servicemembers a temporary gap in service to pursue family or education goals before completing their tours of duty.

But the draft excludes nearly $1.2 billion in pharmacy and doctors' fees backed by defense officials to cover the rising cost of health care. Lawmakers have rebuffed those efforts in recent years, saying military retirees shouldn't bear the brunt of those expenses.

The authorization bill does not set pay raises for civilian defense employees, but Congress often uses the military paycheck boosts as the basis for the civilian raises in later budget bills.

If passed, the raise would go into effect Jan. 1.

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This article is provided courtesy of Stars & Stripes, which got its start as a newspaper for Union troops during the Civil War, and has been published continuously since 1942 in Europe and 1945 in the Pacific. Stripes reporters have been in the field with American soldiers, sailors and airmen in World War II, Korea, the Cold War, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Bosnia and Kosovo, and are now on assignment in the Middle East.

Stars and Stripes has one of the widest distribution ranges of any newspaper in the world. Between the Pacific and European editions, Stars & Stripes services over 50 countries where there are bases, posts, service members, ships, or embassies.

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     On April 29, 2005, the Under Secretary of Defense Comptroller and the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness signed the new Policy for Electronic Wage and Tax Statements and Leave and Earning Statements. Click here for the Electronic Policy Memo.

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Financial Readiness Equals Mission Readiness, Official Says

By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct.  2006 – Servicemembers and their families need to learn the importance of financial management and smart saving practices, so the Defense Department is focusing its efforts to make sure troops are prepared for the future, a senior DoD official said here yesterday.

“One of the most important aspects of our responsibility at DoD is to help military families with their quality of life and with the programs and activities that will help them have a full and successful life that we think the military offers,” said Leslye Arsht, deputy undersecretary of defense for military community and family policy. “We’ve worked hard to put together a comprehensive program of financial assistance and guidance to help military families move toward a culture of saving and planning for the future.”

One of the initiatives DoD is pursuing is a program called Military Saves. This program is under America Saves, a nationwide campaign in which a broad coalition of nonprofit, corporate and government groups helps individuals and families save and build wealth.

The idea behind Military Saves is to encourage military families, particularly young families, to start saving early for retirement and to build a financial safety cushion to use in case of emergencies, Arsht said. Having this cushion will prevent families from seeking short-term loans, which often come with high interest rates, she said.

“The military pay system makes it really easy for you to do these allocations in your paycheck,” she said. “These small amounts of money – 10, 20 dollars a month – actually adds up to quite a bit when you do it on a regular basis.”

Another program DoD recently launched is Moneywise in the Military, a traveling conference done in partnership with the PBS television network that addresses topic such as staying out of debt, bankruptcy, home ownership, saving and insurance. The first of these conferences was held Sept. 30 at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and was hosted by Kelvin Boston, host of the PBS television series, “Moneywise.”

Moneywise in the Military proved to be popular in its first conference, drawing 200 people on a Saturday afternoon, Arsht said. Boston is a popular television personality who directs his regular programming to middle- and low-income Americans, but has adapted it for military families, she said.

“We see these as very popular activities for every age group, but we think especially important for our young members and their families,” she said.

Moneywise in the Military will travel to five installations around the country, and possibly to more locations as DoD develops its relationship with PBS, Arsht said.

DoD has developed partnerships with nonprofit financial planners and organizations that work through family centers, providing counseling and to help military members in financial trouble, Arsht said. DoD leaders also encourage servicemembers to use financial institutions on military bases, which offer short-term loans with low interest rates, she said.

“Financial readiness is equivalent to mission readiness,” she said. “We have records and history that show if you are worried about your finances, you’re not going to be as ready or as focused on the mission. So we want to help families address these issues before they become a crisis and to really encourage them to make these sounder financial choices.”

Most military families get into trouble when small emergencies come along and they’re already stretched thin financially, Arsht said. DoD’s financial readiness campaign aims to teach servicemembers how to save and plan for these emergencies, so they’re prepared and ready to do their job, she said.

“Because we see financial stability and financial readiness as equating with mission readiness, it’s really important to DoD to be able to help our families make good choices, and to start this culture of saving that will keep them from getting into the cycle of debt,” she said.

Leslye Arsht

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Free Turbo Tax Proves Popular Among DoD Filers

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb.  2006 A partnership that enables military members and their families to file their tax returns electronically without charge is proving tremendously popular, with 103,000 returns already filed as of Feb. 7, a Military OneSource official told the American Forces Press Service.

"That's a big response!" the official said. More than 97,000 people filed their returns electronically within the first 20 days after being offered free access to Turbo Tax software, she noted. Military OneSource and Intuit, a financial services company, are partnering to offer the Turbo Tax basic product for both federal and state returns at no cost.

In addition to active-duty members and their families, National Guard and Reserve members and their family members also have access the program, regardless of their activation status. Deployed DoD civilians and their families also qualify.

Users can access the software through the Military OneSource Web site. A simple, secure, step-by-step system allows them to save, print and send completed tax forms electronically to the Internal Revenue Service, officials said.

While the Defense Department has a long history of offering tax help to military members, this is the first time DoD has offered the opportunity for them to self-file electronically.

Another free service enables military members and families to make toll-free calls to tax experts from any deployment location in the world, Jan Burke, deputy undersecretary of defense for military community and family policy, said in announcing the program in January. The toll-free number is (800) 342-9647. More phone numbers for people living overseas, non-English speakers and people with disabilities are posted on the Military OneSource Web site.

That service could come in particularly handy this year, due to deployments and other circumstances that affect taxable income, Army Lt. Col. Janet Fenton, executive director of the Armed Forces Tax Council, noted recently.

For example, Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia and Kosovo all qualify as combat zones where military income is tax exempt. In addition, a recent change in the tax code provides provisions for victims of hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma.

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Tips Offered for Tax Season
Corporate Partners Offer Free Tax Filing Service to Military Members



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