Pentagon can boost pay for separated families to $400 — but hasn’t

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The Defense Department, thanks to the fiscal year 2024 defense policy bill, has the authority to increase family separation allowance sharply. But it hasn’t happened, yet.

In its current form, family separation allowance provides an additional tax-free $250 per month to service members who are involuntarily separated from their families for 30 days or more. Eligible circumstances include dependent-restricted permanent duty tours (unless the member volunteered), sea duty and temporary duty away from the member’s permanent station. The defense policy bill, which President Joe Biden signed on Dec. 22, authorized DoD to boost the allowance to $400 per month.

Despite the updated law, officials are waiting to decide whether they’ll do it, according to a Pentagon spokesperson and an internal newsletter obtained by Military Times.

“The Department has not made any decision to change the monthly amount of Family Separation Allowance at this time,” said a Pentagon official who argued that Congress intended to create “a payment range with upper and lower payment boundaries.” The official, who requested anonymity to discuss ongoing policy deliberations, said the law gives the DoD “flexibility over time to adjust payment levels … without having to seek specific legislation to change the payment amount.”

The defense policy bill also required the Pentagon’s regular reviews of military pay — which occur every four years — to include family separation allowance rates in their studies. The Pentagon official said the review commission is expected to issue its final report and recommendations by the end of 2024, though it’s uncertain whether family separation allowance will increase before (or even after) the study concludes.

One of the law’s original sponsors, Rep. Tony Gonzales, R-Texas, emphasized that the changes are intended to increase the amount of money going into troops’ pockets.

“Our military families make great sacrifices every day — it’s only fair that we do everything we can to improve their quality of life,” Gonzales said in a statement to Military Times. “That is why I pushed hard to increase the Family Separation Allowance in this year’s NDAA for the first time in two decades. I will continue to work with the Department of Defense to ensure this boost is made a reality for military parents across the country.”

Advocates for military families expressed frustration with the Pentagon’s inaction when reached by Military Times.

“It has been 20 years since the last increase of the Family Separation Allowance. It’s time to bring it in line with the current cost of living,” said Kelly Hruska, government relations director for the National Military Family Association. “This is what Congress intended. We are disappointed that DoD chose to ignore the will of Congress and keep this allowance flat.”

Davis Winkie covers the Army for Military Times. He studied history at Vanderbilt and UNC-Chapel Hill, and served five years in the Army Guard. His investigations earned the Society of Professional Journalists’ 2023 Sunshine Award and consecutive Military Reporters and Editors honors, among others. Davis was also a 2022 Livingston Awards finalist.

Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book “A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families.” She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.

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