Budget includes 1.6 percent pay raise for military personnel

At a time when the administration is emphasizing belt-tightening and the need for federal employees to sacrifice to help reduce the deficit, President Obama's fiscal 2012 budget request proposes a 1.6 percent pay raise for military personnel and allocates an overall $8.3 billion for education, housing and other quality of life programs for service members.

The $8.3 billion includes $1.2 billion to expand affordable child care for military families, $4.7 billion to improve service members' quality of life, and $2.4 billion to maintain and build Defense Department schools. Quality of life objectives can cover a range of programs, including access to health care, spouse employment opportunities, financial education assistance, and health and wellness initiatives.

The fiscal 2012 pay raise proposal for service members is slightly more than the fiscal 2011 request, which called for a 1.4 percent boost. The $1.2 billion earmarked for child care is a slight decrease from the fiscal 2011 proposal, which was $1.3 billion.

The budget proposal also includes funding for various special skill-based payments, enlistment and re-enlistment bonuses, and other benefits -- in addition to the 1.6 percent pay raise.

The two-year pay freeze Obama announced in November for civilian federal workers does not apply to service members. Under a 2004 law, military salaries must be increased annually at a rate equal to the change in the Employment Cost Index for private sector wages. From September 2009 to September 2010, the change in the ECI was 1.6 percent.

Kathleen Moakler, government relations director for the National Military Family Association, said her organization was not surprised at the administration's proposed funding to improve the lives of service members: "We feel support of these families should be a priority." The Alexandria, Va.-based association is a private nonprofit group.

In January, the administration touted steps federal agencies have taken to offer military families more support, unveiling a strategy for creating a governmentwide comprehensive approach in four specific areas: improving education for military children, enhancing families' psychological health and well-being, developing career and educational opportunities for military spouses, and increasing child care availability and quality.

Michelle Obama appeared in January on the Oprah show to promote a new campaign to garner national support for service members and their families, and has made it a key component of her platform as first lady.

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