Secretary of Defense William J. Perry, in consultation with Joint Chiefs of
Staff Chairman General John M. Shalikashvili, announced plans today to add $2.7
billion over the next six years for initiatives aimed directly at improving the
quality of life for members of America's armed forces and their families. The
funding for these initiatives, which is over and above money already requested
by the services for similar purposes, will begin with $450 million in the FY96
defense budget. This money will fund increases in allowances, better single
and family living quarters, and an upgraded community environment.
"People are our most important resource," said Perry in a Pentagon press
conference. "No weapon system is better than the people who operate and
maintain it. It is crucial that we put people first in our priorities."
The additional funds will be used to improve compensation, living
accommodations and community and family support. In the area of compensation,
the plan calls for new cost of living allowance (COLA) to aid military members
living in communities identified as "high-cost" areas -- those over 109 percent
of the national cost of living average. The increases, which could boost some
military paychecks by as much as $167 per month ($40 average), will help offset
living expenses in such areas as New York, Long Island, Detroit, Dallas,
Houston, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
The plan also calls for an increase in the Basic Allowance for Quarters (BAQ)
to defray the costs of off-base housing for military members. Congressional
intent has always been for soldiers living on the local economy to absorb up to
15 percent of their housing costs with the remainder offset by BAQ and Variable
Housing Allowances. In reality however, members have had to defray an average
of 20 percent of those costs. By incrementally increasing BAQ payments up to
$120 monthly over the next six years, Secretary Perry's plan hopes to bring the
share of housing costs back in line for more than 700,000 military members and
their families. $60 million of FY96 funds will be reallocated to cover these
Perry's plan calls for better living accommodations to begin upgrades in 10,000
homes currently threatened by closure for lack of maintenance funds.
Quarters for singles are being addressed in the form of improvements in
privacy and other amenities to 5,000 dormitory (barracks) spaces. Additionally,
the Secretary's plan looks to explore partnerships with the private sector
through housing ventures, such as combining DOD land plus funding to stimulate
home building and lease back options. A total of $296 million is being
reallocated in the FY96 budget for these purposes.
In the area of community and family support the plan looks to increase FY96
funding by $94 million. Funds are targeted towards increasing child care
support from current levels of half of the eligible families to two thirds of
those needing the service -- a move that could affect 38,000 families. The
money will also be used to improve recreation centers, reduce surcharges on the
use of other recreational goods and services, and strengthen preventive and
counseling programs aimed at the prevention of family violence.