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Press Briefing on the Immediate and Long-Term Actions to Help Strengthen the Economic Secu – Department of Defense

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STAFF: All right, good morning, everyone. Thank you to those of you here in the room and those of you on the phone who are joining us today for today's press briefing.
As noted in the media advisory, this briefing is off-camera, on-record, embargoed. All of the content for this briefing is embargoed until 2:30 this afternoon, where more information will be provided from the department on this effort.
With that, today's briefing focuses on the department's immediate and long-term actions for — to help strengthen the economic security and stability of our service members and their families. Our briefers today are Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, Mr. Gil Cisneros; Performing the Duties of Assistant Secretary of Defense for Manpower and Reserve Affairs, Mr. Tom Constable; Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Military Community and Family Policy, Mrs. Patricia Barron; Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Civilian Personnel Policy, Ms. Nancy Speight; and Director of Military Compensation, Ms. Jeri Busch.
And with that, we'll start with opening remarks from Mr. — Mr. Cisneros.
Sir?
UNDER SECRETARY OF DEFENSE GILBERT R. CISNEROS JR.: All right, thank you. Thank you for joining me to discuss an important effort that has been directly led by Secretary Austin himself, one that he's — takes very personally. That is what — you know, taking care of our people has always been one of Secretary Austin's top three priorities. The set of actions we are discussing today is part of the ongoing campaign the secretary has waged to make military family life better.
In November of 2021, the secretary took action to address housing and — and moving costs and provide more resources to service members and families. This summer, we also released a department strategy that represents a whole-of-DOD effort strengthening food security in the force.
Today, we are excited to release the next installment of how we are taking care of people. The action ordered by the secretary today reflects the department's commitment to honor our troops' service and ensure we continue to offer a competitive suite of benefits that makes DOD an employer of choice for those who so selfishly serve. [Editor’s note: The intended word is “selflessly” serve.]
The four main areas that the secretary is directing action in are securing basic needs, making moves easier, strengthening support to families and expanding spousal employment. We have a — a panel of people here today that have been working hard and will address some of the specifics, but I want to highlight some of the actions included in this memo.
To help secure affordable basic needs, the secretary has directed that we institute automatic increases of BAH for active-duty service members in 28 military housing areas. The — you know, the 28 military housing areas that experience an average of more than a 20 percent spike in rental housing costs this year above the year's — this year's BAH. We are cutting prices in our commissaries to achieve at least a 25 percent savings on grocery bills compared to — to the local marketplace. Commissaries are one of the best benefits we are able to offer our service members and their families, and we are encouraging them to take advantage of the savings that we can provide.
PCS moves are a financially-difficult time for service members and their families. To make permanent change of station moves easier, we are increasing the standard temporary lodging expense maximum coverage from 10 to 14 days. We are also increasing the dislocation allowance for E1 to E6 service members. To help offset personal expenses for PCS moves, DLA payment for all service members will be paid one month prior to the move to minimize those out-of-pocket expenses.
All of this information and a lot more is always available at Military OneSource online or on their app. The resources at Military OneSource are great. Just — the information military families need to get through moves and all the other challenging time — times throughout a military career. Download the app and check it out for yourself. You will see more details there.
Another area where you'll see through the Military OneSource is childcare. If you look later today, you will see that we are standardizing a minimum 50 percent discount for the first child of Child Development Program direct care workers. That will help to attract more talented staff, many of whom are military spouses. More direct care staff means more capacity and smaller waiting lists in the CDC.
This idea came directly from the force. Both Secretary Austin and I had the privilege of traveling to Fort Carson in Colorado, where we saw firsthand how long waiting lists for our military families were driven by hiring challenges. The commanding officer presented a proposal that if he could only provide a 50 percent discount to direct care workers at — at the facility, he could attract more staff and increase the number of children they could enroll. We took this idea to heart and are delivering on it here today.
To further enhance employment opportunities for our military spouses, we are excited to launch a new pilot initiative in January, 2023 that will provide paid private-sector fellowships in a variety of career paths. The secretary knows, you and I know just how important our military families are to our great mission of defending the nation. Our mission readiness depends on a strong and resilient home front. In addressing economic security and other challenges, the department will continue to ensure the readiness of our force and the strength of our national security. Thank you for your time today.
STAFF: All right, and just before we go into the Q&A, I just want to kind of lay out a couple things. We understand you may have questions that cut — cover other key matters within the department. We ask that you — you direct those questions to the personnel and readiness team, press operations, and hold on those questions for this briefing.
With that, we'll open the floor to questions from the media, starting here in the room. Meghann.
Q: Hi, Meghann Myers from Military Times. So I want to ask about this list of initiatives. It's a long list. But I would imagine this is, kind of, something that is distilled down from a big list of — you know, a bigger wishlist, things maybe you took to the Hill that are going to need some more work.
So I wanted to — to ask what — what else are you — are you trying to work on in the background?
And what do you think you are going to need congressional partnership to get done, in terms of pay, in terms of housing stuff, all of it?
MR. CISNEROS: You know, there's a number of issues that the secretary is considering. This is just the beginning of — of ongoing work. And, actually, it's not the beginning. As I said in the statement there, we did some things last year. We're continuing that process right now. And we will continue to do what we can to improve — you know, to make our family life better for our service members and their families. And again, this is something that the secretary takes very personal. And, you know, he is continuously considering ideas in how we can better make changes. And he will continue to do that.
And, again, this is — this is not the end. And we will continue to see what we can do to improve family life for our service members and their families.
Q: And, as a follow-up, the memo says there will be a basic needs allowance for troops who qualify for it. How much is the allowance and who qualifies for it?
DIRECTOR OF MILITARY COMPENSATION JERI BUSCH: So — I'll take that question.
So the basic eligibility criteria is that the allowance would be paid to service members and their families when their gross household income is below 130 percent of federal poverty guidelines. The allowance is designed to bring them back up to that level. And so the amount will vary according to their gross household income. That includes income for all members of their families.
And so it can be as little as — we've estimated, roughly, that it could be as little as $990 for a year, upwards of $30,000 for an E1 with a very large family.
Q: Okay, so it will bring it up to $130,000, based on your family size. Is it — does it tailor at all to location?
MS. BUSCH: So it's tailored to location in the idea that the federal poverty guidelines are tailored to location. All right? CONUS — the Continental United States, Alaska and Hawaii, and for the purposes of this allowance, members overseas are to be considered — the guidelines for the Continental United States would apply to members stationed overseas.
Q: Okay, but not —
(CROSSTALK)
MS. BUSCH: So, like, Hawaii, where the cost of living is very high —
(CROSSTALK)
MS. BUSCH: — the guideline that applies to Hawaii —
(CROSSTALK)
Q: Okay, thank you.
STAFF: All right. We'll go to the phone lines. Karen — Karen Jowers, Military Times?
Q: Hi. Thanks for taking the question. So what percentage of increase will the BAH be? How many service members do you think it will affect? And can you send us the list of the 28 areas?
MS. BUSCH: So, again, I'll take that.
I believe that you'll be given more materials about this later this afternoon. So I'm sure that the list will be included amongst those.
The percentages — the 28 areas are those that’s already has been said — where the average increase in rental housing costs has been more than 20 percent over the current rates. The amounts members will get will vary according to the location, their pay grade and their dependency status.
But I can give you an example. So, for an enlisted member with — for the enlisted members with dependents, the increases will range from $198 a month for an E6 in Kings Bay, Georgia, to over — to over $1,100 for an E5 in Boston, Massachusetts stationed onboard the USS Constitution.
(CROSSTALK)
STAFF: — here in the room. Any other questions?
Q: (Inaudible) cause I know everybody's talking about housing. I have a separate question but if you want to go — if somebody else has a (inaudible) —
STAFF: Is it pertaining to — Okay, yeah, we'll go to you.
Q: I was just curious, as we're talking about the — the welfare of the service members and their families, we've heard a lot of people who are concerned about what happened in Afghanistan and have been struggling with that over the past year.
What resources have you created to fit this need — this ongoing need for service members and their families who feel that they — they either didn't like the way that we pulled out or they feel that they left some of their colleagues behind?
MR. CISNEROS: Well, let me just say first that I think the wellbeing of our service members is — is always something that's the most important thing, and — and again, this is something the Secretary has said — is taking care of our — our people is one of his top three priorities.
So we are about providing resources to our people. If — if they have issues or they need something, or if they need to talk, we're — we're there to ensure that they're going to get, whether it be counseling or whether it be medical attention that they need, in order to ensure that we’ll take care of them.
Again, you know, we can buy all the planes, all the ships and everything that we want, but if we don't have people — if we're not taking care of our people, then we're not going to be able to do anything else. So this is definitely a top priority and will continue to be a top priority for the Secretary as we move along.
STAFF: Yes, ma'am?
DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFENSE PATRICIA BARRON: I can just add a little bit to that, sir. What — when we pulled out of Afghanistan, we realized that there were going to be challenges among military family members that were feeling exactly the way that you described.
And I'm — I'm really proud of the Military OneSource team, our — our communications — military communications outreach team. What we did immediately was we put on the Military OneSource landing page information on how you can access peer-to-peer counseling that we provide, for — for service members and family members, from service members and family members, so that they could talk to someone about their feelings with someone that completely understands what they're going through — and among the other resources that — that we had.
STAFF: All right. We're going to go back to the line. Jeff Schogol, Task & Purpose?
Q: Thank you very much. I asked — could the official who kindly answered the questions about the needs allowance and BAH please identify herself because I can't see any of the speakers.
And also, the initiative on childcare, in which the first child of a childcare worker gets 50 percent off, can you provide any examples of how much money that could save service members? For example, I'm an E3, I live in Camp Lejeune, my wife is a daycare worker. I would normally be paying X amount for daycare, but under this initiative, I would save Y.
MS. BUSCH: So this is Jeri Busch. I'm the one that answered the questions about BAH and the basic needs allowance. I'm the Director for Military Compensation Policy.
MRS. BARRON: And — and I'm Patty Barron. I'm the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Military Community and Family Policy, and I'll go ahead and — and try to answer your question.
Really, what — where the savings will come is — it — dependent on where they are on the categories' status that they — that they find themselves when they go in to receive childcare. What we can do is we can — if you don't have access to those categories, we can certainly get them to you so that you could see what exactly the savings might be.
Q: Thank you.
STAFF: — question.
Q: Yes, and I just have a quick follow up. I just wanted to make sure I heard right. The needs allowance can save service members anywhere from $990 to $30,000 per — or, excuse me — will provide service members anywhere from $990 to $30,000 a year?
MS. BUSCH: That's our rough estimates.
STAFF: All right. And with that, it appears we've reached the end of the list of those who have questions. Going — oh —
(CROSSTALK)
STAFF: — I was going to open up. So is anyone else on the line and who has a question that initially did not state you did?
All right. Well, it appears all questions have been answered and we thank you all for your time and for participating. As mentioned at the opening, this — the material and the content of this briefing is embargoed until 2:30 this afternoon. If you have any follow up questions, please follow up with us here in the Press Operations Office.
Thank you.
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