*Legislative Update 24 June 2016:Reject Military Pay and Benefits Cuts

We have 2 Action Items today at Issue 2 & 3 below

 

 

Summary of Issues

 

At Issue 1. we see REJECT MILITARY PAY AND BENEFITS CUTSYou have a lot to lose as House and Senate leaders begin to reconcile the two versions of the defense bill.. See Issue 1 below for the details. GF)

 

At Issue 2. we see CONGRESS DIVIDED ON TRICARE, PAY, HOUSINGHouse and Senate at odds on key personnel and compensation provisions. Negotiations to resolve the differences are starting now. (See Issue 2 below for the details and send messages to our Legislators. GF)

At Issue 3. we see CONGRESS OFFERS LIMITED RELIEF FOR MILITARY SURVIVORSHouse and Senate defense bills only avoid another benefit cut. Join MOAA’s campaign to take positive steps for survivors.(See Issue 3 below for the details and send messages to our Legislators. GF)

Collectively We Can and Are Making a Difference

 

FOR ALL, Please feel free to pass these Weekly Legislative Updates on to your group of Veteran Friends –

don’t be concerned with possible duplications – if your friends are as concerned as we are with Veteran issues, they probably won’t mind getting this from two or more friendly sources

 

ISSUES

Issue 1.   REJECT MILITARY PAY AND BENEFITS CUTS

You have a lot to lose as House and Senate leaders begin to reconcile the two versions of the defense bill.

What’s at stake:

  • dramatic retiree health care fee increases;
  • huge erosions to housing allowances (up to $10,000-$20,000 or more per year);
  • a fourth consecutive pay raise cutback; and
  • more cuts to already-overstressed forces.

Please send your elected officials a MOAA-suggested message today. Do it at the end of Issue 2. Below. GF)

Issue 2. CONGRESS DIVIDED ON TRICARE, PAY, HOUSING

The House and Senate have both passed their versions of the FY17 Defense Authorization Bill, and they disagree on many important issues, including TRICARE fee hikes, housing allowance cuts, the military pay raise, and force levels.

Health Care

In the wake of last year’s retirement reform, Armed Services Committee leaders are now focused on overhauling the military health care system.

The Senate would apply new and higher fees to current beneficiaries.

The House would grandfather currently serving and retired members and families against the large fee hikes.

Housing Allowances

The Senate bill would cap housing allowances at current BAH rates or the servicemember’s actual housing cost, whichever is less, beginning with the first PCS after Jan. 1, 2018. That could have a big effect on many military homeowners. The Senate bill also would dramatically cut housing allowances for dual-military couples and other military sharers of housing by many thousands of dollars a year.

The House bill does not make any changes to housing allowances.

Pay Raise

The House bill provides servicemembers the full pay raise allowed by law – the same 2.1 percent pay raise experienced by the average American (as measured by the Employment Cost Index).

The Senate bill accepted the administration’s proposal to cap the 2017 pay raise at 1.6 percent – which would be the fourth consecutive pay raise cutback.

Force Levels

The House bill increases force levels above the DoD budget request by 20,000 for the Army; 15,000 for Army National Guard; 10,000 for Army Reserve; 4,000 for the Air Force; and 3,000 for the Marine Corps, but reduces Navy forces by 4,500.

The Senate bill accepted all of the administration’s proposals to cut force levels, including reducing the Army to 450,000, down from a wartime peak of 570,000.

See MOAA’s side-by-side comparison of key House and Senate differences on these issues and more.

(Click on MOAA’s side-by-side comparison here or above to see the comparison. GF

 

What’s Next

Lawmakers and their staffs already have had initial meetings to start resolving differences between the two bills.

Senate Armed Services Committee chair John McCain (R-Ariz.) has said he wants to complete action on the defense bill as quickly as possible.

Your grassroots input is needed to help influence the process.

Please send your elected officials a MOAA-suggested message urging them to protect the military community against disproportional cuts to “people programs.”

Act Now!

 

(Click on MOAA-suggested message or on Act Now! here or above, or go to the “Here is the Process” section at the end of this Email to send messages to our Legislators. GF

Issue 3. CONGRESS OFFERS LIMITED RELIEF FOR MILITARY SURVIVORS

 

June 24, 2016

 

The unfair deduction of VA Dependency Indemnity Compensation (DIC) from military Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) annuities affects around 63,000 survivors.

 

Congress recognized the unfairness of the SBP-DIC offset and created the Special Survivor Indemnity Allowance (SSIA) in 2007 to begin phasing out the offset. The law authorizing SSIA (currently $270 monthly, rising to $310 for FY17) is set to expire in October 2017.

 

Both the Senate and House versions of the FY 2017 defense bill contain provisions extending SSIA, however, they come up short in addressing the repeal of the offset in a comprehensive way.

 

The House defense bill would extend SSIA for one year at $310 per month. The Senate bill would make SSIA permanent at $310 per month.

 

MOAA is grateful to both chambers for not letting SSIA expire. But we’re very disappointed neither bill would continue the incremental increases intended to phase out the SBP-DIC offset over time.

 

MOAA is not giving up on making more progress this year.

 

We’re working with Military Coalition partners to lobby top congressional leaders to identify additional mandatory spending offsets to help the Armed Services Committees make the SSIA upgrades we know they would like to do.

 

Please send your legislators a MOAA-suggested message to push senior Republican and Democratic leaders in both chambers to find the necessary funding for a multi-year schedule of SSIA increases for long-suffering SBP-DIC widows.

 

(Click on CONGRESS OFFERS LIMITED RELIEF FOR MILITARY SURVIVORS here  or above and then at the last sentence click on MOAA-suggested message or go to the “Here is the Process” section at the end of this Email to send messages to our Legislators. GF

Here is the Process I recommend that you review all of the steps below and then you might want to copy this process by high lighting all of the steps below.  Then click on “File” at the top of your screen, select “Print“, then click on “Selection” at the next display and then hit “Print“; or print the selected portion as you usually do this kind of task.

 

  1. Click here on http://capwiz.com/moaa/issues/or copy and paste it in your browser to put you at the  “Legislative Action Center” screen.
  2. Scroll downunder “Current Action Alerts” and below Congress click onStop Defense Bill Personnel/Compensation Cuts the first time through this process, and click on Raise SSIA for Military Widows the second time through the process
  3. 3.If applicable, at the next screen scroll down to the TAKE ACTION NOW! lineand enter or confirm your Zip code and /or hit “Go!”
  4. 4. Orat that next screen under“COMPOSE MESSAGE” leave the “Message Recipients Delivery Method” as “Email” at your discretion, and then scroll down to “Issue Area” and select an appropriate issue; e.g. ‘Veteran affairs’
  5. Scroll down to the  “Editable text” areaand edit/modify the text of the message if desired,
  6. Insert “Your Closing” (I show ‘Respectfully), and “Your Name” and fill in the rest of the mandatory {asterisked} SENDER INFORMATION.
  7. Fill in the “Guest Type“, “Service“, “Rank“, “Component“, and “Status” if you want that information to show in your message (recommended).  You may be prompted to include a phone numberif you try to send the message without entering your phone number. Don’t be concerned about entering a phone number. I haven’t  received return calls except on rare occasions to thank me for my interest in a particular piece of Legislation, at which time you can comment (pro or con) to the staff member on how the Senator stands on the issue.
  8. Check “Remember Me” (recommended) if you don’t want to have to re-enter all of your Sender Information the next time you send a message. You can always change your information or uncheck ‘Remember Me’ anytime in the future.
  9. Hit “Send Message”
  10. If Printed Letter was selected at Step 4 above, at the screen after hitting “Send Message” leave “Plain Paper Style” and “Word Processor (RTF)” checked unless you have another preference. Then left click on “Print Letter(s)” at the end of the “PRINT LETTER” screen. At the File Download” alert that appears next, click on “Open”. You can then edit and print or save the letter for editing, printing, signing and mailing.
  11. After hitting “Send Message”above the first time through this process, return to Step 2 above and click on Raise SSIA for Military Widows the second time through the process.

 

   

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That’s it for today- Thanks for your continuing help!

 

 

 

 

 

*Legislative Update 17 June 2016: Cola Climbs out of the Hole

We have 1 Action Item today at Issue 3 below

Summary of Issues

At Issue 1. we see DEFENSE BILL PASSES SENATE, FACES VETO THREAT White House has many objections to the defense bill. Despite a veto threat, Congress moves forward. See Issue 1 below for the details. GF)

 

At Issue 2. we see COLA CLIMBS OUT OF THE HOLE  (See Issue 2 below for the details. GF)

At Issue 3. we see WHY WHACK MILITARY HOUSING ALLOWANCES?. Servicemembers living together could see very significant cuts. In his June As I See It column, MOAA Director of Government Relations Col. Steve Strobridge, USAF (Ret), explains how the Senate’s controversial housing allowance plan could cost many servicemembers thousands of dollars a year. (See Issue 3 below for the details and send a message to our Legislators. GF)

At Issue 4. we see THE FUTURE OF SOCIAL SECURITY Chained-CPI COLA cut rears its head again. Commission proposes 50 recommendations to curb social security spending. (See Issue 4 below for the details. GF)

Collectively We Can and Are Making a Difference

 

FOR ALL, Please feel free to pass these Weekly Legislative Updates on to your group of Veteran Friends –

don’t be concerned with possible duplications – if your friends are as concerned as we are with Veteran issues, they probably won’t mind getting this from two or more friendly sources

 

ISSUES

Issue 1.   DEFENSE BILL PASSES SENATE, FACES VETO THREAT

June 17, 2016

The Senate passed the FY17 Defense Authorization Bill (S. 2943) on Tuesday after hundreds of amendments fell victim to a Senate rule that lets one senator hold up all amendment action.

When Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) found his amendment (to prevent unlimited detention of US citizens with links to terrorism suspects) blocked, he raised objections to every other amendment, effectively stymying any further amendment action. That killed the chances for MOAA-supported amendments to upgrade force levels and the 2017 pay raise, delete proposed housing allowance cuts, expand concurrent receipt eligibility and more.

Armed Services Committee Chair Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) fumed on the Senate floor that one senator could kill much-needed amendments – including some he said were literally a matter of life and death – and called it a “shameful chapter” in Senate history.

Compounding the defense bill’s rocky road to enactment, the White House issued a statement last week citing a litany of objections it has to the Senate-passed bill, including provisions on pay and benefits.

TFL fees. In calling for changes to TRICARE, the statement said, “The Administration is disappointed that the legislation does not include a modest enrollment fee for TRICARE for Life.” In its budget request earlier in the year, the administration wanted to impose a fee up to 2 percent of retired pay for TFL beneficiaries.

Housing Allowances. The administration also objected to controversial changes to the basic allowance for housing (BAH) system, saying the changes would “return the allowance to its distorted state from the mid-1990s, and reinstitute a burdensome and inefficient administrative-authorization process.” The administration rightly noted changes to the structure of BAH “would disproportionately affect female service members and those military families in which both military members have chosen to serve their country.” (See MOAA’s views on this topic in this month’s “ As I See It” column.)

Military Health System Reform. The statement objected to plans in both the House and Senate bills that would place responsibility for military health care under the Defense Health Agency rather than leaving the services to manage their separate systems.

Commissary Privatization. The administration took issue with a proposal by the Senate Armed Services Committee to conduct a test of privatizing commissaries at up to five locations. That provision has since been dropped from the bill.

This is the eighth time the administration has threatened to veto the annual defense bill. But President Obama actually followed through on the threat only once.

image001

So what comes next? Senate lawmakers now must work with their House counterparts to iron out hundreds of differences in their respective bills, including dramatically different provisions on TRICARE fee changes and housing allowance rates.

The timeline for completion of that considerable task could be anywhere from the end of July to the end of October…or later.

Issue 2. COLA CLIMBS OUT OF THE HOLE

 

June 17, 2016

The May CPI is 234.444, and .1 percent above the FY 2014 COLA baseline. Because there was not a positive COLA in FY 2015, the FY 2014 baseline is used.

The CPI for June 2016 is scheduled to be released on July 15, 2016.

Note: Military retiree COLA is calculated based on the CPI for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W), not the overall CPI. Monthly changes in the index may differ from national figures reported elsewhere.

image002

Related content: Retired Pay vs Active Duty Pay Adjustments

(Click on Retired Pay vs Active Duty Pay Adjustments here or above to see the detailsGF)

Issue 3. WHY WHACK MILITARY HOUSING ALLOWANCES?

June 17, 2016

One of the most underreported but most significant changes in the Senate-passed version of the FY 2017 Defense Authorization Act (S. 2943) is the proposal to reform military housing allowances.

In justifying the proposal, Senate Armed Services Committee leaders called the current basic allowance for housing (BAH) system “bloated and ripe for abuse.”

This took MOAA by surprise, as the BAH system is the result of years of review, and the recent Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission recommended keeping it as is.

It seems the committee’s perspective on abuse focuses on situations where multiple servicemembers share housing costs, including married dual-military couples and other cohabitation or roommate arrangements.

The committee’s view is the BAH amount shouldn’t exceed the amount each individual servicemember actually spends on housing (mainly rent and utilities), and sharing housing while drawing the full BAH is abusing the system.

The committee’s solution is to require dividing each servicemember’s BAH rate by the number of servicemembers occupying the housing. For a married couple, both allowances would be halved. For four roommates of different grades, each would receive one-fourth of the grade-applicable BAH rate.

MOAA doesn’t agree with defining cohabitation as allowance abuse, and neither does DoD.

DoD’s March 2016 report to Congress on this topic reiterated the long-held Pentagon stance that BAH is an essential element of Regular Military Compensation (RMC), which is the military equivalent of a civilian salary.

“While some service members qualify for bonuses and special programs and some don’t, members’ RMC is standardized based on pay grade, length of service, and dependency status,” the report stated. “The Department believes it would be inappropriate to limit a member’s compensation by tying that compensation to actual expenses incurred for members stationed in the United States.”

When locality-based housing allowances first began in the 1980s, servicemembers did have to provide proof of their housing costs, and allowances were adjusted accordingly.

But DoD stopped that practice, in part because of the paperwork nightmare and in part because the reported costs couldn’t be independently validated but mostly in recognition of the above-stated belief it’s the servicemember’s business how he or she spends the allowance set for that location.

The Senate proposal to change that raises a number of important issues and would cut some servicemembers’ compensation so dramatically as to make all other pay changes pale in comparison.

For two majors married to each other stationed at Fort Bliss, Texas, the proposal would cut the couple’s combined housing allowance by more than $17,000 a year. If they have one or more children, the loss would increase to almost $19,000. For higher-cost locations, the loss would be proportionally greater.

As Maj. (and MOAA member) Jessica Grassetti, USA, wrote us, “The insinuation that [she and her military spouse] are somehow a ‘two for one’ deal for the nation and that this should allow the government to discount our individually earned compensation is ridiculous. The proposed legislation’s message is, in effect, that my service is worth less than my unmarried counterpart’s of the same rank, simply because I happen to be married to another servicemember.”

If the servicemembers are of different grades, a new issue arises. An E-8 married to an E-5 with one child at Fort Bliss would lose a combined $15,000 a year. Further, their combined monthly BAH under this system would be $2,400 a year less than the rate payable to an E-8 with a civilian spouse.

The system would particularly penalize junior servicemembers who often room together to save money. Do we really want to penalize efforts to become more financially independent?

Let’s keep in mind, Congress just changed the military retirement system for new service entrants in a way that will depend far more on servicemembers’ own savings. Young troops don’t make that much, and one way they can save for retirement is to share housing.

The combination of the new retirement system and the Senate-proposed BAH system would require young troops to save more — and then penalize them for trying to do that.

Now let’s consider homeowners. The BAH system is based on locality rental costs and doesn’t account for homeownership. But homeowners still would have to report their actual housing costs.

Servicemembers who made large down payments or who kept a home from a previous assignment at the same locality would be penalized for having lower mortgage payments.

If a senior servicemember has managed to pay off a 15-year mortgage on a home, the new plan apparently would cut his or her BAH to a utilities-only amount. Is paying off a home really the kind of behavior we want to discourage? MOAA thinks not. And neither do DoD and service leaders.

It’s bad enough DoD and Congress already are three years into a five-year plan to cut all BAH rates by 5 percent, on top of a fourth consecutive year of capping the military pay raise below private-sector pay growth.

Adding a new proposal that would penalize large numbers of servicemembers an additional $10,000 a year or more is going several steps too far.

If you agree, please send your legislators a MOAA-suggested message  urging them to drop the Senate BAH reform proposal from the final FY 2017 Defense Authorization Act.

 

(Click on MOAA-suggested message here  or above, or go to the “Here is the Process” section at the end of this Email to send messages to our Legislators. GF

 

Issue 4. THE FUTURE OF SOCIAL SECURITY

June 17, 2016

On June 9, the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC), a Washington think tank, released the recommendations of its chartered Commission on Retirement and Personal Savings, which examined whether Americans are meeting the financial retirement goals.

Former Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND), a member of the 2010 Bowles-Simpson Commission that proposed a variety of dramatic cuts, and Mr. James Lockhart III, a former Director of the Federal Housing Agency, co-chaired the commission composed of 17 former public officials and experts in savings and retirement policy.

The commission was tasked to make recommendations on how to increase national savings, improve income security during retirement (including Social Security reforms), and guard against the potential costs of long-term care and the loss of income due to disability.

Fifty recommendations came out of the commission, including regulations harmonizing early-withdrawal rules for IRAs and 401(k)-type plans, ending subsidies that encourage the use of home equity for pre-retirement consumption, increasing the Social Security retirement age to reflect increases in life expectancy, and increasing the amount of income subject to Social Security taxes.

The commission also recommended linking Social Security cost of living adjustments to the chained Consumer Price Index (CPI) beginning in 2017.Many of the proposals make sense, but MOAA and virtually all other associations representing retirees have long opposed the chained CPI, which would depress annual COLAs to retired pay, Social Security, VA disability compensation, and other federal annuities by about 0.3 percent per year – which would compound to impose significant payment cuts over time.

Click here to see the commission’s full public report.

 

(Click on Click here here or above to see the report. GF

Here is the Process I recommend that you review all of the steps below and then you might want to copy this process by high lighting all of the steps below.  Then click on “File” at the top of your screen, select “Print“, then click on “Selection” at the next display and then hit “Print“; or print the selected portion as you usually do this kind of task.

 

  1. Click here onhttp://www.capwiz.com/moaa/issues/ or copy and paste it in your browser to put you at the  “Legislative Action Center” screen.
  2. Scroll downunder “Current Action Alerts” and below Congress click onPrevent Steep Cuts in Military Housing Allowances
  3. 3.If applicable, at the next screen scroll down to the TAKE ACTION NOW! lineand enter or confirm your Zip code and /or hit “Go!”
  4. 4. Orat that next screen under“COMPOSE MESSAGE” leave the “Message Recipients Delivery Method” as “Email” at your discretion, and then scroll down to “Issue Area” and select an appropriate issue; e.g. ‘Veteran affairs’
  5. Scroll down to the  “Editable text” areaand edit/modify the text of the message if desired,
  6. Insert “Your Closing” (I show ‘Respectfully), and “Your Name” and fill in the rest of the mandatory {asterisked} SENDER INFORMATION.
  7. Fill in the “Guest Type“, “Service“, “Rank“, “Component“, and “Status” if you want that information to show in your message (recommended).  You may be prompted to include a phone numberif you try to send the message without entering your phone number. Don’t be concerned about entering a phone number. I haven’t  received return calls except on rare occasions to thank me for my interest in a particular piece of Legislation, at which time you can comment (pro or con) to the staff member on how the Senator stands on the issue.
  8. Check “Remember Me” (recommended) if you don’t want to have to re-enter all of your Sender Information the next time you send a message. You can always change your information or uncheck ‘Remember Me’ anytime in the future.
  9. Hit “Send Message”
  10. If Printed Letter was selected at Step 4 above, at the screen after hitting “Send Message” leave “Plain Paper Style” and “Word Processor (RTF)” checked unless you have another preference. Then left click on “Print Letter(s)” at the end of the “PRINT LETTER” screen. At the File Download” alert that appears next, click on “Open”. You can then edit and print or save the letter for editing, printing, signing and mailing.
   

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That’s it for today- Thanks for your continuing help!