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Congress looks at a nearly 20% pay increase for lower enlisted sailors

Sailors from the USS Philippine Sea man the rails as they leave Norfolk, Virginia
Petty Officer 3rd Class Keith No/Carrier Strike Group Two (CSG-2)
Sailors from the USS Philippine Sea man the rails as they leave Norfolk, Virginia.

One nonprofit says many young sailors are drowning in debt and live below the poverty line.

The U.S House of Representatives is considering a 19.5%pay increase for troops, E4 and below, as part of the latest defense bill making its way through Congress.

Many of these young sailors are struggling, said Tara Alderete with the nonprofit Money Management. The group works with clients on active duty around the country, including in Hampton Roads.

“What we're seeing is one in five active duty service members is living below the poverty line, and half of those are below 200% of the poverty line, which is pretty staggering,” she said.

The 15% pay increase would be on top of the 4.5% increase for all troops, according to the bill, which passed the House Armed Services Committee.

Improving the pay and living conditions for junior sailors and soldiers at the bottom of the rung has been talked about for years in both the House and Senate. Inflation has made the problem worse, Alderete said.

“We've seen the debt increasing by 18%,” she said. “We're also seeing the budget deficit increasing by about 23%.”

Her organization helps troops design a budget and consolidate their household debt with a lower interest rate.

Poor money management is another part of the problem.

“You get behind by $20 a week, and so you put the groceries on a credit card, thinking you’ll pay it off at the end of the month, and then it just snowballs,” she said.

Personal finances take a back seat during deployments and spouses often have a difficult time finding work when families move, she said.

Steve joined WHRO in 2023 to cover military and veterans. Steve has extensive experience covering the military and working in public media, most recently at KPBS in San Diego, WYIN in Gary, Indiana and WBEZ in Chicago. In the early 2000s, he embedded with members of the Indiana National Guard in Kuwait and Iraq. Steve reports for NPR’s American Homefront Project, a national public media collaboration that reports on American military life and veterans. Steve is also on the board of Military Reporters & Editors.

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