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Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

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Location: Washington, DC


STATEMENTS ON INTRODUCED BILLS AND JOINT RESOLUTIONS -- (Senate - May 26, 2005)

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By Ms. LANDRIEU (for herself, Mr. GRAHAM, Mr. ALLEN, Mr. DURBIN, and Mr. LAUTENBERG):

S. 1142. A bill to provide pay protection for members of the Reserve and the National Guard, and for other purposes; to the Committee on Finance.

Ms. LANDRIEU. Mr. President, over 50 years ago, Sir Winston Churchill uttered the immortal words, ``never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few.'' Although Prime Minister Churchill was referring to the selfless and courageous effort of the Royal Air Force in their defeat of the Germans in World War II, I would like to argue that these words apply equally to the men and women fighting to preserve democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan. These men and women are not only making it possible for each and every one of us to go about our daily lives under the blanket of safety and freedom to which Americans have become accustomed, but they are also striving to bring these benefits to people who have never had them before.

If you have had the opportunity to spend time with these men and women, as I have, you quickly observe that they embody everything good about America. Their patriotism, their unyielding commitment to serve their country, their selflessness and their sacrifice should serve as examples to us all. Perhaps what amazes me most, is that although these men and women are prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice for their country, they ask for little in return from it. It is therefore incumbent on us to recognize the debt we owe to them, and honor it.

Today there are 80,000 members of the National Guard and our Reserve armed forces serving bravely in the war on terror. In addition, close to 89,000 members of the Guard and Reserve have been activated in anticipation of being sent to Iraq, Afghanistan, or any other place their country calls on them to serve. While deployed, these citizen soldiers are asked, in a moment's notice, to leave their families, their jobs, and their communities behind, causing tremendous stress on the home front and in the workplace.

While having a loved one in harm's way is reason for stress alone, many of the families of these men and women have the added stress of trying to fill the void left. Many families have lost the main bread winner when a Guardsmen or Reservist gets deployed. As a result, they have trouble paying bills, the rent, the mortgage, or medicine for their children.

The primary reason these families cannot make ends meet is because for Guardsmen and Reservists military pay is often less than civilian pay. We call that the ``pay gap.'' According to the most recent Status of Forces Survey of Reserve Components, 51 percent of our citizen soldiers take a pay cut when they get deployed and 11 percent of them lose more than $2,500 per month.

We ask these men and women to make so many sacrifices on our behalf. I think that it is time that we be willing to make one in return. The least we can do is to help these families find relief from the financial woes caused by this gap. To help do this, my colleagues Senator GRAHAM, Senator ALLEN, Senator DURBIN, and myself are pleased to introduce the Helping Our Patriotic Employers at Helping our Military Employees Act of 2005. We call the bill by its nickname: HOPE at HOME. Our guard and reserve families have enough to worry about when a loved one gets called away, the least we can do is relieve some of the financial worry by encouraging employers to make up the pay gap. Let me describe for my colleagues how this legislation works.

HOPE at HOME will give a 50 percent tax credit to the thousands of employers around the country who have taken the patriotic step of continuing to pay the salary of their guard and reservists employees who have been called to active duty. There are literally thousands of employers out there who already take this noble step--they do it voluntarily, selflessly and at great sacrifice. The HOPE at HOME Act honors that sacrifice.

HOPE at HOME will also encourage companies that cannot afford to make up the pay-gap an incentive to do it. One survey found that only 173 of the Fortune 500 companies make up the pay gap. If the wealthiest companies cannot afford to help their active duty employees, imagine how difficult this is for smaller companies. HOPE at HOME will allow companies large and small to do the patriotic thing and reward those employees who are serving to keep us all free.

HOPE at HOME will also give small patriotic employers additional tax relief if they need to hire a worker to temporarily replace the active duty Guardsmen or Reservist. In addition, the bill clarifies the tax treatment of any pay-gap payments to make income tax filing easier for our Guard and Reservists.

A moment ago, I mentioned that thousands of employers make up the pay-gap for their employees. There is one employer, however, and it happens to be the Nation's largest, that does not make up the pay gap: Uncle Sam. The Federal Government, which should set the bar for patriotism in our country, does not do its part to help citizen soldiers. Senator Durbin has been a leader in this area, so our bill includes language that he has been fighting to require the Federal Government to make up the pay gap. We cannot ask the private sector to do more than they are doing if the Federal Government is not willing to step up and do its part for our military men and women.

This is not only the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do. Today our Nation relies on the Guard and Reserve to meet our armed forces needs more than at any other time in our history. At times in the war on terror, forty-percent of our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan were citizen soldiers. Many of them performed multiple tours of duty or found their duties extended.

All of the experts tell us that our need for our Guard and Reserve troops will only get greater. In the post-Cold War world, we have drastically reduced our standing Army from 800,000 in 1989 to approximately 482,000 today, a 40 percent decrease. The number of deployments has increased by over 300 percent. The Guard and Reserve have made it possible to meet these challenges. We still find ourselves stretched thin, but without the Guard and Reserve we would never be able to meet our obligation as guardians of freedom in the World.

But this over-reliance on the Guard and Reserve is starting to have a toll on our ability to recruit and retain these men and women. The percentage of Army Reserve personnel who plan to remain in the military after their tour of duty ends fell from 73 percent to 66 percent over 2004. The top reasons for leaving the Guard and Reserve, according to the Status of Forces Survey of Reserve Components, are family stress, the number and lengths of deployments, income loss, and conflict with civilian employment.

We are beginning to have recruitment problems as well for our standing military. Back in February, the Army and the National Guard and Reserve recruited 3,824 soldiers, but this was only 69 percent of their monthly goal. The numbers went up in March, but still fell short by 12 percent of the goal.

HOPE at HOME recognizes that a soldier who is worrying about how his or her family is paying the bills is not focusing on the mission at hand. A soldier who is worrying about whether the family is paying the rent, is not going to reenlist. And every time one of our soldiers leaves, our Nation loses the experience and service of a highly trained, capable professional. We need to make every effort to keep our citizen soldiers in service to their country. HOPE at HOME is a first step to addressing our military's larger recruitment and retention issues.

During the Cold War we built our strength on having the biggest, best equipped standing army in the World. Now our military gathers its strength from a large reserve of qualified men and women in the Guard and Reserve who are ready to fight at a moment's call. We will lose that strength if we do not give our Guardsmen and Reservists and their families HOPE at HOME.

I hope my colleagues will join Senators Allen, Graham, Durbin and myself in supporting the HOPE at HOME Act.

I ask unanimous consent that the text of the bill be printed in the Record.

There being no objection, the bill was ordered to be printed in the RECORD, as follows:

S. 1142

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