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Victory for Guard and Reserve Families: Murray Gets Child Care Help into Defense Bill

Jun 17 2004

Murray’s efforts have now delivered healthcare, equipment reimbursement, employer tax credits, and child care help for sacrificing families of citizen-soldiers

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(WASHINGTON, DC) -- Senator Patty Murray today announced another victory in her efforts to provide relief and aid to National Guard and Reservists and their families as the Senate agreed to Murray's amendment to provide child care help to these activated soldiers. Murray's successful amendment directs the Secretary of Defense to make child care services available to activated soldiers and their families not living near major military installations.

"This amendment takes one of the many concerns these Guard and Reserve families face off the table. It ensures that non-working spouses suddenly finding themselves in need of a job to help pay the bills will get some help with child care costs," Murray said. "I hope that today we've provided some peace of mind to families facing activations, deployments, and incredible hardships on behalf of our nation."

Murray's amendment, which was supported by the Department of Defense, also applies to full-time soldiers, sailors, airmen and women and their families living away from military installations.

Senator Carl Levin (D-Mich.), speaking just prior to the amendment's passage, said Senator Murray "has been tenacious, absolutely determined to provide child care for military personnel. The fact that the Senator from Washington was able to work with the Department of Defense to actually obtain their support for her amendment is a notable success for which she is entitled to commendation of this body and the thanks of this nation."

Murray’s amendment was her latest effort to pass the provisions included in her Guard and Reserve Enhanced Benefits Act (S.2068), a bill she wrote after meeting with the soldiers and families of the Washington National Guard’s 81st Brigade last January. To date, the Senate has passed several pieces of the Murray bill to provide these families the help they need. They include:

  • improving access to health care,
  • reimbursing soldiers and their families for body armor and other equipment they were forced to purchase,
  • and extending tax relief to employers who continue to pay salaries of deployed National Guard and Reserve members.


Senator Murray today expressed hope that additional portions of her package, including retirement benefits and education security measures, would be enacted in the near future.

"This is a great day for our soldiers serving overseas and their families back home. The Senate has finally begun to meet our obligation to the thousands of men and women serving our country so honorably, side-by-side with full-time soldiers, but receiving sub-par assistance from the government," Murray said. "But we have not yet done enough. I will continue to work with my colleagues to pass additional pieces of my legislation so that all members of Congress can return home, look our soldiers and their families in the eye, and say 'we are trying to do as much for you as you are doing for us'."

So far, the Senate has passed the following provisions of Murray's Guard and Reserve Enhanced Benefits Act:

TRICARE

Makes access to TRICARE permanent for all members of the Guard and Reserves and their families, regardless of employment or insurance status, ensuring full-time medical coverage. Murray was a co-sponsor of the amendment which passed by a 70-25 vote during the Department of Defense Authorization bill debate.

Reimbursement

Directs the Secretary of Defense to provide reimbursement to soldiers forced to buy body armor due to Department of Defense shortages. Murray was a co-sponsor of the amendment which passed by an overwhelming 91-0 vote during the Department of Defense Authorization bill debate.

Tax Credits

Provides a tax credit to employers continuing to pay activated Guard and Reserve employees. The credit is capped at $30,000, or $15,000 credit, per employee. Murray was an original co-sponsor of the amendment, which was unanimously added to the FISC-ETI bill on May 11.

Child Care

Directs the Secretary of Defense to make child care services available to activated soldiers and their families not living near major military installations. Murray's amendment was unanimously agreed to today.

Murray remarks, as delivered on the floor of the Senate prior to her child care amendment passing, are included below.

Remarks by Senator Murray
Regarding Guard and Reserve Amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2005


As my colleagues know, I've been working for several months on proposals to help ease the burden on our Guard and Reserve families who have a loved one serving our country. Today I am offering an amendment to help families get child care so that a parent can go back to work while their spouse is deployed overseas. This amendment applies to activated Guard and Reserve troops only, and it is discretionary.

The Murray Amendment will help relieve the child care squeeze that is hurting so many families who are silently sacrificing for all of us. Hopefully, with the success of this amendment, the U.S. Senate will then have passed several proposals to help Guard and Reserve families get healthcare through TRICARE, pay for equipment, stay on the payroll through employer tax credits, and now today with a critical piece on child care. Each one of these steps is part of a much larger effort to help ease the burden on families who are trying so hard to make ends meet while a spouse serves our country overseas.

Six months ago, on January 9th, I sat down with members of the Guard's 81st Armor Brigade and their families at Camp Murray and Fort Lewis in Washington state. At that meeting, Guard and Reserve members told me about the challenges their spouses and children would face once they were deployed. I could see how much they worried they would not have time to get their families on a sound footing with a job, child care, and healthcare before they were deployed to Iraq. I listened closely to all of their concerns, and I spent several weeks crafting a bill to address their needs. On February 12th, I introduced S.2068, the Guard and Reserve Enhanced Benefits Act. It's a comprehensive bill that will minimize the challenges at home when these brave men and women leave their jobs, their schools, and their families to protect our homeland and fight terrorism.

Since that meeting back in January, many of the Guard and Reserve members I met with have been deployed to Iraq. Currently, more than 5,400 brave Washington National Guard and Reserve soldiers and sailors have been activated including 3,200 members of the 81st Armor Brigade, who are serving in Iraq today. They are just part of the more than 168,000 Guard and Reserve troops who have been called to active duty from states around the country. And our Washington Guard and Reserve troops are among the more than 22,000 total troops from Washington state who are supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.

As I've talked with family members since the deployment, I have really learned a lot about the real challenges they are facing. Today, I want to report back to them on the steps we've taken in the Senate to help ease their burden. I'm proud that in the past month the Senate has delivered on three of the challenges I outlined in my bill back in February.

PASSED: TRICARE

First, we've delivered on healthcare. My bill proposed providing access to TRICARE for all members of the Guard and Reserves and their families, regardless of their employment or insurance status. It's an issue that Senators Daschle, Reid, Graham and others have worked very hard on over the years. I was a cosponsor of the TRICARE amendment. I voted for it on June 2nd, and I'm pleased that it passed the full Senate. Now we need the House of Representatives to agree that our citizen-soldiers and their families deserve health care.

PASSED: Employer Tax Credits

Second, we made progress on another challenge – the strains facing those who employ Guard and Reserve members. My bill offered tax credits to employers to encourage their support of activated Guard and Reserves. It's something that Senators Kerry and Landrieu have worked on. I was an original cosponsor of an amendment to provide a tax credit to employers who continue to pay activated Guard and Reserve employees. That measure passed the Senate with my support on May 11th.

PASSED: Gear Reimbursement

Third, we've provided help for soldiers and families who had to buy equipment because the military did not provide it to them in a timely fashion. Back on October 17th, here on the Senate floor, I told the story of Specialist Ian Willet, who was deployed to Iraq on his 21st birthday last September. His father, David, wrote to me and told me that Ian and his family had to buy equipment that the military should have provided. Well this week here in the Senate we did the right thing for soldiers like Specialist Ian Willet and his family. On Monday, I voted for an amendment directing the Secretary of Defense to provide reimbursement to soldiers who faced this hardship. I was proud to be a cosponsor of the Dodd Amendment that passed this body by an overwhelming margin.

Now today the Senate has the opportunity to pass the Murray Child Care Amendment and that will be another important and critical step forward for families who are sacrificing for us.

President Bush's Visit

I've raised these issues time and again on the Senate floor because I believe that if the American people are told about the silent sacrifices that so many families are making, they will demand that we do more. Madame President, President Bush is visiting Fort Lewis in my state tomorrow, and I hope that his visit there shines a bright light on the sacrifices that families are making while their loved ones serve our country overseas. I think it's critical that he hear directly from the families as I have about the burdens our Guard and Reserve are facing today. And it's important that he support the steps we've taken in the Senate to help those families with healthcare, payroll, equipment and today, child care. I hope the President will make it clear to those in the House of Representatives that the support we've provided in here the Senate cannot be removed from the Defense bill in the dark of night. One critical support that we need to take care of is the amendment on child care that I'm offering today.

Murray's Child Care Provision

I offer this amendment in honor of all the Guard and Reserve troops who are sacrificing for us overseas. And I offer this amendment in honor of their spouses and children who are sacrificing for us here at home. Let me explain why child care is such a challenge for many military families.

Often, when a member of the Guard or Reserves is deployed overseas, the remaining spouse has to go work to support the family and to make up for the income their spouse has given up because of their military service. Unfortunately, today as we all know, high-quality child care is expensive and often out of reach of a single parent. In addition, many Guard and Reserve families don’t live anywhere near a military installation so they can't use the services that are available there.

Danielle & Jack Lucas

Madame President, let me tell you about a wife and mother from my state whose life was turned upside down when her husband was called to active duty. Danielle and Jack Lucas have three children. They worked opposite shifts to avoid the cost of daycare. In February, Jack was told to report to the 81st Armor Brigade at Fort Lewis. Danielle scrambled to figure out how to keep her job and care for her children, including a newborn. Unfortunately, the cost of day care was prohibitive, and she was forced to quit her job after 10 years of work. Jack’s monthly military pay is $1,000 less than his civilian job. When it became impossible to make ends meet, Danielle moved to another part of the state where rent was less expensive. She has gone back to work, but the cost of daycare is still not affordable. She juggles help from family and friends to watch her children. Danielle often has as many as three different people watching her children in one eight-hour period. While Specialist Jack Lucas is taking the same risks as our active duty soldiers in Iraq, his family has faced emotional and financial turmoil that will be alleviated with this Murray Amendment. Madame President, we cannot continue to ignore the needs of our Guard and Reserve families. Unfortunately, Danielle’s situation is not an isolated case.

Jake & Kathleen Callahan

When Major Jake Callahan was called to active duty, his wife Kathleen and two small children were suddenly faced with a child care dilemma. Kathleen’s job requires her to travel and to attend work events on weekends and in the evenings. But her son has special needs and the cost of child care is financially out of the question. Kathleen struggles with the stress of abandoning her career or continuing to rely heavily on her family for child care. Kathleen is not alone.

Lisa Palmer

Lisa Palmer made the difficult decision to quit her job as a Registered Nurse when her husband was deployed to Iraq with the 81st Armored Brigade. After her husband was deployed, her two sons began experiencing severe emotional problems due to their father’s departure. Lisa felt it was important for one parent to be at home to help her sons through these challenges. Her sons’ depression, nightmares, and overwhelming sadness require constant reassurance and support. Lisa has started to work part-time at the hospital to help lessen the financial strain of their greatly reduced family income. However, like Danielle and Kathleen, Lisa is only able to do so by leaning heavily on her family and friends to provide child care. All three of these women tell me that they honestly don’t know how they are going to make it through until their husbands return home.

A Broken Support System

Madame President, the current support system for our deployed and activated Guard and Reserve families is broken. We need an immediate fix to keep our families strong while their spouses serve our nation. Unless we soften the tremendous burdens they face, we may have trouble retaining the soldiers we have and recruiting the new soldiers that we need. This is about easing the burden on those who serve us today, recognizing that as we ask more of them we must provide more support, and ensuring that we can recruit and retain our Guard and Reserve members for our future security.

Keep These in Conference

Now, I've heard some of my colleagues argue that some of these Guard and Reserve proposals are too expensive. We may hear that claim again today.

But I think we need to look at the costs of abandoning these families who are serving. We need to look at how much pain it causes them. I have sat in the room and talked with these families, and they are trying to serve our country honorably, but they cannot do it when they are so worried about how they are going to keep their children safe and secure while they work.

I think we need to look at how this issue threatens our ability to recruit and retain the volunteer military we need to protect us.

Madame President, we are spending $5 billion a month on the war in Iraq. Five billion dollars a month, and virtually all of this spending goes right to the deficit that our grandchildren will inherit.

Supporting our Guard and Reserve families is not cheap, but we need to do it if we still want to have a Guard and Reserve system after all of these long, extended deployments. These families are part of our war effort. They are part of the War on Terrorism. They are part of the War in Iraq, and they are part of our Homeland Security efforts. All of our military families are sacrificing today. Our Guard and Reserve troops are doing the right things. They're meeting their obligations, they're protecting our people, and they are serving our country with honor.

We have to acknowledge that our unprecedented deployment of Guard and Reserve forces is creating tremendous new hardships that we have not had to deal with before.

The amendment before the Senate now gives us the opportunity to do the right thing for these families and for their loved ones who are serving.

We are asking so much of our Guard and Reserve members and their families and we have an obligation to make it easier for their spouses and children during these long deployments. The Murray Child Care Amendment, and the other steps we've taken, tell our Guard and Reserve soldiers that they can serve our country overseas – even on long deployments – and know that their families will be financially secure and they'll be able to get childcare and healthcare.

So my message to our Guard and Reserve families is:

    We gave you access to healthcare through TRICARE. We made sure you're reimbursed if you had to buy protective equipment. We made sure that employers can continue to keep your loved ones on the payroll by providing employer tax credits. And today this body will assure you that you have peace of mind when it comes to your children that you've left behind and that they have the child care that is so critical to the wellbeing of your family.


We've made progress. We have much more to do, and we need to keep the pressure up to make sure that when we get to conference behind closed doors these measures are not lost

There are several other elements of my original comprehensive bill that have not been addressed yet.

But today I think it's extremely important that we adopt this amendment. The Department of Defense is supportive of this amendment. It is for our activated soldiers. I really urge the Senate to adopt this amendment today. I hope we can do it efficiently because I think it will send a strong message to those who are serving us so honorably overseas today.