- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Almost forgotten in the War on Terror are thousands of U.S. military reservist families whose incomes plummet to “pay grade” when the bread winner is called up for active duty.

These brave families, who already sacrifice by sending off a loved one into harm’s way, are asked to shoulder this extra burden each day. Some families potentially could even face personal bankruptcy.

According to the Government Accountability Office, 41 percent of National Guard and Reserve members activated reported a loss of income, with 10 percent of self-employed members reporting a loss of $25,000 or more.

While federal law requires re-employment of servicemembers when they return from active duty, employers are not required to provide differential pay during the period of military service.

However, many employers voluntarily have stepped up to the plate in making-up wage differences. The Adolph Coors Co. offers up to a year of differential pay and benefits. Wal-Mart provides continued benefits to its activated employees, aid to their families and differential pay and has even partnered with the VFW’s Operation Uplink to offer free phone cards to troops.

But not every company can be so altruistic, especially small businesses that employ fewer than 50 workers.

So here is where Republicans and Democrats can work together: Congress ought to encourage these acts of patriotism on the home front by approving parts of the Standing with Our Troops Act of 2005 (S. 11).

“It’s the shame of the service. Reservists give up everything normal in their lives to fly halfway around the world to fight terror, only to take a huge hit in income back home,” reports U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, New York Democrat, who has co-sponsored the bill. “If a reservist bought a house at his old salary and his wife and kids are still living in it, no bank is going to cut his mortgage 60 percent just because that’s the salary hit he’s taking to do his duty.”

The Act, which was the very first bill introduced by Senate Democrats this year, gives federal tax credits to small business employers who continue paying National Guard and Reserve employees called up for active duty. The tax credit itself is worth 50 percent of the salaries being paid to make up for the income gap, up to $15,000.

The measure also allows servicemembers called to active duty to make withdrawals from their qualified retirement plans without the government’s punitive 10 percent tax penalty. This gives families an added sense of security — a nest egg of sorts — in a family emergency or dire financial instability.

The spirit of the Standing with Our Troops Act applies to federal employees, too, providing for no reduction in pay while answering their nation’s call to duty in the military.

Of course, in the event of the ultimate sacrifice — the death of a loved one — any amount is a pittance. But our nation must honor and take care of its own, providing for the survivors of fallen military personnel in their time of greatest financial need.

The proposed legislation makes dramatic improvements in this area, increasing the “death gratuity” from $12,000 to $100,000. It also eliminates the draconian federal income tax previously applied to this benefit.

So in an era when members of Congress can hardly agree upon the time of day — let alone the great issues of our time — supporting our servicemembers who’ve answered our nation’s call to duty is a family value both parties can embrace.

Matt Daniels, an attorney and political scientist, is president and founder of the Alliance for Marriage, a nonpartisan, multicultural organization dedicated to ensuring that more children grow up in a home with a mother and a father.

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