WASHINGTON, DC – Standing in the National Guard Memorial Museum, Illinois Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn today called on governors and state lawmakers across the nation to join in the nationwide push for creation of the a Military Family Relief Fund modeled on Illinois’ successful program to help families of National Guard members and reservists called to active duty.
The Illinois Military Family Relief Fund - drafted by Quinn and unanimously passed by the General Assembly - was signed into law in 2003, by Governor Rod Blagojevich. A check-off box on the Illinois income tax return enables individuals to make tax-deductible donations directly to the fund. To date, $2.7 million has been distributed in grants ranging from $500 to $2,000 to more than 5,000 Illinois military families for such expenses as groceries or rent. Every penny raised goes to the families.
Inspired by the Illinois model, nine more states have already enacted the innovative Military Family Relief Fund in just two years: California, Delaware, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Vermont and Wyoming.
At least 24 states are now considering legislation creating their own Military Family Relief Funds: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Washington State and West Virginia.
Quinn urged residents of these 24 states to send a letter or e-mail today to their governor in support of state legislation to create such a fund.
“Standing here in the National Guard Museum’s Hall of Flags, under the banners of all 50 states, we’re proud to trumpet the nationwide grassroots movement to create military family relief funds,” Quinn said. “The people are ahead of the politicians on this issue, and the states are ahead of Congress.”
The root of the problem is the disparity between the civilian salary and military paycheck of many “citizen soldiers” which imposes financial hardships on the families when the breadwinner is called to active duty. A recent study shows 55 percent of married National Guard members and reservists report a loss of income over their civilian jobs. And 15 percent experience a pay cut of $30,000 a year or more.
National Guard members and reservists now comprise a larger percentage of frontline fighting forces than in any war in U.S. history (About 43 percent in Iraq and 55 percent in Afghanistan). There are now 183,366 National Guard members and reservists on active duty nationwide who leave behind about 300,000 dependents, according to U.S. Defense Department statistics.
“There are thousands of dependents of our nation’s citizen soldiers who have plenty to worry about when their loved ones are stationed on the frontlines in the fight against terrorism,” Quinn said. “They shouldn’t be worrying about paying the rent or utility bill.”
Quinn noted that this week marks the second anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, as well as the second anniversary of the first U.S. service member killed in action there, U.S. Marine Corps Captain Ryan Beaupre, of Illinois.
“In 1776, citizen soldiers played a vital role in building democracy in American Revolutionary War battles just miles from where we stand today,” Quinn said. “And now, citizen soldiers are helping build democracy in Iraq. The Military Family Relief Fund is a voluntary and convenient way for people on the homefront to say thanks.”
Joining Quinn at the National Guard Memorial Museum were representatives of various National Guard and reserve support organizations, including the Naval Reserve Association, Marine Corps Reserve Association, Naval Enlisted Reserve Association, National Guard Association of the United States, Enlisted Association of the National Guard, Reserve Officers Association and National Military Family Association.
Also attending was Illinois Army National Guard 1st Lt. Steven Rice, who lost his leg resulting from a bomb blast in Baghdad. Rice is a recipient of two grants from the Illinois Military Family Relief Fund.
“Let the courage of Lieutenant Steven Rice inspire every governor and state legislator to act quickly to help the families of the courageous men and women from their own states who are on the frontline in the global war on terrorism,” Quinn said.
Quinn also sent a letter today to the U.S. Senators in the 24 states now considering creation of a Military Family Relief Fund.
“Members of the U.S. Senate - who vote on defense appropriations and foreign policy matters - can send a strong signal to governors and legislators back home by endorsing legislation to help military families in their state,” Quinn said.
Last year, Quinn was the first state elected official to visit troops in Iraq. He assured Illinois troops there that their loved ones back home are getting help thanks to the Illinois Military Family Relief Fund.
“Let’s give National Guard members and reservists from every state the same peace of mind,” Quinn said. “By approving the Military Family Relief Funds in every state, we can say to these brave soldiers, ‘We’ve got your back’.”
Last year, the National Lieutenant Governors Association unanimously passed a resolution in support of Military Family Relief Funds introduced by Quinn, Lt. Gov. Charles Fogarty (D-RI), Lt. Gov. Mary Fallin (R-OK), Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante (D-CA), Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer (R-SC) and Lt. Gov. John Carney (D-DE).
“This is a nationwide grassroots movement that cuts across party lines or geography,” Quinn said. “Today, we call on every American to contact their state elected officials and urge creation of a state Military Family Relief Fund.”