WASHINGTON D.C. - A nationwide movement to aid financially-strapped families of National Guard members and reservists was launched today by Lieutenant Governors Pat Quinn (D-Illinois), André Bauer (R-South Carolina), Cruz Bustamante (D-California), Beverly Daggett (D-Maine),
Brian Dubie (R-Vermont), Mary Fallin (R-Oklahoma), Charles Fogarty (R-Rhode Island), Kerry Healey (R-Massachusetts), Cathy Baker Knoll (D-Pennsylvania), Mitch Landrieu (D-Louisiana), Loren Leman (R-Alaska), Beverly Perdue (D-North Carolina) and other lieutenant governors.
At a National Press Club press conference, the lieutenant governors urged every state to adopt “military family relief funds” to provide grants to families of National Guard and Reserve soldiers on active duty who face reduced income.
Quinn was also joined by Michael P. Cline, executive director of the Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the United States.
“We are pleased to see that the Lieutenant Governors of this great nation have pulled together to assist those men and women who are fighting for our country,” said Cline. “We are thrilled to see the states create a fund that will assist military families.”
Grants ranging from $500 to $2,000 would help military families in need to cover expenses such as rent, utilities, and medical expenses.
The root of the problem is the disparity between the civilian salary and military paycheck of many “citizen soldiers” who earn less in active duty than they do at their regular place of employment, imposing serious hardships on a household when the breadwinner is called up. National Guard members and reservists now comprise a larger percentage of frontline troops than in any war in history (25 percent now; projected to be 40 percent by spring.)
Currently, there are 192,122 National Guard members and reservists on active duty. These citizen soldiers have a combined total of 311,951 dependents, according to Defense Department statistics.
“There are 311,951 dependents of citizen soldiers who have plenty to worry about when their loved ones are stationed on the frontlines in the fight against terrorism,” said Illinois Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn, who successfully championed the nation’s first Military Family Relief Fund. “They shouldn’t need to be worried about making the rent or heat bill. A state Military Family Relief Fund is an efficient and voluntary mechanism for people to express their appreciation to the families of those who serve.”
A check-off box on the current Illinois income tax return allows individuals to make tax-deductible donations directly to the fund. To launch the fund, the Illinois General Assembly and Gov. Rod Blagojevich appropriated $5 million, and Quinn’s office raised more than $83,000 in voluntary donations from corporations, community groups and students. To date, $829,000 has been distributed in grants to more than 1,800 Illinois military families through the Department of Military Affairs. Every penny raised goes to the families.
In January, both South Carolina Lt. Gov. André Bauer and California Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante unveiled legislation in their states to allow private donations through income tax check-offs for grants to the military families in need.
“This is a drastic need among our military families,” Bustamante said. “As they are protecting us abroad, their families are going into bankruptcy, losing homes and cars.” His state – California – has the most dependents of National Guard members and reservists (20,239) in the nation.
“I was excited about working with Lt. Gov. Quinn on this project,” said Bauer. “We have received an overwhelmingly positive response here in South Carolina for this program and I look forward to taking care of our military families as they have taken care of us.”
Rhode Island Lt. Gov. Charles Fogarty, who works closely with the Rhode Island National Guard in his capacity as head of the state’s Emergency Management Council, has fought for years to address the needs of Guard members and reservists. “We have to remember, it is not just the Guard member who serves, it is also the family,” Fogarty said.
Other lieutenant governors have taken the lead on helping military families, such as Lieutenant Governor Winthrop Rockefeller (R-Arkansas) who raised $60,000 to charter buses so troops on their way to Iraq could spend the holidays with their families.
The lieutenant governors from across the nation are in Washington D.C. this week for the National Lieutenant Governors Association Winter Meeting. Later this week the group will consider a resolution sponsored by Quinn, Bauer, Bustamante, Daggett, Dubie, Fallin, Fogarty, Healey, Knoll, Landrieu, Lemen, Perdue and others to endorse the concept of Military Family Relief Funds in every state.
Half the states have at least 5,000 dependents of active duty National Guard members or reservists: California- 20,239; Texas- 20,018; Florida- 14,145; North Carolina- 11,849; Georgia- 11,463; Alabama- 10,904; Pennsylvania- 10,746; Ohio- 10,457; Virginia- 10,360; New York- 10,101; Missouri- 9,482; Washington- 9,479; South Carolina- 8,179; Illinois- 7,491; Arkansas- 7,421; Maryland- 6,902; Mississippi- 6,628; Tennessee- 6,331; Oklahoma- 6,309; Michigan- 6,007, Massachusetts- 5,926, Arizona- 5,448; Wisconsin- 5,191, and Minnesota- 5,053. The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico has 8,092 dependents.
Noting Thursday is Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, Quinn said, “Lincoln reminded us of our duty as citizens ‘…to care for them who have borne the battle.’ The American people want to help and the Military Family Relief Fund is an easy way for them to do so.”
Quinn recently visited U.S. troops in Iraq, Kuwait, and Qatar. The first state elected official to visit the frontlines in Iraq, Quinn told the Illinois troops not to worry about their loved ones making the rent or paying other bills since assistance through the Illinois Military Family Relief Fund is now available.
Quinn’s office maintains a website, www.operationhomefront.org,
describing how citizens back home can help the troops and their families. Having registered more than 4 million hits, the website is one of the most frequented sites in Illinois government.