Lieutenant governors back funds to aidcash-strapped Guard, Reserve families

California Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante offers his support for the fund. Behind him are Lt. Govs. Pat Quinn of Illinois, left, and Charles Fogarty of Rhode Island.


By PATRICK J. DICKSON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 12, 2004

WASHINGTON — Families of many deployed Guard and Reserve troops are hurting financially, and many of their state legislators are moving to make that a thing of the past.

On Wednesday, five lieutenant governors held a news conference to announce a drive to create Military Family Relief Funds in states across the nation.

“We cannot allow the citizens of our states who are serving their country to fall into financial ruin while they are in Iraq, facing harm … while they are protecting us,” said Calif. Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante.

Each fund is designed to provide grants to families of National Guard and Reserve soldiers on active duty who are facing reduced income and financial hardships. Grants ranging from $500 to $2,000 will help military families in need to cover expenses such as rent, utilities and medical expenses.

Many National Guard and Reserve soldiers earn less in active duty than they do at their regular place of employment. Also, some private and public employers do not always make up the difference between soldiers’ military pay and their civilian pay.

The model for other states to follow is the Illinois Military Family Relief Fund, championed by Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn and signed into law in February 2003.

“The force in Iraq is estimated to be about 40 percent reservists and Guard members …. This is unheard of in our country; unprecedented,” Quinn said. “A lot of times, the military pay is quite a bit less than the civilian pay that someone was making.”

Quinn offered an example of one soldier whose wife and three sons saw a 70 percent cut in his pay.

“It’s pretty hard to make ends meet when you have such a decline in your family income.”

Bustamante said that 10 percent to 20 percent of the 9,000 California families with a deployed servicemember are seeking some form of emergency assistance.

A check-off box on the current Illinois income tax return allows individuals to make tax-deductible donations directly to the fund. Begun with state and voluntary support, $829,000 has been distributed in grants to more than 1,800 military families in Illinois, so far.

South Carolina, California and Pennsylvania are initiating legislative efforts to allow private donations through income-tax check-offs for grants to the military families in need.

The total number of National Guard and Reserves called to active duty at this time is 189,859.

Quinn has created a Web site, www.operationhomefront.org, describing how citizens on the home front can help soldiers fighting around the world. The site has registered more than 4.3 million hits, Quinn said.

Illinois Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn displays a state income tax form that allows individuals to make tax-deductible donations to a fund to assist military families facing reduced income due to the deployment of Guard and Reserve families. Quinn and four other state officials spoke at the National Press Club on Wednesday.