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House lawmakers want to extend family separation pay to sequestered sailors

Sailors prepare to man the rails aboard the USS Carl Vinson before the aircraft carrier departs Naval Base Kitsap in Bremerton, Wash., Aug. 23, 2020.

NICHOLAS CARTER/U.S. NAVY

By CAITLIN DOORNBOS | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 13, 2020

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YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Sailors sequestered away from their families as a coronavirus precaution would be eligible to receive their Family Separation Allowance earlier under a provision in the House of Representatives’ version of the 2021 Defense Department budget.

Currently, the service members are ineligible for the Pentagon’s $250-per-month Family Separation Allowance until 30 days after deploying from their homeport. But pre-deployment quarantines have meant sailors are often separated from their families well before a ship gets underway.

The House version of the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2021 would extend the allowance to service members “under orders to remain on board the ship while at the home port,” according to the bill.

The provision would allow “the 30-day clock to start at the beginning of a pre-deployment quarantine (and) would provide some financial relief to support Sailors and their families during these challenging times,” Navy spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Adam Cole told Stars and Stripes in an email Friday.

To avoid bringing the coronavirus onto its ships, the Navy in March began requiring sailors to leave their homes for at least 14 days of restricted movement in barracks before shipping out for sea duty. For those on large ships, such as the 5,000-crew aircraft carriers, the process is completed in phases and takes even longer.

Navy spouse Bettie Annable hasn’t seen her husband, Petty Officer 1st Class Ernest Annable, since he left home for pre-deployment sequestration on April 8, exactly two months before his ship, the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, left Yokosuka.

Annable, who urged fellow spouses to write Congress about the issue in August, said she was encouraged to hear about the possible change.

“At least they are moving forward and taking into consideration the extra time that the sailors are away from their families,” Annable said Tuesday. “It is a step forward and that I would consider progress.”

The Senate version of the 2021 defense budget does not include language to change the eligibility period. The House and Senate will compare their versions and resolve differences during an NDAA conference before presenting the final bill to the president.

doornbos.caitlin@stripes.com
Twitter: @CaitlinDoornbos