Rep. Ron Barber (D-Ariz.) on Tuesday introduced legislation that would allow the Defense Department to continue making $100,000 "death gratuity" payments to the families of fallen soldiers, even during a government shutdown.
Barber's bill is a reaction to the delay in these payments last year, when the government was shut down for 16 days. During that period, the DOD said it was not allowed to make payments to soldiers' families, which sparked outrage from both parties and a quick legislative fix.
The House responded by unanimously passing the Honoring the Families of Fallen Soldiers Act, a resolution making it clear that death gratuity payments must continue even during a shutdown. The Senate agreed, and President Obama quickly signed it into law on Oct. 10, the 10th day of the shutdown.
However, that bill only gave the DOD the authority to continue making payments through fiscal 2014. That means if a government shutdown were to happen in fiscal 2015 or later, the department would again be unauthorized to make death gratuity payments.
Barber's bill fixes that by adjusting the law to say the DOD is authorized in any fiscal year to make death gratuity payments, even if there is a lapse of government funding.
His bill, H.R. 4274, is similar to legislation proposed last year by Reps. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) and Tom Rooney (R-Fla.). Barber is a co-sponsor of that bill, H.R. 3352, along with a handful of Democrats and Republicans.
"We have a sacred trust with every man or woman who dons the uniform in defense of our nation, and we have a duty to provide funds quickly to help the families of those who make the ultimate sacrifice for our country," Connolly said in October. "We cannot allow political posturing in Congress or other efforts that force a government shutdown to prevent the flow of funds and other needed resources to families who have just lost a service member."
Barber proposed his bill after returning from a trip to Afghanistan with other members of the House Armed Services Committee, during which he met with members of the armed forces.
"While in Afghanistan, I had the honor of meeting with and thanking members of our armed services — including a number of them from Arizona," Barber said. "I am grateful for their service and the service of all those who serve — as well as their families, who make tremendous sacrifices of their own."