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breaking news

Lawmaker Bonuses vs. Military Pay

Published: Tuesday, May 05, 2015 @ 5:30 PM
Updated: Tuesday, May 05, 2015 @ 5:30 PM

In a News Center 7 investigation, we discovered Dayton-area members of Congress gave extra pay to their own staff -- even as the military barely got a raise.

We spoke with Cruz Romeros, who spent 17 years in the Marines. He and his wife just had their fourth child. He knows the struggle of working 12 hours a day, deploying for seven months, and paying the bills.

"It's a lifestyle I chose, and my family understands that," Romeros told us.

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Romeros and other military members face financial battles due to years of stagnant pay. Congress recently voted to cap pay raises for the military at one percent -- below inflation. We discovered that same month, members handed out bonuses far greater than one percent to their own staffers.

Organizations that help military veterans call that hypocritical.

"It's a tough thing to stomach," said Tony Teravainen with Support the Enlisted Project or STEP.

Congress doesn't have to report bonuses explicitly. We found them when comparing salaries in house financial reports. Ohio's 10th District Congressman Mike Turner handed out 35-thousand dollars in 4th quarter bonuses to his staffers. Fourth District Congressman Jim Jordan gave staff bonuses every quarter last year.

"It is a way to reward for hard work," said Jenna Ebersole, who compiles salary data for Legistorm, a non-partisan organization. "It's the taxpayers' dollars, so it's reasonable to ask questions for each of these.

Our Kyla Campbell did ask local lawmakers why bonuses were handed out when Congress decided a one percent raise was good enough for millions of people in the military.

Turner's office told us he didn't give out bonuses -- he calls them salary adjustments. His staffer said people's responsibilities change, regardless of their job title, and more pay could be warranted.

Jordan's staff told us they cut the office budget last year and have one of the lowest spending congressional offices in the country. His office says his bonuses reward work ethic.

"It's just something that I chose, and I just learn to deal with that," Romeros told us. He always accepted a life in the military would mean sacrifice. For the military, this year, sacrifice included a little bit of pay others did not have to give up.