Bill would require per diem for National Guard troops at Capitol

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

Washington — A bipartisan bill introduced in the U.S. House on Thursday calls for partial per diem to be paid retroactively to National Guard troops serving at the U.S. Capitol who say they were provided sometimes undercooked meals by a contractor. 

The legislation, dubbed the Guard Reimbursement for Unhealthy Bites (GRUB) Act, would provide roughly $43 a day to reimburse them for any money they might have spent out of pocket for food during their deployment at the Capitol. 

Lawmakers said the GRUB Act is their response to constituent calls, media reports and first-hand accounts from the service members reporting undercooked and poor quality food provided to the troops. 

Members of the Michigan National Guard and the U.S. Capitol Police keep watch as heightened security remains in effect around the Capitol grounds since the Jan. 6 attacks by a mob of supporters of then-President Donald Trump, in Washington, Wednesday, March 3, 2021. The U.S.

“It is clear there has been a serious issue with food being supplied to members of the Michigan National Guard deployed to the U.S. Capitol,” said Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Holland. 

"The GRUB Act helps right this wrong by providing a per diem for each day our men and women were serving in our nation’s capital and by reimbursing them for meals they paid for out of their own pocket."

The bill is co-sponsored by Democratic Rep. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts. Other co-sponsors include Michigan Reps. Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township; Elissa Slotkin, D-Holly; Peter Meijer, R-Grand Rapids Township; Lisa McClain, R-Bruce Township; and John Moolenaar, R-Midland, among others.

"Congress should pass this bill and make sure this never happens again at any post in the world,” Moulton said.

Nearly 1,000 Michigan troops are among 5,200 serving at the Capitol to help local and federal law enforcement with security in the wake of the deadly attack on the building on Jan. 6.

The Michigan guard members are set to end their mission Friday and return home in the next few days. The Pentagon this week approved 2,300 guard members from around the country to stay at the Capitol through May 23.

The guard has said at least 50 troops were sickened with gastrointestinal illness after complaints that they were served undercooked or poor quality food by a military contractor.

None of those sickened have been hospitalized due to illness from the food since the Capitol security mission began Jan. 6; however, some have been treated at hospitals, a guard spokesman said. 

The National Guard Bureau has said it's is continuing with the current food service contract and the vendor. The guard has maintained that the problem is not systemic and limited to a fraction of over 1.2 million meals served since Jan. 6.

The contractor, Sardi's Catering, has defended its food service and claims that none of the cases of reported gastrointestinal illness among soldiers have been linked to the company. 

Given the number of troops who have served at the Capitol since January, retroactive per diem would likely cost the Pentagon millions of dollars. 

A guard spokesman said that, from the start of the Capitol security mission, there was never any intention to provide per diem for soldiers because it’s more cost effective to feed thousands of troops with a catering contract.

Maj. Aaron Thacker, a spokesman for the joint task force that’s commanding the Capitol mission, noted that MREs are also always available to the troops. 

mburke@detroitnews.com