A bipartisan group of 60 House lawmakers is urging Defense Department officials to restore full housing allowance payments immediately in light of the increasing financial pressures on military families.
In 2015, military leaders reduced the amount of housing stipends they paid out to military families from the 100% of the Basic Allowance for Housing formula to 95%, as a cost saving measure authorized by Congress. At the time, officials said the move was needed to balance growth in compensation costs.
Military officials have temporarily raised that percentage for certain high-cost areas of the country several times over the years, including a housing allowance boost for more than 114,000 service members in October.
But despite those changes, they have maintained the 95% target as the standard for the benefit payouts.
Earlier this year, as part of the annual defense authorization bill debate, House lawmakers approved language that would require the Defense Department to reassess that decision and move towards full compensation again.
The letter signers said even though the provision isn’t yet law, Pentagon leaders should move now to make the change.
“While the Department believes that imposing a 5% cost share shouldn’t financially burden military families, several studies have shown that this reduction harms the well-being of service members who live off and on military installations,” they wrote in a letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
“Service members and their families should not have to shoulder the burden of DOD’s cost savings.”
The 5% difference can amount to anywhere from less than $100 a month to more than $200, depending on where troops live. BAH rates are calculated based on a region’s rental rates and utility costs.
Lawmakers said that trimming the BAH payouts amounts to troops being “nickel and dimed by the nation they volunteered to serve” at a time when Defense Department budgets continue to rise annually.
Austin earlier this year promised to review the 2023 BAH tables “to ensure calculations reflect the unusually dynamic fluctuations in the housing market” in recent years.
Defense officials have also announced improvements in commissary prices and child care programs as ways to help cut costs for military families.
Troops are in line for a 4.6% pay raise starting in January, but many lawmakers have lamented that the boost will not keep up with the current rate of inflation for household goods and services.
Lawmakers are expected to finalize the annual authorization bill in December. Whether the BAH language will survive negotiations with the Senate remains unclear.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.