DoD shoots down suggestion to cut military housing allowance

The Defense Department is standing up for military families in response to an Army audit that suggests housing allowances should be cut for military couples.

DoD is refusing to lower the Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) of dual military couples, despite an Army audit suggesting the department make the cuts to save hundreds of millions of dollars.

Each uniformed service member is entitled to BAH from the military to help pay for the costs of housing in the private sector. If the service member has a dependent he or she receives a higher BAH.

Of course in some cases two members of the military are married, stationed together and therefore live in the same house.

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Both service members still get BAH, but if they have a child or dependent only one of them gets a dependent BAH rate.

A February 23 audit conducted by the Army found there are 13,220 military couples in that situation.

In 2014 those couples received $471.8 million in combined BAH payment, but the local housing costs for those couples only ended up being about $267 million, a difference of $208 million.

To offset the difference, the Army audit suggested taking away the extra money dual military couples get for their dependents.

“The adjustment could save DoD approximately $52 million annually and $311.8 million across the program objective,” the audit stated.

DoD flatly said no.

“While there would be some monetary savings in the BAH program achieved through implementation of a limitation of BAH payments for dual-military couples, the department objects to any limitation based solely on housing or marriage choices,” a DoD spokeswoman told Federal News Radio. “A recommendation that a member is less deserving of compensation, solely because of the member’s marital status, would impose a marriage penalty on married couples in which both members have volunteered to serve their country.”

There is a perception that households receiving two BAHs may be overcompensated, but the household income of a dual military couple is essentially equivalent to a family with one military member and one civilian employed member, the spokeswoman said.

“In each case, the household makes a decision based upon the total household income as to how much housing to consume,” the spokesperson said.

She added that changing BAH would negatively impact DoD’s retention rate.

“There hasn’t been much of a pay raise for military members over the past few years, so [BAH] is necessary, needed and an absolute requirement for them to be able to live a normal life in a community,” said Garry Hall, president and CEO of the Association of the United States Navy.

Hall said BAH is especially important for sailors because they are often stationed in areas such as San Diego, California, and Norfolk, Virginia, where housing is expensive due to accessibility to the water and local resorts.

Basic pay for an E-4 with four years in the military is about $2,600 a month. The average rent in San Diego County in March 2016 was $1,618, according to a report by Market Pointe Realty Advisors.

“These are high dollar areas and without [BAH, sailors] couldn’t afford to live in those areas and scrape by,” Hall said.

He added that in some cases E-4s in high rent areas are forced to use food stamps.

BAH rates are based on local area rental market data and vary by geographic duty station, pay grade and dependency status, stated a fact sheet by the Defense Travel Management Office.

Hall said service members are encouraged to pay into their retirement plan, must pay taxes, food and utilities—all of which add up to a hefty price for some military families.

The White House proposed increasing military pay by 1.6 percent for 2017. Some lawmakers in Congress are trying to push that raise up to 2.1 percent in the 2017 defense authorization bill.

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