Think tank proposes major cuts to servicemembers’ BAH

Think tank proposes major cuts to servicemembers’ BAH
About the Author

Gina Harkins is MOAA's Senior Staff Writer. She can be reached at ginah@moaa.org. Follow her on Twitter at: @ginaaharkins.

A prominent conservative think tank has proposed drastic changes to the military's Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH), which they say too many troops view as an entitlement.

The Heritage Foundation, based in Washington, D.C., is calling on Congress to make radical changes to servicemembers' BAH. Their proposal would put an end to dual-military couples who live together collecting two housing allowances. It also would mean servicemembers who find housing that costs less than their BAH rates would no longer be able to pocket the difference. 

“Congress should restore BAH's place as an allowance, versus an entitlement, by requiring married military couples to share a single BAH, and all service members to document their housing expenditures in order to receive BAH,” the authors wrote in a new 21-page report titled “Preventing a Defense Crisis: The 2018 National Defense Authorization Act Must Begin to Restore U.S. Military Strength.” 

DoD needs more troops and updated equipment to deal with ongoing global threats, the authors argue. That requires more money, so curbing BAH costs and making changes to other programs like health care and commissary subsidies will be necessary to help the military rebuild after years of budget cuts, they wrote. 

“Over time, the BAH has come to be perceived as an entitlement, an element of compensation, versus the purpose for which it was intended, to defray the costs of housing for service members living off base,” the document states.

MOAA leaders, however, disagree.                                                                                                                

“Basic Allowance for Housing is part of Regular Military Compensation-it is not an entitlement,” says Col. Mike Barron, USA (Ret), MOAA's director of Policy and Advocacy for Currently Serving and Retired Affairs. “We support maintaining the calculation currently in federal law for Basic Allowance for Housing as part of Regular Military Compensation.”

This isn't the first time BAH has landed in budget hawks' crosshairs. Last year, members of the Senate Armed Services Committee called the housing allowance system “bloated and ripe for abuse.” They, too, proposed limiting troops' BAH payments to their actual housing costs. They also planned to end multiple BAH payments for dual-military couples. 

The overhaul, which was introduced in the fiscal 2017 Defense Authorization Bill, was ultimately rejected. 

“When this unfair and discriminatory provision was brought to the House/Senate conference on the 2017 [National Defense Authorization Act] in the fall, it was killed,” Barron said. 

Congress is expected to debate the annual authorization bill - and potential changes to the housing stipend - in May, Military Times reported. For now, Barron said tangible support for changing the entire military pay system is a long way off. 

Photo credit: U.S. Navy

 

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