By Cory Titus and Jen Goodale
The availability of affordable rental housing is a national problem – one made worse for servicemembers thanks to frequent moves and the unique needs of their profession. Servicemembers don’t choose where they are stationed, and they are always on call. The challenges mount further for families, with spouses of those in uniform more likely to be unemployed or underemployed.
This is why MOAA has made restoring the Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) to 100% of housing costs a major legislative priority as part of our spring Advocacy in Action campaign.
In 2005, Congress eliminated servicemembers’ out-of-pocket (OOP) housing expenses, setting BAH at 100% of average rental and utility costs. However, the government backtracked a decade later.
The 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), responding to budget pressures under sequestration, allowed DoD to reduce the rate to 95%, which was phased in 1% each year from 2015 to 2019.
Effect on Servicemembers and Families
When 95% BAH does not cover housing and utility costs, which have skyrocketed based on availability and inflation, the already lower basic pay or subsistence portions of the compensation package are forced to cover the difference. DoD estimates the average OOP housing costs range from $82 to $184 per month; however, in the 2021 Blue Star Families annual Military Family Lifestyle Survey, more than 76% of respondents reported paying more than $200 OOP per month.
The reduced BAH coverage leaves some military families stressed in budget areas such as food, clothing, child care, retirement planning, and so on. Military families should not have to prioritize one basic need over another. According to FY 2023 DoD tables, an E-5 with dependents will pay $1,332 a year OOP, on average. The average O-3 with dependents will pay $1,596 a year.
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The housing allowance provided to a majority of servicemembers, including a wide majority at the junior enlisted levels, does not cover the federal definition of “affordable housing,” leading to significant OOP costs and other family financial stressors. The average enlisted servicemember with dependents will not receive a BAH meeting affordable housing standards until the grade of E-7.
We Need Your Help
Our servicemembers give 100% in service to our country; they should not have to carry the additional burden of paying higher housing costs not covered by their allowance.
It’s time for Congress and DoD to make effective improvements to reduce financial stress on our servicemembers. Restoring BAH to 100% will improve financial stability in the military and help support recruitment and retention to sustain a strong all-volunteer force.
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Cory Titus is MOAA's director of Government Relations for Veteran Benefits and Guard/Reserve Affairs. Jen Goodale is MOAA's director of Government Relations for Military Family and Survivor Policy.
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