Defense Bill Offers Compromises on Military Benefits

The conference report for the fiscal 2016 defense authorization bill offers a mixed bag for military families, trimming the basic allowance for housing (BAH) over the next four years while attempting to preserve discounts at commissaries.

The compromise legislation adopts DOD’s proposal to slow the rate of increase in the BAH until rates cover only 95 percent of service members’ out-of-pocket costs, but eases the reduction into place by 1 percent increments over the next four years. Last year, leaders of the House and Senate Armed Services committees reached a compromise allowing the housing benefit to cover only 99 percent of rental and utility costs.

Conferees rejected language in the Senate version of the legislation limiting the BAH for service members who live together or married couples who work within a reasonable commuting distance from each other. But the House and Senate Armed Services committees intend to address the issue next year after seeing the results of a study of ways to adjust the allowance for dual-service couples and others so it better matches actual housing costs.

In rebuffing the department’s proposal to slash $1.3 billion in federal funding for military grocery stories, the annual defense policy bill attempts to preserve military families’ shopping benefit. The measure, though, provides the Defense Commissary Agency with new authorities to test innovative ways to operate stores more efficiently, reports Stars and Stripes. A new study aims to protect the shopping benefit while identifying ways to make commissary and exchange operations self-supporting by 2019.

The authorization bill also offers an alternative to the traditional retirement plan requiring personnel to serve for 20 years. The new ‘blended’ plan will feature a Thrift Savings Plan with government matching of contributions up to 4 percent of base pay, according to the story.

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