Senators Seek to Eliminate Policy Language Limiting Housing Allowance

Language in the Senate version of the fiscal 2017 defense authorization bill that would reduce service members’ basic allowance for housing (BAH) payments in many cases, including for dual-service military families and single members living together, should not be included in the compromise version of the legislation, according to a bipartisan group of 18 senators.

The Senate language would limit BAH payments to actual expenses for rent and utilities, preventing personnel from pocketing extra payments if they find less expensive housing. The existing system offers military members a flat payment based on their rank and location.

But the Senate proposal also would cut the BAH for dual-military couples in half, to prevent each service member from receiving extra housing compensation. And personnel who choose to share housing would see their individual stipends adjusted to cover only their actual costs, reported Military Times.

“The changes outlined in S. 2943 would cause significant financial hardship to many military families and unfairly penalize dual-service military couples as well as single-service members who cohabitate in order to make financial ends meet,” Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), John Boozman (R-Ark.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and 15 colleagues wrote the leaders of both chambers’ Armed Services committees last week.

The Senate provision also would bring about costly, new administrative burdens and unintended consequences to the military services, according to the senators.

“Adequate research, planning and understanding is required before such sweeping changes can be responsibly advanced,” they wrote.

Senate Armed Services Committee staff say the overhaul would save tens of millions of dollars without sacrificing service members’ housing benefits. DOD officials oppose the plan, describing the BAH as part of members’ larger compensation package.

The changes are not part of the bill passed by the House. Last week, House and Senate conferees began reconciling the two versions of the annual policy bill.

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