Dual-military families could lose housing allowances for one member if the U.S. Senate defense bill passes in its current form.
A provision in the bill would end the double allowances for one member of a dual-military marriage after Oct. 1. Currently, the bill is the subject of talks in the House and Senate Conference Committee. If the Senate measure passes, at least 40,000 service members in dual-military marriages, plus the ones who choose to room with fellow military members, could be affected, costing these couples $1,200 or more a month in lost income.
The Navy’s top enlisted man has already gone on record opposing the measure.
Ending the current system, which provides separate housing funds to active-duty spouses living in the same home, could be “devastating to military families” if put into place too quickly, according to Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Michael Stevens.
The Obama Administration has also criticized the measure, contending the targeted cut in the “basic allowance for housing,” or BAH, would “impose a marriage penalty,” and “have a disproportionate negative impact on women service members,” according to a White House statement.
The provision, sponsored by the Republican-controlled Senate would limit dual-military couples to a single housing allowance payment, specifically the rate to be paid to the couple’s higher-ranking or senior-most service member.
This will hit active-duty women hardest; a 2011 Pew Research study shows that female troops are in dual-military marriages at a much higher rate — 48 percent — than male troops, 7 percent.
The BAH is meant to cover housing costs. However, its increase since 2001 has turned it into more of a general income benefit for some service personnel. Eliminating this revenue stream for one member of a dual-military marriage could cause hardship for military families already struggling to make ends meet, critics said.
The amounts of money involved are significant for the troops involved. For example, an enlisted dual-service couple, an E-7 and E-6 with a child, who moves to Fort Bragg, N.C., would under the current system get BAH at the with-dependents rate and the E-6 would get BAH at the without dependents rate, so their combined BAH per month would be $2,628, according to an analysis by Stars and Stripes, the independent military newspaper.
Under the Senate plan, only the E-7 would receive BAH, lowering the couple’s income by $1,110 a month, or $13,320 a year.
The Stars and Stripes analysis also considered married officers, such as an O-4 and O-3, with no other dependents moving to Colorado Springs, Colo. The current system would allow both to draw BAH at the “without” rate for combined BAH ($1,587 plus $1,470) of $3,057 monthly. The Senate bill would allow only the O-4 to draw BAH but at a higher “with dependents” rate, or $1,944 a month. So this couple would see total BAH fall by $1,113 a month, or $13,356 a year, Stars and Stripes reported.
A quick poll of metro-east lawmakers showed they continue to support a House defense spending bill that does not contain the controversial provision.
U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, whose 13th House District includes part of Madison County, said: “This change was not included in the House bill, but as the two bills work their way through the legislative process, I will continue to monitor this provision and the potential impact it could have on our service men and women.”
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, who is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Defense Appropriations Committee, supports a competing version of the bill that fully funds housing allowances for dual military families, according to a Durbin spokeswoman.
U.S. Reps. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, and John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, both continue to support the House version of the bill that fully funds the housing allowance for both spouses in a dual-military family.
“These provisions are not contained in the House-passed FY 2016 Defense Authorization Act,” Davis said in a statement. “Any change like this needs to be weighed and not given a knee-jerk reaction.”
Contact reporter Mike Fitzgerald at email@example.com or 618-239-2533.