- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Lawmakers want to trim the fat in the defense budget by targeting service members’ housing stipends.

Senators are using a draft of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2017 (NDAA) to change the Basic Allowance for Housing system (BAH). The goal is to move away from a flat-rate stipend based on rank and family status to a system that only allocates benefits for rent and utilities costs. The current system allows troops to pocket savings.

“While service members paid as much as 22 percent of their housing costs out-of-pocket in the decades preceding the change to the current system in the late 1990s, by 2006, out-of-pocket expenses were eliminated entirely, and indeed, in certain circumstances, as demonstrated by a recent US Army Audit Agency (USAAA) audit, the benefit now far exceeds the actual cost of housing borne by some service members,” a recent Senate report on NDAA said, the Daily Caller reported Sunday.

“USAAA found that BAH entitlements paid to married service members collected in the same military housing area significantly exceeded the local housing costs for these service members by more than $200 million in fiscal year 2014 alone, and recommended modifying BAH to bring actual costs more in line with the provided benefit,” the statement continued.

The Defense Department has pushed back against the proposed changes. Military officials said in March that it would be “inappropriate to limit a member’s compensation by tying that compensation to actual expenses,” Military.com reported Saturday.

A draft of NDAA by House lawmakers did not include changes to housing benefits.

“Congress is ill-advised,” one Military.com reader commented. “This will only cause landlords to raise the rent to the maximum. It will cost the service member more in the end because they’ll come out of pocket for all utilities. This may look good on paper using 3rd grade math, but falls short of the actual cost of this decision. Retention and recruiting will suffer and therefore this country will suffer.”

Another added, “I’m tired of losing a benefit every time I turn around. When I retire I will not have the benefits I was told I would have if I stayed and did my 20. I’m already at 21 years. I don’t know if I’m going to stay around much longer.”

If the bill becomes law, then service members would not see changing to BAH until undergoing “a permanent change of duty station outside their military housing area after January 1, 2018.”

• Douglas Ernst can be reached at dernst@washingtontimes.com.

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