29 July 2015 Legislative News Update

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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

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Dual-Military Housing Allowance Provision Stumps Negotiators

A proposal that would cut allowances for dual-military couples appears to be one of the main hurdles for House and Senate members negotiating a final defense policy bill for fiscal 2016.

The Senate’s version of 2016 National Defense Authorization Bill includes a cost-cutting provision to reduce housing allowances for members who are married or living together.  Each member of a married couple would no longer receive a housing allowance, but instead receive a single allowance at the with-dependents rate.  The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates the change would result in an average reduction in pay of $1,100 per couple per month.  For unmarried members living together, their housing allowance would be reduced by 25 percent or to the rate for an E-4 without dependents.

The Association of the U.S. Army strongly opposes this provision.  In a recent interview, Lt. Gen. Guy Swan, USA, Ret., AUSA’s vice president for education, said the Senate-passed proposal would reverse years of efforts to help military couples afford decent housing in the sometimes-expensive regions where they are stationed.  In the 1980s, the Department of Defense paid for about 85 percent of service members’ housing.  Today, they pay for almost 100 percent, Swan explained.

“Over the period of about the last 15 years, the Congress has closed a 25 percent gap to ensure housing would not be an out-of-pocket expense,” he said.  If this proposal passes, “our troops are going to be paying a lot more out of their pocket.”

The top enlisted members of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps have joined the fray, also asking congressional negotiators to drop the plan.  

A letter signed by Sergeant Major of the Army Daniel A. Dailey and his fellow senior enlisted advisers says the change would penalize “the limited number of service members in dual-service families, of which 80 percent are in our enlisted force.”  This would potentially take away much-needed income and have a negative impact on recruiting and retaining an all-volunteer force, the enlisted leaders said.  They also say the change would disproportionately target women in the military.  Approximately 20 percent of women on active duty are in dual-military marriages, compared to 3.7 percent of active-duty men.

“When faced with such a significant penalty for marrying another military member, the unintended consequence would be one of those members would most likely leave the service,” the letter said. “At a time when we are working to recruit more women and open more options for women to serve, this provision unnecessarily challenges our efforts to accomplish this goal.”

The letter was sent to the chairmen of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees who are overseeing negotiations to work out a compromise defense bill.

The housing proposal could significantly reduce a service member’s regular, individualized military compensation, comprised of BAH, basic pay, basic allowance for subsistence and the associated federal income tax advantage, the letter said.

The White House agrees with AUSA and the senior enlisted advisers.  In a policy statement, the Office of Management and Budget says the change would “degrade the culture and environment needed to keep our military open and welcoming to military families, and risks sacrificing the strengths they bring to our nation’s defense.”  The White House statement also predicts the change would hurt recruiting and retention.

Speaking of the fiscal 2016 defense authorization bill…

The clock has run out on negotiators who hoped to pass the defense authorization bill before the August recess.  With final details not yet worked out on a compromise bill, the House leaves Washington this week and the Senate is scheduled to follow next week. 

Lawmakers will not return until the second week of September at which time they will be consumed with passing a stop-gap spending measure that will keep the government running past the Oct. 1 deadline. 

In the meantime, you can help.  Contact your elected officials to let them know how you feel about this provision and others we believe would harm the All-Volunteer Force.  Find your elected officials by visiting this link, enter your zip code, then select the first AUSA-suggested letter, “Preserve Our Military Benefits.”  You can choose to send the letter as an email or as a printed letter.