Help Promised for Rising Family Expenses

Help Promised for Rising Family Expenses

Soldier with family
Photo by: U.S. Army/Graham Snodgrass

The Defense Department is taking extra steps to aid military families suffering from rising food and housing expenses, with immediate allowance increases for those living in 56 locations where housing costs have gone up by 10% or more. 

These adjustments in basic allowance for housing began Oct. 1. DoD also is extending temporary lodging reimbursement for service members in areas with housing shortages. Reimbursement typically is limited to just 10 days for most people making permanent change-of-station moves. 

To qualify, a service member must apply for relief and verify that their housing costs have increased since Jan. 1, 2021, when current allowance rates took effect.

Additionally, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said at a Nov. 17 press conference that he is ordering a 90-day review of what additional steps might be taken. “As we approach the holiday season, a critical issue I want to address is economic security,” Austin writes in a memo to senior Pentagon leaders and combatant commanders. 

Calling this a “complex problem,” he asks commanders and leaders to consider actions that could strengthen economic security. He wants an update in 90 days that will include looking at how to help military families facing problems affording food.  

“I understand that today some of our service members and families are experiencing economic challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic and to increasingly competitive housing markets. These challenges manifest in a number of ways, including reports of food insecurity, extended wait times for housing, drastically reduced housing inventories and sudden, sharp increases in rental or purchase costs for housing,” Austin writes. 

One policy under review is reducing or delaying PCS moves, allowing military families to remain where they are for longer periods. Austin also mentioned providing flexibility about when someone must report to a new assignment that takes housing wait times into account. 

His order comes at a time when Congress is considering legislation that would boost pay for some junior enlisted families and there is talk of increasing the proposed 2.7% across-the-board pay raise for service members to an amount closer to the 6.2% annual increase in inflation measured in October.  

Feeding America, a nonprofit group involved in more than 200 food banks, estimates 160,000 service members have problems affording food for their families. DoD has acknowledged rising food prices and reduced family income from the loss of spousal income has hurt some military families. 

In his memo, Austin writes that military families need help, which should include some financial aid and better education about financial planning. “We must also eliminate the stigma that many feel when seeking help, particularly when it comes to accessing food, and we must encourage everyone to use available resources,” he writes.