Senate takes aim at military housing allowance

PHOTO CAPTION: 
U.S. Rep. Rich Nugent, 11th Congressional District.

U.S. Rep. Rich Nugent, 11th Congressional District.This past weekend, Wendy and I were helping one of our sons, who is now a Major in the Army, and his young family move into a new house.

During the move, we stopped by the base’s commissary to pick up a few essentials when we noticed a recent copy of ArmyTimes with the following headline, “Congress is Targeting Military Housing Stipends, and it Could Cost Troops Thousands.”

The article is. of course talking. about the Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) and how the system currently assigns a determined stipend, based on rank, family and zip code.

First, this news that Congress was considering reducing the BAH was shocking and scary to our daughter-in-law (and rightfully so). She told us that many others in the military community were apparently already expressing concern over the potential that their already-low housing stipends could be further cut.

Second, she looked at me – as a sitting member of said Congress – with a terrified look, hoping I had an update and answers from Capitol Hill.

Frankly, I was certain there was no cut in the House version of the bill we just passed, so the breaking news headline caught me a bit off guard as well.

Turns out, it’s actually the Senate who has quietly planted this potential bombshell in their version of the National Defense Authorization Act (the House completed ours a few weeks ago; they are now reviewing their version this past week and next).

Proponents of this harmful measure argue that service members who live off-base are taking advantaged of their housing allowance by living in smaller, less expensive dwellings or group-sharing scenarios and then pocketing the difference.

I argue that many of these folks are deliberately choosing to live in restricted housing situations because the cost of living combined with their relatively low salaries are forcing them to make tough decisions in order to survive.

But to harm service members and their families at large who are already struggling to make ends meet and are trying to make the most of their situation is reckless and insulting.

This is not the place to make cuts.

Look, the truth is that service members on and off of bases are not living a lifestyle of glitz and glamour – they earn just enough to get by, provide for their family and hopefully save a little in the process.

On paper, a reduction of the Basic Allowance for Housing program may seem like a good thing – legislators love to make hypothetical and macro level percentage cuts in a show of reduced federal spending. And, in general, trimming real fat is obviously a good and necessary idea.

But in this instance, the hurt would come at a very micro and personal level, targeting the men and women and their families who sacrifice to defend our country.

Freedom isn’t free. Making sure that the troops can afford to house their families is part of that cost. And there is no way we won’t combat this provision, should it be included in the Senate’s final version of the NDAA and on to the conference discussion table.

To that end, I’d love to hear from you on this topic. Do you have any family members or friends in the service who are hearing murmurs about the Senate cutting their BAH? And feel free to pass along anything else that may be on your mind.

Rich Nugent (R), Brooksville,
Member of Congress,11th Congressional District