Dual-service couples, service members married to other service members, currently can both draw Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH).
In an attempt to cut spending, the Senate Armed Services Committee has recommended reducing BAH to only allow the higher ranked service member to receive BAH if both service members are stationed within reasonable commute of one another in the contiguous states.
This recommendation is part of the 2016 Defense Authorization bill (S. 1376) that will be voted on this month.
There are more than 40,000 dual-service couples in the military and that number continues to grow now that same-sex marriage is legal in all 50 states. With the recent Supreme Court ruling that same sex partners can marry in America, the number may continue to climb. BAH costs have grown rapidly and in 2001 topped $1 billion annually. The committee aims to curb that cost with this bill.
As it stands, both service members can draw BAH even if they are stationed within the same area. If they do not have children, they both receive BAH at the without dependents rate. If they do have children the higher ranked service member receives the with dependents rate and the other receives BAH at the without dependents rate.
If this bill passes the Senate and later the House, dual-military couples could see their BAH rates change as early as October 1, 2015.
Under the new law,
(p) Single allowance for married members assigned for duty within normal commuting distance- In the event two members of the uniformed services entitled to receive a basic allowance for housing under this section are married to one another and are each assigned for duty within normal commuting distance, basic allowance for housing under this section shall be paid only to the member having the higher pay grade, or to the member having rank in grade if both members have the same pay grade, and at the rate payable for a member of such pay grade with dependents (regardless of whether or not such members have dependents).
This proposal would greatly impact a family’s income. An E-7 with children currently assigned to San Diego can draw BAH of $2,499 with dependents and their partner, an E-6 would draw the without dependents rate of $2,052. Their combined monthly BAH is $4,551.
Taking away the second BAH under the new law would lower their annual pay by $24,624. That is a significant amount of money for most military families.
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Dual-service couples are not the only ones that will see a change if this bill is approved. There is a second part to the bill that covers a reduction of BAH for service members that live together but are not partners.
(q) Reduced allowance for members living together- (1) In the event two or more members of the uniformed services who are entitled to receive a basic allowance for housing under this section live together, basic allowance for housing under this section shall be paid to each such member at the rate as follows:
(a) In the case of such a member in a pay grade below pay grade E-4, the rate otherwise payable to such member under this section.
(b) In the case of such a member in a pay grade above pay grade E-3, the rate equal to the greater of–
(i) 75 percent of the rate otherwise payable to such member under this section; or
(ii) the rate payable for a member in pay grade E-4 without dependents.
Many service members choose to have other service members as roommates to save on the cost of rent and utilities. This section of the bill would lower their combined BAH and curb that to a degree.
There is currently no plan to cut individual BAH, but there is talk of a reduction over time that service members will pay 5 percent of rent and utility costs. In the meantime, many eyes will be on the Senate this summer to see if service members’ bank accounts will significantly change this fall.