What would you do if you heard your salary was going to be cut by as much as $13,000 a year?
That’s what could happen to thousands of active duty service members if the Senate is able to convince the House of Representatives to accept their proposed changes to the Basic Housing Allowance (BAH) for Dual Military Couples.
The plan? Here is the exact wording from Sec. 604 of the proposed National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) currently waiting to be debated on the Senate floor sometime this month:
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).
Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsay Graham (R-SC) came up with this proposal in order to save the government money. They did not seem to consider the fact that BAH is an essential part of a compensation package used to recruit and retain military service members. If Congress removes an entitlement based only on the marital status of a service member, it sets a precedent for further discrimination and possible cuts that would apply only to a specific population in the military community.
BAH is tax free and changes in amount according to the area where one lives. This saves the government money in the long run because they can pay a lower BAH to those living in less expensive cities and states. If an appropriate salary were to replace BAH, the military service member would pay taxes on the increase but the government would have to come up with a figure that was equal across the board, no matter where people lived. They would have to pay a comparable civilian salary for some of the most expensive places in the United States, like San Diego, California and Washington DC, no matter where anyone lived. Replacing part of military salary with BAH already saves the government a lot of money.
There is an uproar within the military community, but not only against this proposal. Many actually support it:
It’s double dipping and should be removed. Why should for example an E5 married with civilian working wife and 2 kids get one bah while same exams but both parents in military get 2 bah. Doesn’t make sense and needs to be cut.
Good about time they eliminate dual BAH for Mil2Mil. BAH is meant to compensate housing costs for your HOUSEHOLD commensurate to the local civil an area. It was never meant to be an entitlement for each member.
BAH is to cover housing – not to get a windfall because two of you are drawing an allowance to pay for the same house.
IMO, they don’t need double the BAH because they are presumably living in the same house. I don’t see it as being penalized at all. It’s unnecessary.
Comments from the Keep Your Promise Facebook page
But the uproar against this proposal is far louder. A petition to the White House to prevent this cut has garnered almost 30,000 signatures in just 5 days. And who are the folks that are most upset?
Dual enlisted couples are at the top of the list. This cut will affect the non-commissioned officer corps far more than officers. According to a report from Military One Source, 80% of all dual military marriages are among enlisted members. The bulk of those are E-5 to E-6, the very heart of our Armed Services, at almost 40%. The second largest group are the youngest, E-1 through E-4, at 28%.
The second most vocal group will likely be women, both enlisted and officers. According to the Pew Research Center, “almost half of all married military women (48%) have wed a fellow service member, while the share of men in dual-military marriages is only 7%.”
This means the BAH cut will disproportionately affect active duty women.
Women in the military already face discrimination on many levels but it seems the ultimate slap in the face might be Congress telling them they are not as deserving of their full entitlement package just because they married a fellow service member.
Commenters over at Keep Your Promise point out that when most dual military couples manage to get assigned together, they find themselves in one of the most expensive rental markets in the United States, Washington DC. In this steep market, dual BAH allows these military families the supposed luxury of living closer to work, to school, and to child care meaning that the family can actually spend more quality time together. The longer the commute, for either partner, the more hardship on the family.
With a single BAH, most families struggle to make rent in costly markets but many make it work because the civilian spouse earns a salary that does not break out housing as a separate entitlement. In fact, some are wondering that if Congress can take BAH from one active duty member because their spouse is military, could they also take partial BAH from a family with two working parents? It isn’t as far fetched as you might think. The current proposal includes cuts to military service members who are not married but chose each other as roommates. Congress can be as permissive as we allow them to be when it comes to cuts like these.
The Air Force will be the next in line to fight these cuts. Military One Source points out the USAF has the highest number of dual military families at 14.5% for officers and 20.9% for enlisted. The Secretary of the Air Force, Deborah Lee James, is looking to increase diversity and recently commanded the branch to increase opportunities for women. She points out that though the Air Force recruits a diverse force, they lose diversity when it comes time to re-enlist or to extend active duty service commitment. Proposals like the dual BAH cut will do more harm than good when dual military couples have to make the choice on whether to stay or to go. The odds are that more women than men will leave making it even more difficult to maintain high levels of diversity.
That same report says that only 11.3% of the Armed Forces are dual military couples. Even fewer are assigned to the same location. The amount of money that Congress could save in this cut is minimal yet the impact to the average dual military couple is huge.
Why would Senators like John McCain and Lindsey Graham even want to go down this road? We’re not sure, but we encourage to call and ask. While you’re at it, please contact your own Senators and Representatives and ask them too. Click here to help find your own senator.