For the approximately 200,000 service members who may be eligible for extra cash in their housing allowance through the end of the year, military officials have provided more details on eligibility and how to apply.
Defense officials announced Sept. 24 that the temporary higher rates for Basic Allowance for Housing will take effect Oct. 1 in 56 housing areas across the country. The increase will be retroactive to that start date, so don’t worry if you haven’t yet applied or been approved.
The extra money is designed to ease the financial burden on service members and their families who have been affected by higher costs of rental housing and a shortage of housing in these designated military housing areas. It applies to troops with and without dependents.
Defense officials have estimated that about 200,000 troops DoD-wide could be eligible for the extra money, according to Army officials. If the maximum number of service members qualify for the extra money, it would cost the Defense Department about $159 million, according to DoD officials.
The increases range from 10 percent to 20 percent, and apply to eligible active-duty troops and full-time National Guard members in these 56 areas.
For example, one of the five military housing areas that will get the maximum 20 percent increase is Twentynine Palms Marine Corps Base, Calif. An E-5 with dependents in that area who qualifies for the increase would receive an extra $240 a month, with the BAH increasing from $1,206 a month to $1,446 a month.
The temporary increases end Dec. 31, because the new 2022 BAH rates take effect Jan. 1.
The 56 areas represent about 18 percent of the 306 military housing areas in the country.
Military housing areas geographically group individual ZIP codes, and include rental markets surrounding a duty station or a metropolitan area. The individual MHAs are named for the installation or nearest city.
Of the military housing areas with temporary BAH hikes, five will get a 20 percent increase; 11 will get a 15 percent increase; and 40 will get a 10 percent increase. In addition to Twentynine Palms, the other areas with a 20 percent increase are: Eglin Air Force Base, Florida; Boise, Idaho; Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho; and Spokane, Washington.
In general, it applies to:
♦ Service members who have relocated after March 13, 2020, and are paying higher housing costs at their new permanent duty station that exceed their regular BAH rate at their new duty station;
♦ Service members who have renewed a lease after March 13, 2020, and are paying higher housing costs exceeding their regular BAH; and
♦ Service members who have relocated within their military housing area and are paying higher housing costs.
All of these must be within the 56 designated military housing areas, and documentation must accompany the request. Documentation and application requirements are outlined in service guidelines.
The March 13, 2020, date is important because that’s the date the president declared a national emergency due to the ongoing pandemic. DoD contends this allows officials to authorize a temporary BAH increase because of the pandemic’s impact on rental housing costs.
Service members who signed long-term leases before March 13, 2020, or mortgage payments established before that date, aren’t eligible for the increased payments. Homeowners who are paying higher costs as a result of refinanced mortgages, adjustable-rate mortgages or home equity loans aren’t eligible.
Each of the services has provided information on how to apply for the rate increase:
Army: Check with your supporting S1/personnel office for further guidance and application procedures.
Marine Corps: https://www.manpower.usmc.mil/
Based on information pulled from DoD and the military services, here’s how it will work:
♦ You must apply for the increase. It’s not automatic; follow your service’s guidelines for applying.
♦ It’s retroactive. Eligibility for payment is retroactive to the first month when the service member had the qualifying extra costs — but no earlier than Oct. 1. The service member’s application must be approved by their commander or other approving official, and finance officials must get notification of the approval. The earliest any service member could receive the increase would be in the Oct. 15 paycheck. But those who don’t get the extra money by Oct. 15 will get a payment retroactive to Oct. 1, or the date they incurred the extra housing costs, whichever is later.
♦ Check with your service about deadlines for applying. For example, Marines must submit their request for the temporary increase no later than March 1, 2022.
♦ There are qualifying time frames. The increased rates apply to service members with extra housing expenses from March 13, 2020, through Dec. 31, 2021. For example, a service member who signed a lease during that time for an apartment, where the monthly rent exceeds the current BAH rate, may use that lease agreement to document eligibility, although the increases only apply starting Oct. 1, for three months.
♦ It applies to all ranks and all types of housing within those 56 designated housing areas.
♦ It doesn’t apply to service members living in privatized housing.
♦ Increased utility costs or property taxes included in mortgage payments, as a direct result of the pandemic, might qualify in some cases. Officials advise troops to refer to service-specific guidance or contact their chain of command for more information. Those claiming increased utility costs or increased property taxes must provide documentation justifying how the increases are a result of the COVID pandemic.
♦ No need to reapply each month. Eligibility and payments will continue through Dec. 31 for those approved, unless there’s a BAH status change.
♦ The temporary BAH increases end Dec. 31, or the date when a service member is no longer authorized BAH for that location. New BAH rates take effect Jan. 1, and service members shouldn’t assume the rate increases will continue into 2022.
In July, Military Times reported on the difficulty troops and families have been facing as they move to new duty stations because of surging housing costs. Some are paying hundreds of dollars more per month for rentals than their housing allowance covers, if they can even find a rental.
Some families delayed making their permanent change of station move, while others set up house in expanded RV campgrounds on base. Some told Military Times they had to live far from base just to find a rental or had to rent housing in unsafe neighborhoods or in less-than-satisfactory condition, and even then some had to pay more than their BAH covered.
Typically, BAH rates are adjusted once a year and the new rates take effect Jan. 1. But realizing the severe impact housing costs and availability were having on many military members, DoD assessed the market changes, developed a list of the most affected markets and evaluated potential solutions.
Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.