House lawmakers want to bump up military housing stipends and drop costs of some commissary items to combat the impact of inflation on family finances.
The proposals are part of the chairman’s mark of the House Armed Services Committee’s draft of the annual defense authorization bill. Committee members are expected to spend all day Wednesday marking up that proposal, with an eye towards a full House vote on the measure next month.
The bill details $802.4 billion in defense spending next year, including a 4.6% pay raise for troops to start in January. Both of those figures match proposals outlined by the White House earlier this year.
Outside advocates have said the pay raise — the largest for troops in two decades — may not be enough to counter higher prices for gas, groceries and other household goods caused by rising rates of inflation in recent months.
But Officials from the House and Senate Armed Services Committees have said that raising military pay even higher is problematic, because the mark is also used to set pay raise levels for civilian federal workers.
House panel Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., in his authorization bill released Monday includes nearly $250 million earmarked for housing stipend improvements and another $500 million for commissary support, both designed to get more money into military families’ pockets.
Committee staff said the extra housing stipend would increase the monthly payouts to troops by 1%. Currently, Basic Allowance for Housing rates cover about 95% of local rent and housing costs. The authorization bill change would lift that to 96%.
Housing rates are calculated based on rank, location and family status. For a mid-career enlisted service member with dependents living in Texas, the extra 1% would mean about $170 more in housing support next year. For the same service member living near San Diego, it would mean about $350 more a year.
Military housing allowances were increased by an average of 5.1% in January, but some families saw even higher boosts. Last fall, as rent rates climbed nationwide, military leaders used existing budget flexibility to temporarily raise rates in 56 markets.
Committee officials said the military could do that again, but the 1% boost included in the authorization bill draft was designed to help all troops instead of just those in especially expensive areas.
The commissary support is also designed to provide financial support for families.
Committee staff said the money would be used to defray costs throughout the system, allowing administrators to keep consumer prices low. They offered no specifics on which items would see lower prices or how much the decreases could amount to.
Both the housing and commissary provisions would have no impact until 2023, and the proposals will have to survive multiple rounds of congressional debate in coming weeks. The Senate Armed Services Committee adopted its opening draft of the authorization bill last week, without either provision but with $45 billion more in spending for the Defense Department in fiscal 2023.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.