For military families feeling the financial squeeze from skyrocketing fuel costs, ever-increasing food prices and the costs of moving to a new duty station, there are some new resources — and long-standing ones — to help.
Service and defense officials have taken steps to mitigate the impact of higher costs and are looking at some longer-term solutions.
“Financial strain due to inflation can create stresses on our teammates, and it is our responsibility as leaders at all levels to do everything we can to use available programs and resources to provide relief, and where appropriate, advocate for additional resources,” Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said in announcing help available for airmen and Guardians, as well as some ongoing efforts the service is undertaking with the Defense Department.
The military relief societies have long stepped in to help service members and families with a variety of emergency financial assistance, such as car repairs, travel for unexpected events such as funerals and basic living expenses such as rent and utilities.
But recently, relief society programs have also targeted the cost of shipping infant formula, the costs to get housing in this highly competitive market, and the high cost of shipping pets to and from overseas on permanent change of station orders.
Housing and PCS-related expenses
♦ Installation officials can request extensions of entitlements for temporary lodging expenses beyond the traditional 10 days as service members wait for housing following a permanent change of station move. Under the Joint Travel Regulation, installations can ask for TLE extensions of up to 60 days.
♦ The DoD mileage rate for PCS travel has increased from $0.18 per mile to $0.22 per mile, as of July 1. The mileage rate for TDY travel increased from $0.585 to $0.625 per mile.
♦ Unaccompanied service members who are directed to move out of government quarters, barracks or dormitories are now authorized a partial dislocation allowance of $840.07, according to a recent change in the Joint Travel Regulation. The moves may be required because of a shortage of housing or because of work being done on the barracks, for example.
Previously, this allowance applied only to those directed to move from family housing. It provides partial reimbursement of the expense of relocating the household. It doesn’t apply to a move between unaccompanied housing units.
♦ Defense officials are conducting a one-year pilot program to get additional data for calculating the Basic Allowance for Housing. They’ll accept local market rental data from military privatized housing companies as an additional way to increase the sample size and help ensure a correct calculation. It will be used in the process to calculate the 2023 BAH rates. The process for setting BAH has been criticized by some, including troops, families and the Government Accountability Office.
♦ Coast Guard Mutual Assistance has expanded its housing and PCS assistance in response to the housing and supply-chain issues that persist this year. Coast Guard members can receive an interest-free loan of up to $9,000 to help cover the cost of fees associated with getting a rental home, such as first and last month’s rent and security deposit. Coast Guard members can also get an interest-free loan of up to $9,000 to help with closing costs when buying a new home. Previously, these loans were capped at $6,000. Other PCS-related loan programs include household furnishing loans and utility startup loans.
Like last year, housing prices have been a big concern to many service members searching for homes during a PCS move. “The average closing cost in the United States in 2017 was $4,200. The average closing cost in 2021 was $6,300, an increase of 50%,” said retired CWO2 Sean Fennell, chief operating officer of Coast Guard Mutual Assistance, in the announcement about the expanded assistance.
“It is noteworthy that these averages are based on the entire country. The coastal states where our Coasties live and work generally have much higher rates.”
More help on the horizon?
While some efforts are helping military families now, there are also studies, proposals and changes underway that could impact troops’ finances in the future.
♦ DoD has requested a 4.6% pay raise for service members in 2023, but lawmakers are also considering a plan to help troops deal with rising costs. Under the plan, troops who receive less than $45,000 in basic pay would be eligible for monthly payouts of 2.4% of their salary.
♦ Starting in 2023, DoD is authorized to pay a Basic Needs Allowance as supplemental income for military members and their family members whose gross household income falls below 130% of federal poverty guidelines. To deal with issues of food insecurity, military families are encouraged to talk to their leaders and their family centers for information about food-security-related grants and loans, and for referrals to government assistance programs, the Air Force said. Local food banks near military installations and other organizations have also been helping military families.
♦ Later this year, DoD will start the 14th Quadrennial Review of Military Compensation to review and assess the military compensation system to strengthen troops’ economic security.
♦ Because of the shortage of infant formula, some military families have been reaching out to relatives and friends around the country, asking them to scour their local stores for infant formula. That means the formula must be shipped to the military family. So Coast Guard Mutual Assistance set up a new temporary grant program to reimburse families up to $750 for any costs for the shipment of baby formula, whether from a retail purchase or a family or friend. The grant program runs through Nov. 30.
Army Emergency Relief activated a loan program that reimburses for the costs of shipping formula, but there are exceptions where soldiers can receive money upfront to pay to ship formula. While the program is set up as a loan, grants will be considered when repayment of a loan would cause financial hardship.
Check with your other military relief societies. While Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society doesn’t have a specific program for this, “it’s something we have always been able to provide assistance for through our quick-assist loans and traditional interest-free loans,” said Gillian Gonzalez, spokeswoman for the society.
♦ Military families have many needs that are exacerbated by the rising costs. The Air Force and the other service branches have been mounting efforts to educate their service members and families about the resources available. Families are encouraged to contact their family centers on base; MilitaryOneSource.mil online, by phone or chat; and their military relief society. The Air Force Aid Society and other military relief societies can provide assistance through grants or interest-free loans for a variety of needs.
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.