Pentagon lowers or ends restrictions on family use of nonappropriated funds for essential items like food, clothing

[This story originally appeared in the iNews Channel’s Military Focus, which you can find here]

The Pentagon announced a number of steps over the weekend aimed at helping financial struggles and hardship among military families.

The announcement comes as service members in the ranks of those who enlisted in 2001, the group of military members most likely to be having trouble affording basic living costs, get into a new phase in their service.

By the end of June, about 45,000 who served before Sept. 11 will transition into the Basic Allowance for Housing, or BAH, program. All members have been enrolled in the BAH program since 2002.

The BAH program has seen a gradual boost in its funding since its inception, but also came under scrutiny after the Base Realignment and Closure process. Advocates worried that the transition to a smaller base roster would require members to cut corners, or leave the service altogether.

In 2005, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld announced a program aimed at giving all members a 60 percent boost in their BAH allotments. In addition, the military sought to encourage families to stay in the program longer by offering a $100,000 retention bonus.

The BAH program is set to increase on July 1, from $1,711 to $1,793 per month.

More than 260,000 active-duty and Reserve members and their families were eligible for the retention bonus in the fall of 2007. Fewer than 10,000 members took it up.

The Pentagon also announced Saturday it was lifting a rule that had restricted the use of nonappropriated funds — money not earmarked for specific purposes — for family utilities and personal computer and accessories. Under the policy, electronics were only allowed if members were stationed in an installation where the chargers were installed and had been used within the previous three months.

In an April hearing with lawmakers on Capitol Hill, Joint Chiefs Chairman Joseph Dunford said the restrictions did little to keep nonappropriated funds from being used for family needs.

“A service member in Boise, Idaho, as an example, may have an office in town, but he may be stationed in Afghanistan,” Dunford said. “And we want to make sure he’s got power and his laptop’s working, and there’s a bigger mission there than what Idaho provides him.”

By doing away with the restriction, the Pentagon is taking a step toward making the BAH program more program-like than the previous package.

“The change announced today moves DOD to the same model that is used in the commercial world, where allowed and approved uses can be easily tracked and documented,” a statement from the Defense Department said.

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