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Housing allowance change could spell more costs for soldiers

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A potential change in the housing allowances of military personnel and their families could mean more out-of-pocket expenses.

Last week, acting Deputy Defense Secretary Christine H. Fox, during testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee, listed housing costs as one part of the budget that needs to slow its growth in future years.

“So if this department is going to maintain a future force that is properly sized, modern and ready, we clearly cannot maintain the last decade’s rate of military compensation growth,” she told the committee.

One potential change, according to a recent Army Times report, would link the housing allowance payments to the cost of living in areas where troops are assigned.

However, the paper said, the Pentagon did not acknowledge such a change was under discussion.

If a change in military housing allowances were to take place, it may come first as a part of the military’s 2015 fiscal year budget proposal, slated to come out in early March.

The allowance is intended to cover all average off-base housing costs, but in the early 2000s the allowance was set so service members paid 20 percent of expenses.

Carl A. McLaughlin, executive director of the Fort Drum Regional Liaison Organization, said he was concerned about who would be most affected financially by any changes to the allowance calculation. “I don’t want to see it come out of a soldier’s pocket, but if it does, that’s where it’s going to come from,” he said.

Major changes to the allowance may require congressional approval. Mr. McLaughlin said he was not sure lawmakers would go along with any cuts. Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, in a statement, said he would review carefully the looming budget proposal “with the best interest of Fort Drum and the surrounding community close in mind.”

The military estimated it will pay about $20 billion in housing allowance benefits in 2014 for approximately one million service members.

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