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MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. -- Untold numbers of servicemembers residing off base will see their next paycheck shrink by as much as $250 -- and many of them may not even know the blow is coming.
Disbursing shops at several 1st Marine Division and 1st Force Service Support Group battalions surveyed over the past week said they learned only recently about the elimination of "geographic rate protection" under the Basic Allowance for Housing.
The change, outlined in Marine Administrative Message 315/01 and slated to take effect Monday, shelves a DoD policy enacted nearly five years ago. The old policy allowed servicemembers to retain higher housing allowances even when they moved to cheaper neighborhoods, said Master Sgt. Ervin Ramos, staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge for the Consolidated Personnel Administration Center, Headquarters and Support Battalion, Marine Corps Base.
“It’s money that you don’t rate,” Ramos said. “Some Marines will have to prepare themselves for the pay cut.”
Ramos is among administrative Marines sounding the alarm. By early last week, he had already sat down with 40 Marines in his battalion affected by the change, he said.
But many others on base may not find out except via the MarAdmin, the grapevine or the sticker shock of a leaner paycheck.
One example of how drastic the slash in income will be: An E-7 with family members currently drawing San Diego BAH will now draw Camp Pendleton BAH — and stands to forfeit $422 per month.
Staff Sgt. Elliot T. Threat, a substance abuse control officer with Headquarters and Support Battalion, commutes 60 miles one way every day and stands to lose $600, he said.
He was previously stationed at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego and received permanent-change-of station orders to Camp Pendleton — but continues to draw the MCRD rate.
His current BAH rate matches his mortgage, he said.
“I’m worried because I’m just waiting on a response from headquarters. I’m not prepared,” he said.
Threat, originally from San Jacinto, said he doesn’t know whether he’ll have to sell his home. He’s still mulling his options.
Under the old system, an E-5 transferring to Camp Pendleton could retain his previous rate at Miramar based on proximity.
If Headquarters Marine Corps did not authorize a move, servicemembers were allowed to maintain a physical address anywhere within the geographic area.
Geographic rate protection is expiring because BAH rates have climbed so that servicemembers no longer have to pay out-of-pocket expenses for housing, Air Force Col. Virginia Penrod, DoD’s director of military compensation, said in an American Forces Press Service article.
But Ray Solly, a retired master gunnery sergeant who’s now a realtor in Escondido, said no out-of-pocket costs in San Diego for home buyers is a pipe dream.
“I think they’re looking at the national picture. They’re not looking at the situation in San Diego County,” said Solly, adding that he helps at least a dozen servicemembers a year buy homes — though mostly not in San Diego County.
Solly said a master sergeant with a family, and a housing allowance of $1,696 a month, can’t come close to the $2,302 he’ll pay monthly for a three-bedroom, two-bath home larger than 1,500 square feet. And that’s a home valued at $400,000 — even though most homes with those specifications go for $450,000 or higher, he said.
Even with an interest-only loan, the monthly payment — $1,875 — requires money out of pocket.
To avoid pocket dipping, servicemembers are moving to southwest Riverside County, and commuting an hour or more each way, for a chance — no guarantees — to make it on BAH alone.
“They’re willing to commute to realize the American dream,” he said.
Individual Rate Protection — which insulates servicemembers against rising housing costs — will remain in effect despite the changes, as long as servicemembers stay within the same geographic area, according to the AFIS article.
If average housing costs go down, people already living in the area will continue to receive the higher amount.
However, servicemembers moving into the area will receive the lower amount, according to the article.
Under new BAH guidelines, a servicemember moving to a new area will receive the appropriate BAH rate for that area, regardless of whether troops already living there are receiving a higher rate, Penrod said.
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