Top Pentagon officials now support a proposal that would allow military families to temporarily remain in on-base housing or change housing allowance rates based on where the family lives -- not on where the service member is assigned.
Military families frequently choose to split their military moves, but doing so can be expensive because they must pay all temporary lodging expenses out of pocket.
Families can also be forced to move out of on-base housing if their service member no longer has orders to the location they are living. And, if the permanent change of station is to a location with a lower Basic Allowance for Housing rate, a family who stays behind could end up with big costs for remaining at their previous assignment.
Designed to make the timing of military moves easier on families, the proposal -- The Military Family Stability Act -- would alleviate the housing burden on qualifying families.
Those families would have a 180-day window both before and after the service member's report date to stay behind under their current Basic Allowance Housing rate or move in advance and secure housing under the rate at their receiving duty station.
If available, the service member would be permitted interim lodging in the barracks or other single-troop government or contractor housing, according to the legislation.
"At a time when ... the economy is improving and it's difficult to recruit and retain high-quality people, initiatives like this are going to send a very powerful message that we actually do care about them," Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told senators during a June 15 hearing. "I hope [to] encourage them to stay despite some of the challenges associated with family life in the military."
To use the program, families must fit into at least one of five categories. Employed spouses or those enrolled in an education program; families in the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP); those with children in school or those caring for a sick family member would all qualify, the legislation says.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told the Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee that he supports the measure if it is cost neutral.
"Initially, I was told it could not be cost neutral. I said, 'That's not good enough. Go back and find a way to make a cost neutral.' With personnel costs continuing to rise, we've got to keep them under control," he said. "I think we've got a way forward on it."
A previous version of the bill proposed in 2015 was ultimately discarded when defense officials believed implementing it would be too expensive. That version gave additional benefits not in the current proposal, including the allowance of two separate household goods shipments and an additional housing stipend for the service member if government quarters are unavailable.
"If anybody would understand the challenges of moving and timing and how much difference flexibility would make, you certainly would as well," Sen. Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican who co-sponsored the legislation, said to Dunford and Mattis during the hearing.
A similar bill has been proposed by House lawmakers. The measures likely will be rolled into the annual National Defense Authorization Act.
A Pentagon spokesman did not respond to further requests for comment. The Defense Department typically does not comment on proposed legislation.
-- Amy Bushatz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.