Paycheck Chronicles

Understanding How Basic Allowance for Subsistence Works

US Marines with meals

Over the course of the year, I get lots of questions about Basic Allowance for Subsistence (BAS), and those questions peak each December when the new BAS rates are released.  I'm hoping to address most of those questions here, but please send me more questions (via comment or email) and I'll include those as well.

What is BAS? BAS is an allowance designed to partially offset the cost of meals for a military member.  BAS is not designed to have any impact on the cost of food for family members.

Why do we get BAS? BAS is based on the history of the military providing lodging and rations as a benefit of military service.  As the military changed, service members have had more choice and freedom in their meal options.  The system became progressively more complex and confusing until 2002.  That year, the Department of Defense (DOD) changed the system to pay full BAS to all service members beyond their initial training.

How is BAS calculated? BAS is linked to, and changes with, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) food cost index.  No one in the military, Congress, or the executive branch of government has any control over the statistics that come out of the USDA's annual survey.

Why don't I get BAS? New service members do not receive BAS during their Basic Military Training, nor during most advanced initial training. After initial training is over, all service members should be receiving BAS.

Why are there two BAS rates? I don't know.  I've researched it up and down, and I have yet to find a good answer.

Why is BAS being considered in my child support calculations? While BAS does not provide financially for family members, it does change the financial abilities of the military member.  Some states choose to include BAS when calculating child support obligations.

For more information, you may want to read the Military Pay BAS page or the DOD Financial Regulation Volume 7A Chapter 25.  I must warn you, the Volume7A Chapter 25 is long and I find it to be very confusing.  I have read a lot of stuff in there that directly contradicts what I have seen in the real military.  I am going to continue pursuing this to find more information, but I wanted to publish the rest of this first.  You may also find interesting the Economic Research Service's report on Changes in Food Price Indexes 2008-2011.

photo by nukeit1

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