Paycheck Chronicles

From The Mailbag: Military Allowances and School Lunches

There is a lot of confusion, and frustration, about the way different military allowances are included or not included in the total income calculations for the national school meals programs.

Dear Kate,

I'm applying for free school lunches for my children.  Do I have to include BAH in our income?  I'm afraid we won't qualify if we include BAH.


Unfortunately, the rules for including housing allowances depend on whether or not you live on base.  You include the housing allowance if you live off base, but you do not include housing allowance if you live on base or live in privatized military housing.  As a result, people who live on base may qualify for benefits when people living off base do not.

How To Qualify

There are several ways to qualify for the free or Reduced Breakfast and Lunch programs.
  • Meet Income Eligibility Guidelines (EIGs) published by the federal Department of Health and Human Services.  There are three charts:  one for the continental United States, one for Hawaii, and one for Alaska.  The Alaska rates are also used for DoDDS students overseas.
  • Receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.
  • Receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) (certain states only) benefits.
  • Be a foster child, homeless child, runaway, or migrant child.
For most military families, eligibility is determined using the Income Eligibility Guidelines.   Knowing which pays and allowances need to be included is important.  You definitely don't want to include the wrong information and either not receive benefits for which you are eligible, or receive benefits for which you are not eligible.

What Income Needs To Be Included?

Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH):  Include your housing allowance if you live off base, but do not include housing allowance if you live on base or live in privatized military housing.

Basic Allowance for Subsistence (BAS):  yes

Incentive Pays:  no

Special pays and allowances for deployments:  no

That's Not Fair!

Whenever I talk about the way housing allowances are or are not included, people say it's not fair that people who live off base should have to include their housing allowance.  I agree that it is ridiculous that some people have to include their housing allowance and other people don't.  There should be a consistent standard.  But for not, that's the way the rules are written.

If someone wanted to start a letter writing and phone calling campaign to Congress, I bet they would find a lot of support for military families.

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