A new allowance, designed to be a safety net for lower-income active duty military families, is set to take effect Jan. 1. It will help these families make ends meet, and addresses hunger and food insecurity.

Based on DoD rules implementing the congressionally -mandated Basic Needs Allowance, Pentagon officials estimates that about 300 active duty families may be eligible. Air Force officials’ initial screening of airmen and guardians found that 36 of their service members are potentially eligible. Officials anticipate that those eligible will be junior enlisted members with larger families.

Active duty members with families are eligible if their gross household income is less than 130% of the federal poverty guidelines for their location and the number of people in the household. The allowance will fill the gap between their income and the poverty guidelines, which are set the by Department of Health and Human Services.

Officials in the service branches are in various stages of developing their procedures, and are screening service members for eligibility. They’ll notify these service members about how to apply. Total income includes spouse income and other sources.

In negotiations for the 2023 defense policy bill, House and Senate lawmakers agreed to make more families eligible for the new Basic Needs Allowance by raising the income cap to 150% of federal poverty guidelines, up from the 130% set by the 2022 law establishing the allowance. DoD officials estimate that 2,400 families might be eligible under those 150% limits, depending on other household income. DoD would be required to change its calculations for the eligibility no later than Jan. 1, 2024, but it could be done earlier.

The bill also gives DoD leeway to expand income eligibility to 200% of the federal poverty guidelines in certain circumstances.

The housing allowance is counted as income, except for service members living in areas designated by DoD as being high cost areas. Advocates contend the housing allowance shouldn’t be counted as income, because it bumps too many families from qualifying for the new stipend.

Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.

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