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Cuts in military housing benefits are reversed

"The Department of Defense announced yesterday that the government will back away from cuts in military housing subsidies.Instead of cuts, all Basic Allowance for Housing pauments will return to the 1999 level.And rates that increased this year will remain in place.Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon said the Defense Department will add $27 million to the Basic Allowance for Housing program to do away with an irritant'' caused after the Pentagon used a new method of measuring local housing costs to change its subsidy rates on Jan. 1.In some areas, including Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, sailors who reported for duty after Jan. 1 found themselves receiving housing allowances that were more than $100 less than sailors of the same rate and rank and with the same number of dependents.About 75 percent of NAS Whidbey sailors live off base and draw housing allowances.This was a problem of great concern for those receiving less money from the government, Bacon said. So we're going to fix this small but annoying inequity that some service members were experiencing.The addition $27 million will be used to restore subsidies in regions that were cut to their higher1999 levels, Bacon said, but Defense Department officials are not sure where the $27 million will come from.Today's announcement is great news for our military families facing cuts in housing allowances, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said in response to the news.Continual pressure from a host of legislators, including Murray and influential Washington Congressman Norm Dicks, helped focus national attention on the issue.In theory, the new housing rates were created to ensure that subsidies paid to service men and wome who live in off-base housing would pay for the same reasonable standard of housing in all military towns. The new rates were also meant to equalize out-of-pocket living expenses for servicepeople. The idea, was that a sailor stationed at Whidbey Island would pay the same amount, out of their own pocket, for rent or a mortgage - after getting their housing allowance - as a service member in any part of the United States.With yesterday's actions, Bacon said Pentagon officials hope that all concerned can now focus on the larger problem of eliminating out-of-pocket living expenses for service members completely.Currently, he added, service members pay about 19 percent of their own housing costs.Eliminating out-of-pocket expenses is part five-year, $3 billion plan the Defense Department has proposed.This is a win-win situation for Washington's military families, Murray said. Our servicemen and women from Whidbey Island to Spokane will no longer be forced to pay more for housing. And military families in the Puget Sound area will get additional assistance to cope with expensive urban housing markets."

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