More Troops to Qualify for Basic Needs Allowance
The Basic Needs Allowance is a taxable military benefit offered to low-income troops and their families who qualify. The allowance, offered for the first time at the start of 2023, is meant to address food insecurity issues within the ranks with a monthly allowance calculated on financial need (see below.)
Each branch of the United States military was charged with developing its own proactive screening policies to identify those needing the allowance. The service member is advised they may be eligible, but it’s the member’s choice to sign up for the program.
However, that screening process is thought by some to be inadequate. Initial screenings turned up fewer than 100 people who could use the Basic Needs Allowance to make ends meet. The expanded BNA program could potentially raise that number into the thousands.
Expanded Eligibility for the Basic Needs Allowance (BNA)
According to the DoD, the BNA may help some military households to better afford basic needs.
- To do that, a monthly stipend is calculated based on the difference between “130% of the current year’s federal poverty guidelines and the preceding year’s gross household income, divided by 12,” according to the Defense Finance and Accounting Service.
- To qualify under the program as originally designed, the applicant’s gross household income “from the preceding calendar year” and the “current year’s annualized gross income” must be under 130% of the federal poverty guidelines for their assigned duty station location and household size.
- The BNA is not mandatory; service members can decline the benefit even if notified that they qualify.
Expanded BNA Eligibility
Starting in July 2023, expanded eligibility guidelines change that gross household income cap to 150% of federal poverty guidelines.
That change was announced at the end of March during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. The Defense Secretary noted that the new, expanded guidelines would help more military families. Approximately 2400 military families could be helped under the expanded guidelines.
Is More Action Needed?
Despite the expanded access to the Basic Needs Allowance, some don’t feel the work has gone far enough; that is likely one reason why lawmakers have introduced a bill making the Basic Needs Allowance tax-exempt.
Another area where some feel the DoD could do more? How the Basic Needs Allowance calculations interpret military housing allowances. Under the current system and the revised eligibility rules scheduled to begin in July 2023, the Basic Allowance for Housing is considered income.
Removing BAH from the Basic Needs Allowance calculation may allow more low-income military families to be considered for BNA.
That is already done in limited cases; critics want the practice to expand. Some sources report that the BAH issue gets in the way of qualifying truly needy military families for BNA.
What to Know About the Basic Needs Allowance
According to the Defense Finance and Accounting Service, each military branch is responsible for providing its instructions for applying. If you have not been contacted about your eligibility, contact your command support staff, base finance office, or First Sergeant to learn how to proceed.
- The Basic Needs Allowance is paid monthly once your application is approved. BNA is taxable income and is NOT a tax-free benefit like housing or clothing allowances.
- BNA is an allowance you must recertify for annually or when circumstances change your potential eligibility for the benefit.
- You may be required to recertify if you have a change in household size, a change in your gross household income, or PCSed to or from high-cost areas like Hawaii or Alaska.
- Receiving BNA may change your eligibility for other programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children.
About the author
Editor-in-Chief Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter/editor for Air Force Television News and the Pentagon Channel. His freelance work includes contract work for Motorola, VALoans.com, and Credit Karma. He is co-founder of Dim Art House in Springfield, Illinois, and spends his non-writing time as an abstract painter, independent publisher, and occasional filmmaker.