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Basic Needs Allowance for Low-Income Service Members

New Basic Needs Allowance for Low-Income Military Members

The Basic Needs Allowance is a military benefit authorized (via the National Defense Authorization Act of 2022) to be paid in 2023 to service members with household incomes below 103% of federal poverty guidelines.

This is described by the Department of Defense as a “taxable supplemental allowance” for service members who are “the most financially challenged”. It is designed for active-duty military families with dependents. The service member must have completed basic training.

The DoD says service members must apply in order to receive the Basic Needs Allowance also known as BNA.

However, in the same DoD guidelines, there is mention that the military services are expected to “proactively screen service members for eligibility (based on service member pay) and notify them of their potential eligibility”, so there is likely to be a level of confusion over the implementation of this new program in the earliest stages.

Applications Accepted Starting December 2022

DoD literature says applications are accepted starting “No later than December” 2022, and applications must be processed within 30 days of receipt. Retroactive payment of BNA benefits are not authorized.

According to the DoD, any service member who believes they need BNA should apply for it. Application procedures are not standardized across all branches of military service so it will be up to each individual branch (Army, Navy, Air Force, etc.) to establish their own processes.

Regardless of the specific process used, all applicants must submit income documentation such as pay stubs or a W2.

Military Family Basic Needs Allowance by the Numbers

According to the text of the NDAA authorizing the BNA, any families whose income is below 130% of the federal poverty guidelines will be eligible for the allowance.

For reference, the 2021 Federal Poverty Guidelines for a family of three is $21,960 annually, or $1,830 per month.

The 130% amount for a family of three is $28,548 annually or $2,379 per month. According to the 2021 Military Pay Charts, that would mean most lower enlisted service members ranked from E1-E3 are eligible if they have families.

How Much Is the Basic Needs Allowance?

According to the text of the 2022 NDAA, the amount of the allowance is calculated as follows:

The amount of the monthly allowance payable to a member…shall be the amount equal to 130% of the Federal poverty guidelines of the Department of Health and Human Services for the calendar year during which the allowance is paid based on the location of the member and the number of individuals in the household of the member during the month for which the allowance is paid; minus the gross household income of the member during the preceding year; divided by 12.

The gross household income means all household income, which seems to mean BAH and BAS are also included. However, the Secretary of Defense has the latitude to determine whether or not the BAH should be counted in the calculation of the new allowance.

What About Families with More than One Eligible Military Member?

If a household has two or more members who are eligible to receive the Basic Needs Allowance, only one of them can receive the allowance at any given time.

Who Is Not Eligible for the Basic Needs Allowance?

A service member who does not have dependents is not eligible for the allowance.

Cadets or Midshipmen at any of the armed forces service academies are ineligible for the allowance.

If a service member is eligible and then gets promoted, prompting for a permanent increase in pay, and that pay increase raises the service member above the policy’s financial guidelines, then that member becomes ineligible.

Curiously, if a service member is demoted and their pay is reduced to within the guidelines of the Basic Needs Allowance, that member will remain ineligible solely based on the reduction in rank.

Any eligible service member may voluntarily elect not to receive the benefit, and they must do so in writing.

Timeline for the Basic Needs Allowance

The allowance will begin on or after the date that is one year from the enactment of the National Defense Act of 2022. The official start date of the program is 1 January 2023.

At press time, termination of the Basic Needs Allowance is established as December 31, 2027, a date subject to change.

Food Insecurity in the Military?

Why is the BNA even necessary? In 2021, the National Military Family Association (NMFA) conducted a survey of over 11,000 service members and their families. They asked one question:

“In the past 12 months, have you, or someone in your household, had to visit a charitable food distribution site to make ends meet?”

The results of that survey may surprise you. The  NMFA Survey found that 14% of those surveyed, or 1,632 military families, reported that they visited a food bank within the past year.

In another study, Blue Star Families conducted a Pulse Check between March 1-16, 2021. Over 4,000 respondents participated in the poll, which included active military, veterans, National Guard, Reserve, and Gold Star spouses or family members.

The  Blue Star Family Pulse Check found that 18% of active duty families and 23% of National Guard families reported having difficulties in purchasing food and other essentials within the past year.

Furthermore, within the active duty ranks, food security ranked as a most immediate need for Junior Enlisted (22%), Mid/Senior Enlisted (20%), and Commissioned Officers (23%). In other words, nearly a fifth of the service members polled indicated that food security is an immediate need for them.



About the author

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Robert Haynes is a retired Army infantryman who has a squad of kids and is married to an active duty Soldier. He is a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, who spent his last few years in the Army as a Drill Sergeant. He is now a full-time dad, freelance writer, and out-of-work comedian.