Pentagon ups housing allowances in high-cost areas

The Pentagon is seeking to alleviate financial strains on service members and their families by upping its housing allowance in areas where prices have increased and expanding other financial resources, Defense Secretary Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinBiden defense chief voices support for Ukraine in call The Hill's 12:30 Report: Biden strategizes with Senate Dems Biden to send additional medical teams to six states to help with COVID-19 surge MORE announced Wednesday.

“Unfortunately, the pandemic and tight housing markets across the country have made financial struggles even tougher. With the holidays approaching, I know that this is on the minds of our military communities, and it's certainly top of mind for me,” Austin told reporters at the Pentagon. “So today, I’ve directed the Department to take several steps to strengthen the economic security of our force.”

He said the department will provide some immediate relief by temporarily raising the basic allowance for housing in areas that have had a 10 percent or more increase in rental costs in the past year.

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In places with housing shortages, meanwhile, the Pentagon is extending temporary lodging expense reimbursements beyond the current 10-day limit “so that families have more time to find a home that fits their needs."

Inflation has been driving up prices for food, fuel and housing. The inflation spike, one of the worst in decades, is causing financial strife for many military families already burdened by deployments, moves and the coronavirus pandemic.

As part of the effort, the Pentagon will also offer a new tool, the “Military Leader's Economic Security Toolkit,” to help identify service members who are financially struggling and connect them and their families to resources and support programs.

In addition, Austin directed the undersecretary of Defense for personnel and readiness to “develop a strategy and implementation roadmap within 90 days to strengthen food security across the force.”

Austin outlines the move in a new memo, first reported by CNN and released later on Wednesday, that states the Pentagon “will provide immediate relief to alleviate economic insecurity.”

The economic challenges come from “food insecurity, extended wait times for housing, drastically reduced housing inventories, and sudden, sharp increases in rental or purchase costs for housing.”

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Austin added that while additional data collection is needed to better understand the full scope of the issue, particularly with food insecurity, he will “not delay in implementing solutions to aid those who we know are in need.”

He did not mention in his memo or comments how long the temporary increase would last.

Up to 125,000 active-duty service members face food insecurity, according to the nonprofit Feeding America.

Those who face the greatest financial struggles tend to be lower-ranking service members with salaries that may not make ends meet.