Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin will temporarily increase housing funds for military families in areas where rental costs have risen by at least 10% this year. The measure is one of several rolled out Wednesday to help military families deal with what officials called a “perfect storm” of financial challenges linked to the COVID-19 pandemic, rising fuel prices and a tight housing market.
Those in the ranks are increasingly reporting challenges, including food insecurity, sudden increases in housing costs and reduced inventories, he said.
“The pandemic and tight housing markets across the country have made financial struggles even tougher,” Mr. Austin told reporters at the Pentagon. “Men and women in uniform and their families have enough to worry about. Basic necessities like food and housing shouldn’t be among them.”
Other measures announced Wednesday include extending temporary lodging expense reimbursements where the housing stock is tight. Under the current policy, service members and their families arriving at a new duty station have 10 days to find a place to live before the funds run out. The extension will give them more time to find a home that “fits their needs,” Mr. Austin said.
The Defense Department will also field a new electronic “tool kit” for military leaders that will highlight a wide range of resources available for the troops, including ways they can identify troops who may be struggling to feed themselves and their families and how to connect them with resources and support programs, officials said. Mr. Austin said the economic strains were already presenting a “readiness issue” for commanders.
The Pentagon is operating under a short-term budget deal that expires Dec. 3. Congress faces that deadline to pass a fiscal 2022 budget plan. But Department of Defense officials say the continuing resolution is just a bandage over an unhealed wound.
The budget stalemate “creates uncertainty and it limits our flexibility,” Mr. Austin said. “We can’t invest in the cutting-edge capabilities and technologies and capabilities that we’re looking to bring on board.”
Even operating under the continuing resolution, Mr. Austin said the financial security initiatives he announced will be covered.
“But I don’t want to infringe upon our flexibility to do other things going forward,” he said.