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Military News Briefs for the Week of Nov. 3, 2000

By law, BAH was supposed to have been calculated with
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 3, 2000 – This is a summary of the top American Forces Press Service news stories for the week ending Nov. 3, 2000.

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KUWAIT, SAUDI ARABIA JOIN HIGH-THREAT AREAS

Kuwait and Saudi Arabia join Bahrain, Qatar and Yemen as having the highest level of threat against U.S. military in the Middle East region, Pentagon spokesperson Kenneth Bacon said Oct. 31.

Bacon said Threat Condition Delta, the highest threat rating, was declared Oct. 30 in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia "due to creditable threat information involving unspecified targets" in the regions. "The two countries each host about 5,000 U.S. service members, he said.

Both Bahrain and Qatar were put on Threat Condition Delta Oct. 24 in the wake of the Oct. 12 terrorist bomb attack against the destroyer USS Cole in Aden, Yemen that killed 17 sailors and wounded 39. About 1,100 U.S. personnel are in Bahrain and about 59 are in Qatar, officials said.

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COHEN HOUSING ALLOWANCE INITIATIVE TAKES WING

The Cohen Initiative to reduce the out-of-pocket expenses of service members living off- base has been approved as part of the Floyd D. Spence National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2001 signed by President Clinton Oct. 30. Service members will start seeing the results Jan. 1.

By law, BAH was supposed to have been calculated with a typical service member living off-base paying 15 percent of expenses out-of-pocket. Due to budget shortfalls over the years, however, affected service members report paying an average of 18.8 percent. Members living on-base, of course, do not pay this money.

In January 2000, Cohen proposed to eliminate the out-of-pocket expenses in steps by fiscal 2005. Congress has agreed with Cohen. First, they eliminated the 15 percent statute. Then, they authorized and funded BAH so the percentage should initially drop from 18.8 percent out-of-pocket to around 14.75 percent.

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ACT PAVES WAY FOR MILITARY PARTICIPATION IN THRIFT PLAN

Military members will be able to create their own retirement nest egg by using the Federal Employees Thrift Savings Plan beginning next year, DoD officials said.

The Thrift Savings Plan offers federal civilian employees the same type of investment and tax benefits as so-called 401(k) plans of private corporations. Money invested comes from pre-tax dollars and reduces taxable income; investments and earnings are not taxed until they're withdrawn.

Active duty and Ready Reserve service members will be allowed to invest up to 5 percent of their basic pay in the TSP and all of any special and incentive pays they may receive -- including bonuses -- up to a total $10,500 annual limit. Service members in certain critical specialties may be eligible for matching funds in limited instances.

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TROOPS ON FOOD STAMPS MAY GET SPECIAL ALLOWANCE

Service members currently receiving food stamps may soon be eligible for a special DoD subsistence allowance.

The fiscal 2001 defense budget signed Oct. 30 by President Clinton creates a new cash subsistence allowance that's scheduled to begin in spring or summer 2001. The allowance would be in the amount of the member's food stamp allotment or $500, whichever is less, DoD officials said.

DoD and service officials are still working out the operating details of this allowance program. They said the new allowance rules will count the value of base housing as income in computing members' eligibility; the food stamp program does not.

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