When you shuffle from one duty station to the next, there’s enough up in the air that the last thing you need to worry about is having enough money for food and meals. The basic allowance for subsistence (BAS) benefit is meant to offset the costs of a service member’s meals. Let’s take a look at the origin of BAS, who is eligible and how BAS differs from BAH.
What Is Basic Allowance for Subsistence (BAS)?
BAS is a tax-free monthly allowance that helps offset a portion of the cost of meals and food. Rates increase each year to match the changing food-cost index, set by the Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Do Subsistence & Clothing Allowances Count for VA Home Loans?
Allowances for subsistence and clothing appear on the Leave & Earnings Statement, and can be considered as effective income toward a VA home loan. Furthermore, these two allowances are not taxable, meaning that lenders may “gross-up” this income to calculate your debt-to-income ratio when qualifying for a VA home loan.
Check if you meet the official VA loan requirements here.
Current BAS Rates
Here are the current rates:
BAS Rate Increases
There is an 11.2% increase for BAS in 2023, according to the U.S. Department of Defense. Effective Jan. 1, 2023, enlisted members will receive $452.56 per month, an increase of $45.58 from 2022. Officers will receive $311.68, an increase of $31.39.
BAS is provided to all service members. All members are required to pay for their own meals, including enlisted members whose meals are provided for them (for example, those living in the barracks or dorms).
Funds are either paid directly to the service member or may be available through a meal card management system. Service members in OCONUS (outside the continental United States) locations might also be eligible for a monthly cost-of-living allowance (COLA) to help further offset the cost of food. COLA is not affected by BAS rates.
How Is BAS Calculated?
The USDA evaluates current food costs in the continental United The USDA evaluates current food costs in the continental United States to help determine upcoming BAS rates. These rates correlate with the overall cost of food in a given zip code. In this way, BAS is a lot like basic allowance for housing (BAH). However, BAS rates are averaged throughout all zip codes and are applied universally, whereas BAH rates are based on the service member’s location.
Who Is Eligible?
Active-duty service members in the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and Space Force are eligible for BAS. This applies to both enlisted and officer personnel who reside off installation and receive a separate ration waiver.
Reserve component service members entitled to basic pay are also eligible to receive BAS, except for personnel in recruit training. Reservists only qualify for BAS when they are in an active-duty status, such as when they are on Active Guard Reserve orders or when their unit is activated. Payment is prorated for the number of days served.
BAS is not provided for service members who are deployed or on temporary duty on field-training exercises (FTX). During an FTX, food is provided to service members by their units.
If a service member has an FTX, BAS is supposed to be prorated to reflect the meals served to them in the field, even if those meals were in the form of Meals, Ready-to-Eat.
Note: The cost of the meal in the field is deducted from the monthly allotment for officers and enlisted personnel. Though this regulation is in place, some units don’t remove the BAS because of protocol. Enforcement is largely dependent on who has been assigned to do the paperwork and what kind of pressure the unit is under to save money.
Officers entitled to basic pay are eligible to receive BAS except when on excess leave status or absent without leave for more than 24 hours. Officers are not entitled to rations-in-kind. This means they must pay for all meals at dining facilities (DFACs)/mess halls or organizations drawing field rations while serving field duty.
All enlisted personnel who are eligible to receive basic pay are eligible to receive a continuous BAS entitlement, except for the following:
- Recruits attending training
- Members attending Reserve/Officer Candidate School without continuous prior service
- Those in an in-excess leave status
- Members who are AWOL
- While on approved educational leave
What Is ESM?
Essential station messing (ESM) is a form of subsistence allowance. ESM is likely unfamiliar to you unless you’ve been a junior enlisted member assigned to single, unaccompanied government quarters. ESM is an important component of the total compensation package offered to service members. ESM replaces BAS, since junior enlisted service members have access to DFACs/mess/galleys.
How BAS Differs from BAH
The key difference between basic allowance for subsistence and basic allowance for housing is that BAS is only provided for the service member. The BAS rate remains the same no matter how many dependents a service member has.
BAH rates, on the other hand, are determined not only by zip code but also by whether or not the service member has dependents.
What Is BAS II?
BAS II is a monthly rate that’s payable to enlisted members at permanent stations assigned to single, unaccompanied government quarters where there is no adequate food storage available. This benefit is only available if there are no DFACs/mess halls available on the installation — and there are no preparation facilities — or the military cannot otherwise provide meals. BAS II rates are twice the standard rates and have to be authorized by the secretary of the military department involved.
Additional Food Allowances for Lower-Income Military Families
While BAS is only designed to provide a food allowance for the service member, there may be additional food allowances or benefits available to lower-income military families. These include the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the family supplemental subsistence allowance (FSSA).
SNAP is only available in the continental United States (CONUS), while FSSA is an overseas (OCONUS) program. Finally, some military families with young children may also qualify for WIC.
COVID-19 & BAS
To reflect the current global pandemic conditions, the DoD issued specific guidance relating to BAS. This information doesn’t apply to service personnel who are eligible for per-diem allowance for isolation or quarantine.
If a service member on active duty is ordered into restriction of movement for self-monitoring, the following applies to BAS:
- BAS is provided without automatic deduction for service members not housed in government quarters who are not eating at DFACs/mess/galleys. This provision applies specifically to service members who were subject to automatic deduction of BAS as a result of an assignment to ESM.
- For service members who aren’t in government quarters, BAS is authorized at a monthly rate. This only applies to those who have to consume meals from places other than the dining facility.
- BAS II is authorized for service members who don’t reside in government quarters if their lodging during a period of restriction movement for self-monitoring doesn’t provide adequate food storage and preparation facilities.
- Service members who do not live in government quarters and don’t receive meals from dining facilities are authorized BAS at the standard monthly rate.
This important benefit is a critical component to overall benefits provided to military members. For more information, visit the Defense Finance Accounting Service website to explore pay tables and pay entitlements. You can also explore the comprehensive financial management DoD regulation here.