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 servicemember’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 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).
Current BAS Rates
Here are the current rates:
|January 1, 2020||$256.68||$372.71||$745.42|
|January 1, 2019||$254.39||$369.39||$738.78|
|January 1, 2018||$254.39||$369.39||$738.78|
|January 1, 2017||$253.63||$368.29||$736.58|
|January 1, 2016||$253.63||$368.29||$736.58|
|January 1, 2015||$253.38||$367.92||$735.84|
|January 1, 2014||$246.24||$357.55||$715.10|
|January 1, 2013||$242.60||$352.27||$704.54|
|January 1, 2011||$223.84||$325.04||$650.08|
BAS Rate Increases
In 2020, BAS increased by 0.9%. Currently, enlisted members receive $372.71 per month, an increase of $3.32 from 2019. Officers receive $256.68 per month, an increase of $2.29.
The proposed legislation is exploring increasing the BAS rate for 2021 by 3.3%. If the legislation passes, enlisted personnel would receive $385.01 a month, and officers will receive $265.15 a month. This increase reflects just 3.3% of the Army, Air Force, and Navy/Marine Corps budgets for the fiscal year 2021.
Funds are often available through a meal card management system. Servicemembers in OCONUS 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 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 servicemember’s specific location.
Who Is Eligible?
Active duty servicemembers in the Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps are eligible for BAS. This applies to both enlisted and officer personnel who reside off-installation and receive a separate ration waiver.
Reserve component servicemembers entitled to basic pay are also eligible to receive BAS, except for personnel in recruit training. However, reservists only qualify for BAS when they are in an active duty status such as when they are on AGR orders or when their unit is activated. Payment is prorated for the number of days served.
BAS is not provided for servicemembers who are deployed or on temporary duty on field training exercises (FTX). During an FTX, food is provided to servicemembers by their unit.
So, if a servicemember has an FTX, BAS is supposed to be pro-rated to reflect the meals served to them in the field, even if those meals were in the form of MREs.
One important thing to note is that the cost of the meal in the field is deducted from the monthly allotment for both officers and enlisted personnel. Though this regulation is in place, some military units don’t remove the BAS as per 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 AWOL for more than 24-hours. Officers are not entitled to rations-in-kind. This means they must pay for all meals at 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/OCS without continuous prior service
- In excess leave
- While on approved educational leave
What Is ESM?
Essential Station Messing (ESM) is a form of subsistence allowance. ESM is likely only familiar to you if 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 servicemembers. ESM replaces BAS since junior enlisted servicemembers 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 servicemember. The BAS rate remains the same no matter how many dependents a servicemember has.
BAH rates, on the other hand, are determined not only by zip code but by whether or not the servicemember 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 DFAC/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 servicemember, 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 CONUS while FSSA is an 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 has 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 servicemember on active duty is ordered into restriction of movement for self-monitoring, the following applies to BAS:
- BAS is provided without automatic deduction for servicemembers not housed in government quarters who are not eating at DFAC/mess/galleys. This provision applies specifically to servicemembers who were subject to automatic deduction of BAS as a result of an assignment to ESM.
- For servicemembers 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 servicemembers 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.
- Servicemembers 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 DFAS website to explore pay tables and pay entitlements. Or if you want to take a deep dive into the policy you can explore the comprehensive Financial Management DoD Regulation here.