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Congressman Dan Donovan

Representing the 11th District of New York

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Donovan, de Blasio, Staten Island Reps Press Dept. of Defense for Equity in Student-Veteran Assistance

June 27, 2017
Press Release
Unfair formula gives Staten Island student-vets 52% less than other boroughs in housing assistance; Electeds: Dept. of Defense formula harms Staten Island schools and vets; it must change

Washington, DC – June 27, 2017….Congressman Dan Donovan (NY-11), Mayor Bill de Blasio, Staten Island Borough President James Oddo, NYS Senator Andrew Lanza, NYS Senator Diane Savino, NYS Assemblyman Michael Cusick, NYS Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis, NYS Assemblyman Ron Castorina, NYC Council Minority Leader Steven Matteo, and NYC Council Member Joe Borelli today sent a letter to the Department of Defense urging a change to the unfair Basic Allowance for Housing formula.

The Department of Defense, through the Post-9/11 GI Bill, provides housing assistance to veterans attending a college or university. The amount of assistance is pegged to the military’s standard Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH), which offers rental assistance to service members when government quarters are not available. The Department of Defense has a formula to determine BAH payments by calculating average rental prices in 300 different Military Housing Areas. New York City has two Military Housing Areas: one for Staten Island, and one for the other four boroughs. The military provides BAH assistance to student-veterans according to the Military Housing Area in which their school is located, not according to where the veteran actually lives.

In 2017, the maximum housing allowance is $4,098 for students attending a college in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Queens. For Staten Island, the maximum is $2,685, or 52% lower. Such a large disparity creates a huge disincentive for student-veterans who wish to attend school on Staten Island, even if that choice would be the most appropriate fit for their career aspirations.

Congressman Donovan said, “Anybody who lives in this area knows that Staten Island isn’t immune from New York City’s outrageous housing costs. Many areas of the borough are more expensive than the Bronx and parts of Brooklyn and Queens. This inequity harms vets who wish to attend Staten Island schools and is unjustifiable. I urge the Department of Defense to change its formula.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio said, “It is critical that the Department of Defense change the Basic Allowance for Housing formula immediately so that all New York City's veterans are treated equally. The current system puts veterans going to school on Staten Island at an unfair disadvantage. Nothing should stand in the way of choosing the school that best addresses your personal and professional goals and you certainly shouldn't be deprived of your full benefit based on what borough that school is in.”

According to the New York City Department of Veterans’ Services, 10.2% of all New York City veterans live on Staten Island, but only 1.5% of GI Bill users in the City attend school on Staten Island.

Donovan’s 2016 letter also provided data on housing costs for each borough showing Staten Island’s median gross rent is similar to the rest of New York City:

Borough

Manhattan

Brooklyn

Queens

Bronx

Staten Island

Median Gross Rent (’10-’14)

   $1,480

$1,189

$1,350

$1,060

   $1,177

Median Selected Monthly Owner Costs (with a mortgage) (’10-’14)

   $3,090

$2,618

$2,460

$2,404

   $2,426

“It is outrageous that those Staten Island veterans who put their lives on the line to protect our freedoms are being discriminated against and short-changed by the very government they took an oath to protect," said NYS Senator Lanza. “I thank Congressman Donovan and the Mayor for taking the lead in the fight to right this injustice."

NYS Senator Diane Savino said, “Staten Island residents are once again getting the short end of the stick. This problem is compounded by the reality that it is our veterans that are being harmed. By the works of a byzantine formula, Staten Island schools are losing out on quality students and Staten Island residents are losing out on quality neighbors. Staten Island is part of New York City, and once again should be treated as such.”

“The numbers clearly show that Staten Island veterans are being short-changed by the Department of Defense.  Staten Islanders are never surprised by unfair treatment from the upper levels of government and, sadly, neither are our veterans.  DOD needs to correct this inequity as quickly as possible.  These veterans deserve nothing less,” said NYS Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis.

“The way the system works right now it does not make sense for a veteran to attend a school in Staten Island – you receive 52% less for housing, said NYS Assemblyman Ron Castorina. “This puts veterans living on Staten Island in a situation where commuting to school off of the Island turns into a more logical financial decision – despite the average rent on Staten Island costing more than the Bronx and just shy of Brooklyn. Something needs to change.”

NYC Council Minority Leader Steven Matteo said, “With the highest per capita concentration of veterans in New York City, Staten Island has traditionally been a borough where so many of our military men and women call home, in part because of its naturally affordable housing. But with housing costs skyrocketing, that is no longer the case. The federal government needs to adjust its veterans housing allowance for the borough to reflect that new reality, and make it equitable to allowances received for living in other boroughs.”

“I hope that the outpouring of support that this initiative has been receiving will encourage the Department of Defense to reconsider the current Military Housing Area policy, which has the inadvertent effect of contributing to the disproportionately low percentage of New York City veterans attending school in Staten Island,” said NYC Council Member Joseph Borelli.

Paul Dietrich, Past Commander of the Richmond County Council of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, said, “Student veterans who choose to attend a college or university on Staten Island,  are at a significant economic disadvantage when compared to students in the other four boroughs of NYC based upon the way that their Post-9/11 GI Bill housing allowance is classified. Staten Island is a part of 5 boroughs of New York City and the housing and living costs are similar to the remainder of New York City therefore Staten Island should be included under MHA: 219- Military Housing Name: New York City. Without this change, Staten Island will remain as ‘the forgotten Borough.’”

“I am honored that the College of Staten Island continues to be recognized for its exemplary service to veterans, being awarded most recently with the Gold Award for 2017, an elite Military Friendly designation. CSI continues to pursue innovative and collaborative ways of ensuring that veterans in our community have access to the best possible resources and services.  However, due to the large discrepancy in BAH, the College of Staten Island has experienced a steady decrease in veteran student enrollment as they transfer to other schools in NYC for a higher BAH rate. Veteran student enrollment at CSI will continue to decrease if the BAH is not adjusted to reflect that of New York City and other CUNY institutions. In order to best serve our student veterans on Staten Island who have faithfully served the nation, I urge the Department of Defense to support this request,” said William J. Fritz, Ph.D., President of the College of Staten Island.

“At St. John’s, we believe that we have a responsibility to assist our student-veterans in their pursuit of higher education, including those who decide to attend college on Staten Island,” said Conrado “Bobby” Gempesaw, Ph.D., President of St. John’s University.  “As a University with campuses in three of the five boroughs of New York City, we encourage the Department of Defense to remedy the inequity in the Basic Allowance for Housing formula so as to better serve our student-veterans who choose to attend college on Staten Island.”

The full text of the joint letter is below. Donovan’s 2016 letter is attached.

June 27, 2017

Hon. Anthony M. Kurta
Acting Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness
U.S. Department of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301-1000

Dear Under Secretary Kurta,

We write to you today on behalf of the thousands of student veterans residing in the City of New York pursuing higher education through the GI Bill.  As you know, the GI Bill affords a housing allocation called the Basic Allowance for Housing, or “BAH,” for veterans who wish to pursue higher education at a Veterans Affairs-approved college; on-the-job training; or an apprenticeship program. BAH is awarded to a student veteran based on which Military Housing Area (MHA) the institution of higher learning is located within, and not where the service member actually lives.

In New York City, there are currently two MHA’s: one for Staten Island, and one for the other four boroughs of the Bronx, Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn. While all five boroughs jointly comprise the City of New York, it is alarming that BAH recipients who attend Staten Island schools do not receive the same allowance as BAH recipients who attend schools in the other four boroughs. 

The current 2017 housing allowance is a maximum of $4,098 for students attending college in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens, and a maximum of $2,685 for those attending on Staten Island. This inequality directly and significantly affects many Staten Island student veterans using the GI Bill, because by choosing a Staten Island school, they receive less money for housing. This has the unfortunate consequence of deterring student veterans from living and going to school on Staten Island.

Congressman Donovan wrote a similar letter to former Under Secretary Peter K. Levine comparing housing costs on Staten Island to the other four boroughs. The letter did not receive a response, although we understand the transition may have caused some issues to fall through the cracks. We have attached a copy of that letter.

According to the New York City Department of Veterans’ Services, 10.2% of all New York City Veterans live on Staten Island. Of the 12,287 GI Bill users in all of New York City, only 1.5% attend school in Staten Island.

We urge the Department of Defense to take a serious and thoughtful look at this issue and consider raising the BAH for Staten Island to $4,098, equal to the housing allowances allocated to veterans attending school in the other four boroughs of New York City. 

All of our student veterans should have the opportunity to continue to build upon the rich leadership skills instilled in them via service in our Armed Forces. They deserve the option to freely choose the best New York City institution that will allow them to achieve the next benchmark in their personal and professional careers.

Thank you for your attention to this matter, and we would look forward to working collaboratively with the Department of Defense to immediately address this very important issue.

Warm Regards,

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