Donovan, House Give Troops a Pay Raise and Pass Donovan Amendment on Student-Vet Housing Assistance
Washington, DC – November 14, 2017….Congressman Dan Donovan (NY-11) and the U.S. House of Representatives today passed the final version of the National Defense Authorization Act agreed upon by House and Senate negotiators. The measure includes Donovan’s amendment requiring the Department of Defense (DOD) to re-analyze Staten Island’s housing allowance for student-veterans. It also provides a 2.4% pay raise for military personnel.
Congressman Donovan said, “The Department of Defense needs to merge Staten Island’s military housing area with the rest of New York City. While I continue my push to make that a reality, my amendment requires DOD to update its Staten Island rental analysis, hopefully resulting in a boost for student-vets. I’m glad I was successful in getting this provision into the final bill.”
Donovan continued, “Men and women in uniform put their lives on the line and their families on hold in defense of our country. They’ve earned fair compensation, and this bill gives them a much deserved raise.”
Donovan amended the National Defense Authorization Act to require DOD to redo its 2014 analysis of Staten Island housing costs. DOD uses its analysis to determine housing stipends to veterans who attend college through the Post-9/11 GI Bill. The amendment is the latest in Donovan’s push to bring assistance to Staten Island student-vets in line with the rest of the City.
The legislation passed today also includes major reforms in Pentagon buying practices:
- The military will be able to buy commercial products through online e-commerce sites, such as Amazon, Staples, and Grainger;
- Major reforms to defense contract auditing;
- Increased oversight into service contracts, which comprise a significant portion of DoD spending.
Further, the measure provides $26.4 billion for essential readiness recovery, including increased naval presence, aviation readiness, and $4.4 billion for missile defense. Donovan served a negotiator in the Conference Committee to resolve differences between House and Senate versions of the bill.
Student-Vet Housing Assistance Issue background
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 and utility costs 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.
U.S. Census data shows Staten Island’s median gross rent is within $50 of Brooklyn’s and $100 more than the Bronx. But students attending a Brooklyn or Bronx college receive up to $1,413 per month more than students attending a Staten Island college. This disparity creates a disincentive for student-veterans in New York City to attend college on Staten Island.
Donovan’s previous letters to the Department of Defense are attached, and his testimony before the House Rules Committee in support of his amendment is below.
Donovan testimony before the House Rules Committee
July 12, 2017
Chairman Sessions, Ranking Member Slaughter, and Members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to testify before you in support of my amendment. I also thank the committee and staff for their hard work during this time; I know you have hundreds of amendments to consider.
Mr. Chairman, my amendment simply seeks equity for the constituents I represent on Staten Island. The Post-9/11 GI Bill grants housing assistance to veterans attending college through the military’s “Basic Allowance for Housing” program. The Department of Defense divides the country into 300 different zones, and provides housing stipends to student-veterans based on the rental and utility costs in the zone in which their school is located. New York City is separated into two zones: one for Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, and the Bronx; and another for Staten Island.
Although census data shows Staten Island’s median gross rent is within $50 of Brooklyn’s – and that Staten Island has higher utility costs – students attending a Brooklyn college receive up to $1,413 per month more than students attending a Staten Island college. Staten Island’s median gross rent is $100 higher than the Bronx, but the formula still grants Bronx students up to $1,413 more than Staten Island students. The result is a gross disincentive for student-veterans in New York City to attend college in my district.
Hardworking military families in my hometown have near-identical cost-of-living expenses as those who live in Brooklyn, just across the Verrazano Bridge. It would only make sense that veterans who attend a Staten Island school receive identical housing assistance as those veterans attending universities across the rest of New York City. Staten Island’s three institutions of higher learning simply cannot recruit student-veterans to their campuses because of the thousands upon thousands of dollars in reduced assistance it would mean for the student.
I firmly believe that the most equitable and common-sense solution is to have only one Military Housing Area for all of New York City. While I continue to work with DOD and share the Census data I referenced above, my amendment would require DOD to reassess Staten Island’s Military Housing Area costs. DOD’s last assessment was nearly four years ago. I have personally reviewed the figures provided to me by DOD and compared them to the current Census data. I believe the disparity to be too great, and wholly believe a reassessment is required.
This review would provide DOD with updated and accurate statistics, which would be used to review the cost-of-living expenses associated with living on Staten Island. An updated calculation is needed to ensure that our veterans are receiving the proper assistance they so rightfully deserve. This is the first step in providing an accurate allowance to Staten Island Veterans, representative of the cost of living across the entire City of New York.
Again, thank you very much for this opportunity to testify. I sincerely and respectfully request that the Committee consider my amendment.