San Diego wants more tourism. It has the reputation for year-round sunshine, cool temperatures, and a laid-back lifestyle. However, San Diego residents' opinions differ from the public relations campaign out of city hall built to entice visitors, especially if you live on military pay.
To meet the basic standard of living in San Diego, local residents must earn a minimum of $63,000 a year. Annual utilities for a small two-bedroom house will run $1,600 courtesy of San Diego Gas & Electric. The same $63K salary in Tulsa, OK, provides buying power equal to $131,000 in San Diego. Atlanta, Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Salt Lake City not only have more sunshine than San Diego, but are far less expensive locations to live than the city on Mission Bay.
How does a military family of six survive in San Diego on $18,000 per year? Don't ask the Federal Government, for their opinion differs from reality -- and that is what my husband earns at a San Diego military base. President George W Bush provided a 4.6 percent raise (which is up from former President Clinton's 3.6 percent increase), but military raises are based upon rate, rank, and time in service. The military raises coincide with state raises against minimum wage.
|Monthly Income:||Monthly Expenses:|
Base pay $1,528.80
(excludes BHA $1,192)
Food allowance $242.81
(set-rate for additional dependents)
Children needs $40
Dental plan $20
His automobile $429.98
My automobile $367.10
Auto Insurance $98
Auto gas $148
Life insurance $16.25 (his)
Life insurance $6 (mine)
Emergency/ Savings $38.56
|Total: $1,771.61||Total: $1,771.61|
Should my husband be killed in action, I receive his military life insurance $250,000 (minus taxes.) I would receive $6,000 upfront, plus $5,000 for burial (the average price of funeral is $12,000.) We could purchase an insurance policy for me ($6 per month,) and upon my death, he receives $150,000. My children would receive between $150 and $250 each until they reach 18 when the payments automatically stop.
The military increase from 1986-2003 for my husband's rank (E3) jumped from $824.70 per month to $1,528.80. In 1986 the minimum wage was $3.35 per hour ($576.20 per month) and it increased to $6.75 or $1,161 per month. Those earning minimum wage saw their income more than double, while my husband's salary registered closer to minimum wage.
We have four children. Accepting food stamps is not easy, but the alternative is hunger. Some military personnel do not qualify for subsidies. We live in housing indirectly run by the military -- Public Private Venture (PPV) is military housing managed by a private company like Halliburton's Kellog Brown & Root. If our Basic Housing Allowance (BHA) did not show up as part of the "pay stub," we would qualify for food stamps. PPV qualifications say we make too much for food subsidies.
In a way, BHA is magical pay. Housing is technically free, but the benefit of housing is a reflection of false pay -- we do not see the money but it shows on our income statement as rent paid to the government. There are two ways we can have our pay dispersed. One: If you live under the military housing (in other words no outside help other than the military), and two: PPV.
Those living in military housing, where BHA is off the books, can qualify for food stamps. Those in PPV cannot. While my family lives in poverty, we have to jump through hoops to get what we need to support our family. My personal application for welfare has been denied and I have appealed the law in order to get what is available to us. I do not understand how the Department of Welfare turns down anyone based only upon the appearance of our pay.
One benefit military families enjoy is the commissary. It is a nontaxable, discounted supply store where we buy food. We incur a 3 percent surcharge for items purchased at the commissary. Our utilities are included in the monthly BHA. This is all just as well -- we couldn't afford to pay for grocery taxes, or water, gas, and electricity in San Diego.
Our choice to move off the base is limited by our BHA. San Diego rental prices (average $1,500 per month) do not permit us to relocate off base. Housing choices depend upon where you stand in a waiting list. When you are called, anywhere from 3 months to 3 years, you pick whatever is offered from subsidized housing. We are not physically forced to live in military housing, but the military salary sets the rules for us. I would like to raise my four children without roaches, and without ceilings falling down around us.
I do not feel that I am the one suffering. My oldest daughter shares her sister's clothes, and their dressers are falling apart. With the billions of tax dollars per year dedicated to military spending, I would think a military budget would include decent pay and housing for service men and women. When my father was in the military, life was different -- we had the basics. I wonder if the men and woman in the White House or in Congress would trade places with those of us in the military. Doubtful, since they own their annual salary increases and retirement funds, including annual increases equal to what my husband earns.
Tourists might enjoy a visit to San Diego -- the beaches are picturesque, and you can dine at any number of wharfs. You're experiencing a part of my world that I could only describe to my children as fantasy.
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