WASHINGTON — Defense officials could boost the housing allowance for families in regions hit hard by rising fuel costs in the wake of Hurricane Katrina under a bill introduced in the House this week.

The measure, proposed by Texas Republican Rep. Kay Granger, would give the secretary of Defense authority to increase the Basic Allowance for Housing payouts due to “sudden increases in energy and gasoline prices” for up to six months.

The proposed legislation only mentions BAH rates, but Granger’s press secretary, Caitlin Carroll, could not say how the changes in that stipend might affect the overseas housing allowance.

There is no restriction in the proposal to prevent the secretary from unilaterally raising the housing rates everywhere, she said.

Currently, BAH rates cannot be increased after they have been set, according to Defense Department spokeswoman Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke. The department has flexibility to raise or lower the payouts before the year starts, but once the rates are set there is no mechanism for the department to adjust them.

The housing allowance rates are based on regional rental prices and increase based on rank. In addition, troops with families receive several hundred dollars more each month than single servicemembers.

Granger said in a statement that many military families across the country are already seeing financial problems due to gas price hikes, and she expects those living in the Gulf Coast region will only see more problems in coming months.

“This bill says, ‘We recognize your sacrifice,’ ” she said. “We appreciate it. We know gas prices are hitting you hard right now and this natural disaster is likely to increase your heating costs this winter. Here’s a little extra money to help you with the increased energy costs for the next few months.”

Officials with the Department of Energy have estimated that natural gas prices could jump 71 percent in the Midwest this winter because of fuel supply disruptions related to Hurricane Katrina. Heating oil prices in the Northeast could see a 31 percent increase, propane prices in the Midwest could jump 40 percent, and electricity costs in the South could rise 17 percent.

The secretary would have to report to Congress on reasons for the BAH increase, Carroll said, but would not need advance permission for the move.

The bill is currently under consideration by the House Armed Services Committee.

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