Approximately 20,000 or more military families currently use SNAP or WIC to help feed their families. Now, President Donald Trump wants to further cut these programs in 2020. At the same time, Trump has also refused to support measures that would provide additional food security protections for military families.
Trump is proposing changes to how the income qualifying threshold is calculated, in addition to adding employment requirements. This could result in an estimated 3.1 million Americans losing access to SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
Among those losing access: thousands of military families.
White House Nixes Support Proposal for Low-Income Military Families
According to a 2016 Government Accountability Office report, more than 23,000 active-duty troops used SNAP, once known as food stamps, in 2013.
Actually qualifying for assistance is complicated by the income requirements, which currently include BAH to determine household income. Military advocate Erika Tebbens understands this exact issue.
“When they told me I didn’t qualify because they were counting our housing allowance as part of our earned income, all I remember was just sobbing,” Tebbens recalls.
This issue isn’t uncommon, according to Josh Protas, vice president of public policy for MAZON: a Jewish Response to Hunger. For most federal assistance programs, a service member’s BAH isn’t treated as income. That changes for SNAP, which includes BAH in its calculations.
These calculations, along with Trump’s proposed SNAP changes, put SNAP access for troops at risk.
Trump Refuses To Support, Acknowledge Food Insecurity for Military Families
Tebbens along with other military food security advocates, like Protas, have pushed for a military clause addressing food insecurity. It’s currently included in the House version of the 2020 defense policy bill.
This proposal would provide an allowance for military families equal to 130% of the federal poverty guidelines minus the service member’s gross income. It doesn’t include allowances, like BAH, in the gross income calculations.
According to a recent Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimate, approximately 10,000 military families qualify for a proposed measure to address food insecurity.
Over four years, from 2021 through 2024, this would cost a total of $175 million. The current proposal covers only 2020 at a cost of $15 million.
Trump disagrees that military troops should need SNAP benefits, or other food insecurity support, at all.
In a July 9 statement, the White House “strongly objected” to the proposal since troops “receive appropriate compensation already.”
“Most junior enlisted members receive pay that is between the 95th and 99th percentiles relative to their private-sector peers,” the Office of Management and Budget asserted in a statement regarding the proposed provision.
Do Troops Receive Adequate Compensation?
An E-4 service member and family living in San Diego, a major military hub with a historically high cost of living, brings in about $5,270 per month. Almost half of that amount is BAH.
An NBC News report noted that at San Diego-area food trucks, many of the dozens lining up to receive food were military spouses.
Currently, San Diego cost of living is approximately 144% of the US average, making this duty station more expensive than many others. Other major military installations, like the DC-region, Alaska and Hawaii, all rank at higher than the average cost of living.
Even school-aged children are experiencing widespread food insecurity. A DoD report noted that 6,500 students at DoDEA schools nationwide were eligible for free or reduced lunch. This number accounts for about 1/3 of all DoDEA students. It doesn’t account for military-connected children enrolled at local public schools.
Given these statistics and anecdotal reports, budgets are likely tight for junior enlisted and even commissioned troops with families.
“Younger enlisted service members with large households are disqualified from getting the help they need from SNAP when their BAH gets treated as income,” Protas explained.
Ongoing Food Insecurity Concerns for Military Families
This issue previously garnered the spotlight in 2017 amind the last government shutdown. Some troops were not paid or had delayed paychecks, leading to gaps in income.
These stretched and limited incomes caused many military families to use food banks and other food security support services in their areas.
“There’s nothing wrong with turning to a food pantry for emergency assistance in time of need, but there’s no reason those serving in our armed forces should have to do so on a regular basis,” Protas said.
With the Trump administration’s proposed changes to SNAP, more military families may soon be turning to food banks as a means of keeping food on the table.
“While I never expected to be flush with cash as a military spouse, I always assumed, perhaps naively, when my husband joined that we would always have our basic needs met,” Tebbens commented.