In 2015, more than $80 million in food stamp benefits were spent at military commissaries. That is an astonishing figure and that amount does not cover every family that needs financial help to feed their family. There are many more military families that would benefit from food stamps, now known as SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
Congresswoman Susan Davis, the Ranking Member of the Military Personnel Subcommittee, introduced the Military Hunger Prevention Act. Its purpose is to exempt the military’s Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) in the determination of a military family’s eligibility for particular federal benefits. This bill is specifically aimed at making it easier for military families to qualify for SNAP.
While BAH varies based on region, pay grade and dependency, in many cases it still is not enough to cover housing. This leaves families using other components of their pay to cover rent or mortgage that would otherwise go to food. Because of this, many military families are forced to use emergency food relief. Investigators at Camp Pendleton reported last year that 400 to 500 military families used one of the food pantries on base. That is just the statistic of one of the 4 food pantries on Camp Pendleton.
Rep. Davis introduced this bill after learning that numerous families in the San Diego area, specifically Camp Pendleton, were unable to meet the basic need to feed their families.
By removing BAH from the annual income of military families, more will qualify for food stamps. This shift may provide relief to the overwhelmed food banks.
The bill has been introduced and referred to the Committee on Armed Services as well as the Committee on Agriculture for further review.
In the meantime, military families will continue to stand in line at 7 a.m. to receive meals from food pantries on base as well as off base. To beat the stigma of getting help, a program was introduced in schools where children receive a backpack of food to help them get through the weekend when free breakfast and free lunch are not available. Sadly, nearly a quarter of the children in on-base schools receive free meals. This means thousands of children potentially do not have access to food at home, particularly over the weekend when free meals are not available.
While receiving SNAP benefits might sound like the answer to this problem, it isn’t a lot of money.
States vary on the amount of money that is allocated per person based on certain criteria. In 2015, California’s program paid on average $1.58 per person per meal a day. Last year Alabama paid on average $1.40 per meal per day.
Imagine how much you spend on your meals. Would this amount cover it?
In 2013 a Census Bureau study showed that about 2% of active duty families used SNAP. That is roughly 23,000 military families.
Six percent of those that responded to the Blue Star Families Military Family Lifestyle Survey said they had to use emergency food relief last year. Military families are struggling to feed their families.
The Department of Defense tried a program in 2001 known as the Family Subsistence Supplemental Allowance (FSSA) to help military families. This program was meant to provide up to a $1,100 a month supplement to put service members over the requirement for SNAP. The program was terminated in September 2016 because not enough families qualified for it.
If the Military Hunger Prevention Act passes, will being able to qualify for SNAP be the answer to thousands of military families’ hunger problem or is there a better solution for those facing food insecurity?