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?
Kelly Trobaugh says
Disgusting that we even have to ask that question.
Dave N Retired E-7 says
I’m still out on removing BAH from consideration but this does show a real need for more on base and government owned housing near the bases,with a requirement to use it when available. This is especially true in places like California that have ridiculous rates for housing. Enough of it and it would remove the need for BAH completely and still allow most of the lower ranking personnel especially a decent place for them and there families.to live. They can then use there other resources for food and taking care of there families .There also needs to be more dorm space for the single men and women. Any one below the rank of E-5 probably shouldn’t be allowed to live off base. There usually very unskilled when it comes to living on there own and tend to spend there money on things other than housing anyhow. A few good budgeting courses might be helpful too and probably required if you are given authorization to live off base regardless of your rank.
JANET J BAMFORD says
Because the SNAP is managed by each state, I believe each state should determine its eligibility. States with high costs of living cannot and should not be compared to states with more manageable living expenses. For example. Military families on posts and bases in Hawaii must deal with an exorbitant cost of living, which includes the cost of food, insurances, car upkeep, loans, day care, gasoline (the highest in the nation), to name a few. These take a huge bite out of the military families budget. (It’s apparent that many families with young children would be in trouble if WIC wasn’t available; these families should also be eligible for SNAP., and probably are). However, military families that are stationed in areas such as Fort Beginning, GA., or Fort Riley, KS, are surrounded by much lower costs of living. Produce and meats are more readily available, and more reasonably priced. Military families that are located in these states should include their BAH when applying for SNAP, especially if they are renting government quarters, since the BAH is equal to their rent. Those living off base would then include any additional rent expense that is not covered by their housing allowance and is paid from their own budgets.
Maybe a more reasonable solution would be to lower the prices in the commissary, or begin stocking more generic items, instead of so many higher-cost name brands. The base and post exchanges have been selling their own brand at a much lower cost than other manufacturers. Could the commissaries negotiate with the exchanges to purchase their products, at a minimum markup? Paper products, detergents, soaps, over-the-counter medications, pet supplies, baby products, cleaning supplies, etc. that have been made for the NEX, AAFES, the Coast Guard, and Marine Corp exchanges could provide their respective commissaries with items that are comparable in quality to their name brand counterparts, but at a much more reasonable cost. When you’re on a budget, it makes more sense to spend $2.00 for a 100 count bottle of AAFES brand aspirin, then to spend $5.00 on a 50 count bottle of Bayer. And, finally, considering that our new administration is looking for ways to cut budgets, it could keep our commissaries operational and keep our military families from relying on more government assistance. It’s apparent that this administration is committed to support our military in combat. But, that doesn’t mean it will be willing to support them at home.
Florencel E Day says
Yes! It would be nice if they exclude the BAH as an income so most of the military family can be qualify for SNAP. Just like us we’ve been applying for SNAP for 6 years now and they keep telling us that my husband is making too much money. The question is where is that money? My husband’s paychecks is only enough to pay bills, and I’m having a hard time budgeting to scrape some from his paycheck just to have food, and we have 4 kids.
Karen Costello says
I think one that the military should get paid more than they do. BAH should not be calculated in SNAP benefits. It is sad when football players make so much and military families are going hungry.
Military Spouse says
I believe that until the right thing (increasing military pay) is done this should definitely be put into place, so families don’t have to add struggling to feed their families to the list of issues to deal with!!!
Retired Navy Wife says
Excluding the BAH is only putting a Band-Aid on the problem. If salaries are so low that families cannot afford food and housing they should be raised, lower ranking personal should have more access to military quarters. Education should be provided to teach these young families to budget. The family advocacy program has expanded greatly since it’s founding in the early 80’s. Perhaps they could become involved in the education process.