Momentum continues behind bipartisan efforts to end hunger in the ranks, as senators and a key advocacy coalition have pushed the process forward in recent weeks.
Iraq War veteran Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) and Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) introduced the Senate version of the Military Hunger Prevention Act (S. 1488) on April 29, joining the House version introduced April 1 (H.R. 2339) by Reps. Jimmy Panetta (D-Calif.) and Don Young (R-Alaska).
Days after the Senate bill’s introduction, The Military Coalition – which includes MOAA among its member groups representing 5.5 million constituents – sent letters to both chambers (House | Senate) supporting the legislation.
[TAKE ACTION: Ask Your Lawmaker to Help Young Military Families]
MOAA has made the issue part of its annual Advocacy in Action (AIA) campaign, with members of MOAA chapters nationwide engaging their lawmakers on this and other important topics.
“No servicemember helping protect our country should worry about putting food on their table,” said Lt. Gen. Dana T. Atkins, USAF (Ret), MOAA’s president and CEO. “Food insecurity becomes a primary focus for those servicemembers with families affected, making it difficult to remain focused on their mission at home or deployed. The Military Hunger Prevention Act is essential to supporting our servicemembers and families.”
What Is the Issue?
Junior enlisted military families with two or three dependents face food insecurity, rely on food banks, and fear the stigma of seeking help. Due to the way the Department of Agriculture calculates the military’s Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) as part of income, many military families do not qualify for food stamps (now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP).
This enduring problem for young military families was intensified by pandemic-driven spouse unemployment rates and reduced child care availability. Before the pandemic, over 10,000 military families needed this support.
“Far too many of our military families are experiencing hunger because of unintended barriers that make them unable to access essential nutrition assistance programs,” Duckworth said. “As someone whose family relied on these nutrition programs after my father lost his job, and who served in the uniform for most of my adult life, I’m proud to be working across the aisle with Senator Blackburn on this bill to help make sure our servicemembers and their families have enough to eat.”
"Members of our armed services and their families make tremendous sacrifices for our nation," said Blackburn. "The Military Hunger Prevention Act of 2021 I am co-leading with Senator Duckworth reflects our bipartisan commitment to military families and sustained effort to address food insecurity. Barriers that prevent our lower-income earning troops and their families from accessing normal food sources like the local grocery store is something that Senator Duckworth and I have been working on together since last summer. We will keep fighting for our service members and their families as long as it takes. The last thing our servicemen and women should be concerned with is putting food on the table for their loved ones."
Budget vs. Well-Being
DoD’s most recent Quadrennial Review of Military Compensation (QRMC) found most junior servicemembers promote out of food insecurity and recommended no change to compensation. Unfortunately, this assessment does not consider the physical and mental developmental impacts of food insecurity on military children. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates over 10,200 families of servicemembers would benefit from the BNA monthly allowance.
So, why not just fix SNAP? Asking for help has a stigma for those counting on the next promotion to promote out of poverty. Advancing through the ranks remains tough and very competitive, and the last thing a young servicemember wants is the scrutiny over whether they are ready to lead others if they have “financial troubles.”
A Basic Needs Allowance automatically tied to a calculation of family income and a band of the local poverty line would provide an estimated $400 allowance (depending on location) for military families with food insecurity. This systemic solution will remove the stigma of asking for help. Bipartisan BNA legislation would provide a relatively low-cost adjustment ($44 million a year) to military compensation to help our junior enlisted families.
Reach out to your lawmakers today and ask them to support the Military Hunger Prevention Act. You can also send a tweet expressing your support; remember to include #MOAATakesAction in all social media posts on this and other Advocacy in Action topics, so MOAA can help amplify the message.
You can read more about the Military Hunger Prevention Act and our other AiA topics this year at MOAA.org/AIA.
Every Officer Has Two Families
For over 90 years, MOAA has been working to get servicemembers and their families the benefits they deserve.