Last year, a coalition of three national advocacy organizations – MOAA, MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, and the National Military Family Association (NMFA) – worked to secure the establishment of a Basic Needs Allowance (BNA) in the FY 2022 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). With inflation on the rise and military spouse unemployment hovering at 22%, this was welcomed news for the increased number of military families relying on food banks and other charitable programs.
As the specific details and implementation of BNA are in development, the coalition penned a letter to leaders at DoD and the Department of Agriculture with recommendations designed to address the painful reality of hunger experienced by thousands of currently serving military families. These include:
- Offering an expansive BNA to reach the maximum number of military families.
- Streamlining the allowance and making it an “opt-out” program, maximizing participation and reducing stigma associated with food insecurity.
- Collecting data to better understand military hunger and evaluate BNA usage.
- Changing military culture to eliminate shame around food insecurity.
- Creating an advisory board to offer BNA guidance and oversight.
“We support DoD’s initiative to implement the Basic Needs Allowance and recommend broad consideration of the impacts of inflation on military families,” said MOAA President and CEO Lt. Gen. Dana T. Atkins, USAF (Ret). “The authority to remove a servicemember’s Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) as a factor for calculating income for those within a band of the poverty line is critical to supporting our junior military families impacted by food insecurity.”
MAZON President and CEO Abby J. Leibman said the letter “offers practical steps to address — and end — hunger among military families once and for all. Those in uniform valiantly serving our nation deserve the peace of mind that their families can put nutritious food on the table each day. As we have said time and again, this is a matter of mission readiness, troop retention, and future recruitment. We look forward to centering policy solutions to end military hunger at the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health later this year.”
Besa Pinchotti, CEO of NMFA, cited her group’s recent Military Teen Experience Survey, in which 36% of teens in active duty families reported experiencing food insecurity.
“Too many military families are struggling, and we’ve heard it time and again from adults, but now military teens are speaking up, too,” Pinchotti said. “Passing the Basic Needs Allowance was a great first step, and it needs to be implemented quickly and effectively so that the people who need it most can feed their families.”
Your efforts through last year’s Advocacy in Action campaign were instrumental in getting BNA included in the FY 2022 NDAA. Unfortunately, the final language leaves eligibility details for the program up to federal offices and allows “the secretary concerned” to determine what percentage of a servicemember’s housing allowance should count toward eligibility in some cases.
The recommendation letter urges leadership to use a “thoughtful methodology grounded in the actual circumstances of military families” – high spousal unemployment rates, for instance – to determine where the BAH should be excluded from BNA calculations. It also recommends excluding the full BAH amount in such cases, rather than a percentage.
The Military Hunger Prevention Act (S. 1488 | H.R. 2339) had more than 100 co-sponsors (71 House members, 31 senators) as of May 10, many of whom signed on during MOAA’s Advocacy in Action campaign. With additional support, the inclusion of the full BNA, which excludes all BAH in the calculation of gross household income for eligibility determination, can move forward in the coming months.
Write your lawmakers and urge them to co-sponsor this important legislation, or thank them for already signing on using MOAA’s Legislative Action Center.
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