MOAA joined with other groups advocating for military families to author a Sept. 14 letter to Congress recommending much-needed improvements to DoD’s plans for addressing food insecurity in the ranks – a wide-ranging problem that’s so far been met with a very limited solution.
Many servicemembers and military families are struggling with some level of food insecurity, according to DoD. The 2020 Status of Forces Survey of Active Duty members revealed 10% of servicemembers, mostly junior enlisted, report very low food security as defined by the parameters developed by U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). To address this issue, Congress required DoD to develop and implement the Basic Needs Allowance (BNA) in the FY 2022 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
The BNA is a supplemental monthly payment for qualifying servicemembers, including Guard and Reserve component members on active orders. The allowance is based on gross household income and federal poverty guidelines for family size. The threshold for eligibility is 150% of the federal poverty guidelines, a figure increased once officials recognized the limited reach the BNA would have at the initial threshold of 130%.
Unfortunately, even with that uptick, the BNA helps less than 3,000 servicemembers. The letter to members of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees – co-authored by MOAA, MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, and the National Military Family Association, and signed by 14 other advocacy groups – urges them to include much-needed improvements to the BNA in this year’s NDAA. It recommends:
- Full exclusion of the Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) as part of a servicemember’s income for determining eligibility.
- Exclusion of government food assistance as part of a servicemember’s gross household income.
- Streamlining and simplifying the notification and application process for the BNA to remove barriers and eliminate stigma that may prevent servicemembers from seeking needed assistance.
- Requiring DoD to increase transparency about who is eligible to receive BNA, coordinate efforts with USDA to identify servicemembers at risk of food insecurity, provide education on the BNA and other nutrition assistance programs available, and maximize program participation and utilization of available supports.
Ultimately, Congress must do more to address overall servicemember compensation to ensure military families do not face food insecurity challenges. Because that will take more time to accomplish, the BNA must be improved to provide necessary support to families in the immediate.
Failure to secure meaningful and lasting solutions will result in a program similar to the BNA’s predecessor, the Family Subsistence Supplemental Allowance (FSSA), which was eliminated in the FY 2016 NDAA in CONUS locations due to inefficiencies and lack of program use.
In a standalone effort to improve the BNA, Rep. Jimmy Panetta (D-Calif.) introduced legislation which would eliminate BAH from the BNA eligibility calculation. The Military Food Security Act (H.R. 1764) would result in 21 times as many military families receiving aid, according to a RAND study. It’s time to address the issue of food insecurity with an effective, easy-to-navigate program.
You can make a difference by contacting your House member today and asking them to co-sponsor this legislation. As members of the uniformed services community, we have a duty to take care of one another, and this is an important step in the right direction.
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