‘Solutions’ to Address Military Food Insecurity Fall Short

‘Solutions’ to Address Military Food Insecurity Fall Short
A welcome sign is on display at the Fairchild Food Pantry at Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash, where unperishable goods, toiletries, baby supplies, and pet food is offered to airmen and their families free of charge. (Photo by Airman 1st Class Lillian Patterson/Air Force)

After the creation of the Basic Needs Allowance (BNA) in the FY 2022 National Defense Authorization Act and its improvement in the FY 2023 NDAA, many military families across the nation believed their struggles to put food on the table were over.


Unfortunately, much like its predecessor, the Family Supplemental Subsistence Allowance (FSSA), the program is failing to reach those who need it most.


More than 25% of military families are struggling with food insecurity, according to the most recent DoD report on the topic. MOAA, alongside organizations including MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger and the National Military Family Association, continues to advocate for an effective, far-reaching solution to ensure food security across the force. Unfortunately, the BNA pilot program, while well-intentioned, is missing the target of getting more food to those who need it the most.


[ACT NOW: Urge Lawmakers to Improve the Basic Needs Allowance]



Despite admission from a senior defense official that only 3,000 servicemembers are currently receiving BNA and the profile of the average recipient is a junior enlisted member with seven dependents, the FY 2024 NDAA failed to include tangible improvements to the program to provide support to thousands more military families facing food insecurity. MOAA will continue to urge lawmakers to require DoD to exclude the Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) from the BNA eligibility calculation, but it’s time to focus on other potential solutions.


Building a Better Support System

The FY 1998 NDAA created the modern version of the Basic Allowance for Subsistence (BAS), which was intended to offset the cost of food. Current BAS rates are $460.25 and $316.98 per month for enlisted and officers, respectively. This assistance is designed to support servicemembers only, not their dependents; according to DoD demographic reporting, 35% of the active force has children. Additionally, due to automatic deductions to cover food costs for servicemembers deployed or on extended training, income can actually decrease. For many military families, this can significantly impact monthly financial planning.  


It is time for us to think big and get to the heart of the problem.


Based on U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) data, families with minor children are more likely to face food insecurity, and these figures get worse when there is only one income. Of the more than 936,000 active duty servicemembers between the grades of E-1 to E-6, nearly 240,000 have children 18 years old or younger, according to the 2022 Demographics Profile of the Military Community. Servicemembers within these ranks also report higher levels of either low food security or very low food security than those in the senior enlisted and officer ranks.


To ensure the allowance reaches those who need it most, MOAA recommends creating a “BAS with Dependents” rate for servicemembers from E-1 to E-6 with eligible children under 18. This would be in addition to the current BAS the servicemember receives and would remain constant in the event of a deployment or extended training.


Following the method used to set BAS rates each year, BAS with Dependents would be based on USDA food plans. The annual amount would be calculated and increased at the same time as the existing BAS. The monthly allowance is based on the moderate food plan for a child age 4-5 ($209.10 for 2024, for a total of $669.35 per month when combined with servicemember BAS).


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Establishing Guardrails

Servicemembers with two dependent children would automatically receive BAS with Dependents. Those with three or more children could apply for an increased allowance which would not exceed twice the amount of the moderate food plan for children aged 4-5.


Instituting a solution via policy would recognize the challenges families face, reduce the stigma of seeking financial help, and ensure the allowance is reaching those who need it most.


Keep up with MOAA’s work on this topic and others by visiting MOAA’s Advocacy News page. See how you can help MOAA make a difference on Capitol Hill by registering for our Legislative Action Center and sending messages to your lawmakers regarding critical issues for the all-volunteer force.


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About the Author

Jen Goodale
Jen Goodale

Goodale is MOAA's Director of Government Relations for Military Family and Survivor Policy.