What’s at Stake?
The brave individuals who wear our country’s uniform make sacrifices every day. The United States has an obligation to help ensure military members can keep food on the table for themselves and their families.
In 2020, nearly a quarter (24%) of active-duty service members experienced food insecurity, according to the U.S. Department of Defense.i Junior enlisted service members were at the highest risk for food insecurity.
Service members often face distinct challenges that make it difficult to access the food they need to thriveii, including a high cost of living, frequent mandatory moves, occupational licensing challenges and other barriers to employment for military spouses and the low pay scale for enlisted members.
When members of the military are food secure, they are healthier and better able to perform their duties. Put more broadly: Well-nourished troops are essential for U.S. military readiness.
Food banks across the country are working hard to help service members and their families access nutritious foods, both on and off bases. But to end military hunger, we urge the federal government to take additional, crucial steps to better serve the individuals who serve our country.
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) eligibility is determined differently for service members who live on a military base and those who live off base. When active-duty military members live off base, they receive a housing stipend—the Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH)—from the Department of Defense.iii When factored into the SNAP eligibility calculation, the BAH is considered income and disqualifies many service members from receiving SNAP benefits.
- In 2019, less than 2% of active-duty service members lived in households that received SNAP benefits, despite high rates of food insecurity among this population.iv
- Nearly half of the students at Department of Defense schools in the U.S. were eligible for free or reduced-price meals during the 2014-15 school year.v
What’s Feeding America Doing?
We are calling on Congress to remove policy barriers that prevent service members and their families from accessing food assistance. Specifically, Congress should:
- Expand eligibility for the Basic Needs Allowance (BNA) for military families by including language in the fiscal year 2024 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to exclude the Basic Allowance for Housing from the BNA eligibility calculation. This change would dramatically increase access to the BNA while also boosting monthly benefit levels for some families already enrolled. If Congress makes this change, more than 20,000 additional service members would be eligible for the BNA, according to one estimate.vi
- Expand eligibility for SNAP by passing the bipartisan Military Family Nutrition Access Act sponsored by Sens. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska. Lawmakers could pass the bill as part of the next farm bill or as standalone legislation. This bill will help more service members access SNAP benefits by excluding the Basic Allowance for Housing from the gross income calculation for SNAP eligibility.
i. Office of the Under Secretary for Personnel & Readiness, U.S. Department of Defense. “Strengthening Food Security in the Force: Strategy and Roadmap.“ July 2022. https://media.defense.gov/2022/Jul/14/2003035423/-1/-1/1/STRENGTHENING-FOOD-SECURITY-IN-THE-FORCE-STRATEGY-AND-ROADMAP.PDF.
ii. Blue Star Families. “Military Family Lifestyle Survey.” 2020. https://www.bluestarfam.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/BSF_MFLS_CompReport_FULL.pdf.
iv. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service. “Military and Veteran Families.” Accessed on October 7, 2022. https://www.fns.usda.gov/military-and-veteran-families.
v. Government Accountability Office. “MILITARY PERSONNEL DOD Needs More Complete Data on Active-Duty Servicemembers’ Use of Food Assistance Programs.” July 2016. https://www.gao.gov/assets/gao-16-561.pdf.
vi. Asch, Beth J., Stephanie Rennane, Thomas E. Trail, Lisa Berdie, Jason M. Ward, Dina Troyanker, Catria Gadwah-Meaden, and Jonas Kempf, “Food Insecurity in the U.S. Military: Responses to Eight Topics Raised by Congress” RAND Corporation, February 1, 2023: https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_briefs/RBA1230-1.html.