Defense bills would provide new food allowance for low-income military families

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A House panel weighs in on a $ 770 billion defense bill that includes a provision to give low-income military families an allowance for their basic needs – an allowance that advocacy groups say would provide relief stress and “food insecurity” among US troops.

The House National Defense Authorization Bill 2022 released on Tuesday contains a provision similar to the Senate proposal that would provide the military with additional money for food and other basic items if the income from their household does not exceed 130% of the federal poverty level – which in 2021 meant $ 21,960 for a family of three, $ 26,500 for a family of four and a little more for even larger families.

This is the third time that the proposal has been incorporated into the House Defense Policy Bill; unlike in previous years, it was also included in the 2022 Senate Defense Bill, increasing the likelihood that it will pass later this year.

For an E-4 with several years in the military, a spouse and two children, the allowance could be about $ 250 more per month.

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Advocates say this provision is necessary as junior military service members face the stress of supporting families in areas where spousal employment is low or where childcare costs make it difficult to pay bills. monthly.

“When I arrived at [Defense Department], I started talking about food insecurity, and I really got a look that said, “We really don’t think we have a problem,” said Patty Barron, assistant deputy secretary for the defense for the military community and family policy. at an event on military and veteran food insecurity on Tuesday.

Data is mixed on the extent of food insecurity among military families. This year, the Department of Defense Quadrennial Military Compensation Review found that approximately 880 to 4,690 U.S. military personnel are using the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, or SNAP, a rate between 0.08% and 0 , 42% of the troops. Civilian use of SNAP, also known as food stamps, is 9.6%.

Critics note, however, that the report pulled data from only two months in 2019 and that the data does not include figures for 40% of states, including several with large military populations like California, Hawaii and Virginia. .

“The reason we thought we didn’t have a problem is because we were looking at the low numbers in SNAP, and we think we are rewarding our employees well, and if not, they will come out and get these pay increases. to solve the problem, ”added Barron.

“The department is much more aware of the problem now, and this is one of the [Lloyd] Austin’s top priorities, ”Barron said during the Center for Strategic and International Studies discussion.

A survey released in May found that nearly 33% of the more than 5,600 people interviewed at an unidentified army facility were considered marginal food insecure, meaning they faced food difficulties or had difficulty ensuring that their food budget extended to the end of the month.

And according to a report by MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, one in eight military families is food insecure compared to one in 10 among the U.S. civilian population.

“The mental health of our military personnel is critical to their long-term connection to the military and to the well-being of their families, and as we see military mental health associated with food insecurity, the struggle against food insecurity can be one. way to approach [mental health issues]USDA Economist Matthew Rabbitt said at the CSIS event.

On Wednesday, the House Armed Forces Personnel Subcommittee will consider its part of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2022. The bill is expected to be debated in Committee of the Whole on September 1 and must be reconciled with the Senate version before it could become law.

The bill provides for a 2.7% salary increase for military personnel in 2022 and a number of other benefits, including increased parental leave for military personnel and designated caregivers as well as foster parents. , expanding home ministry, child-care pilot program and establishing an advisory board to support exceptional family member services programs.

– Patricia Kime can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.

Related: Should low income military families receive a food allowance? The White House says no

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