In case you missed it, Newsy published a story detailing Senator Gillibrand’s new push to fight food insecurity in the military. According to a recent Department of Defense survey, nearly a quarter of military families are food insecure; this is more than twice the rate of civilian families. Last year, Senator Gillibrand, Chair of the Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee and a member of the Agriculture Committee, cosponsored the Military Hunger Prevention Act to pay a basic needs allowance to certain low-income members of the Armed Forces. Now, she is fighting to provide this basic needs allowance to more families who need it. Gillibrand is also pushing to make more military families eligible to receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits in the 2023 Farm Bill.
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Newsy: Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand Rallies To Raise Awareness For Military Hunger
Maritsa Georgiou | October 24, 2022
The Department of Defense estimates as many as 24% of military families are food insecure. That’s about 300,000 people, plus their families.
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand was joined by 9-11 first responder and longtime veterans advocate John Feal and MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, called on lawmakers to help military families struggling with hunger.
“Our service members that put everything on the line that sacrifice everything are more likely to be food insecure than any other American citizen. That is a moral outrage. People should be furious about it, and we should be demanding better,” said Gillibrand.
NEWSY’S MARITSA GEORGIOU: What’s your message to Congress?
JOHN FEAL: I’m coming, and I’ll be wearing bells.
The Department of Defense estimates 24% of military families are food insecure, and those surveys were taken before inflation reached 8%. As Newsy has extensively reported a bureaucratic oversight is costing thousands of military families critical benefits to keep them from going hungry.
“This is cruel, and it’s unacceptable. And you know, most Americans don’t know about this issue. But a couple F bombs here and there — they’ll know about it,” said Feal.
Feal is no stranger to Capitol Hill fights. He fought alongside TV host Jon Stewart, for 9-11 first responder benefits and for expanded care for veterans exposed to toxic burn pits. After Newsy’s Reports, military family hunger became his next fight.
“Let’s go back couple months ago, when you told me about all of this, I was in shock. And over the next couple of months, I got angry,” said Feal.
Angry for families like Sara Leeman’s. They used to live off base and got what’s called a basic allowance for housing. It put her over the limit for qualifying for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, today’s equivalent of food stamps.
“You’re constantly looking at the costs and benefits of shopping here or purchasing this or if how many? How many fruits and vegetables? Can I realistically purchase in a week or two weeks?” said Leeman.
Now, Leeman’s family lives on base.
“We’re not making more money. But we’re saving a slight amount,” she said.
Her life depends on strict budgeting, and most extras don’t make the cut.
“Nobody likes to say to your kids like you know, maybe we have to cut back on that. And that’s embarrassing for anybody,” she continued.
Some families may soon get what is called a Basic Needs Allowance. Basically, it’s a pay bonus for low-income military families. It was part of last year’s bill that appropriates money for the Department of Defense. The Congressional Budget Office estimates it will mean about $400 extra each month on average. But like SNAP eligibility, the Basic Allowance for Housing counts as income, disqualifying many families. And the income eligibility thresholds are low. That’s part of what this group wants to change.
“If you heard these stories today, my heart hurts. My soul was crying,” said Feal.
They met with Sara and other military family spouses at a food pantry at Fort Wadsworth, where more than 100 families stock up this week on food essentials.
Josh Protas, is the vice president of public policy at MAZON.
“It’s shocking on or near every single military base in the country. There’s a food pantry that’s quietly serving military families, who are turning in desperation, because they’re prevented from getting the help that they need, and should be entitled to from programs like SNAP,” said Protas.
The group’s goal is to get Congress to raise the income limit on the basic needs allowance and prevent the basic allowance for housing from counting as income to qualify. It would be part of this year’s National Defense Authorization Act.
“It would definitely mean I could maybe stop scrimping, stop pinching every penny,” said Leeman.
Senator Gillibrand said she’s confident this will get bipartisan support to help these families but says a bigger solution is needed.
“We can fix the basic allowing for housing problem. We can we can get them access to SNAP, but SNAP’s a federal benefit. Again, they shouldn’t have to be accessing SNAP benefits, just to put food on the table. It’s an outrage that they’re not getting access. But again, as someone said, we don’t want to have to have a food bank. We want to be able to pay our service members enough,” said Gillibrand.
“We got to stop putting a Bandaid on a machine gun wound,” said Feal.
This will be the 18th piece of legislation John Feal has worked on since 9-11 and he says he doesn’t plan to lose. Going back to some of these families we talked to today, one mom told me she can’t afford to put her kids in sports here. It just costs too much. Another mom said her daughter wants to be a ballerina, but they’ve had to prioritize food over extras like that.
And MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger launched a website to help people get involved in this battle, it’s endmilitaryhunger.org. Really, at the end of the day, they just want more Americans to know about the financial struggles facing so many members of the military who sign up to serve their country.