STATEN ISLAND, NY — U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand met with national anti-hunger advocates and military families to discuss the issue of pervasive hunger in the military.
Senator Gillibrand, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee and Chair of the Personnel Subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee, met with military families, advocates from MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, Blue Star Families, and veterans’ rights activist John Feal at the Staten Island Food Closet to discuss solutions for food insecurity for military members and their families. Among the topics discussed was MAZON’s 2021 report, “Hungry in the Military: Food Insecurity Among Military Families in the U.S.”
“That is a moral outrage, people should be furious about it, and we should be demanding better,” said Senator Gillibrand. “It’s unconscionable that we cannot provide what our families need. Our national security depends on having a military that is strong and capable of meeting any challenge. But no one is strong when they can’t get enough to eat. So long as our service members are struggling with food security, we as a nation are not only risking their wellbeing and that of their families but also our larger military readiness.”
“Hunger among military families is about troop readiness, military retention, and future recruitment,” said Josh Protas, Vice President of Public Policy for MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger. “There is a food pantry like the Staten Island Food Closet at every military base in the country, and they provide vital emergency resources for military families who need help. But the charitable sector cannot address the full scope of hunger, and it was never designed to do so. We look forward to working with Senator Gillibrand and others in Congress to ensure that this year’s NDAA and next year’s Farm Bill advance real solutions to end the crisis of military hunger.”
“Our family received orders and moved to Staten Island, we had a 1-year-old and I was 6 months pregnant. The transition between units can be very tough,” said Rachael Amaral, a military spouse who attended the meeting on Monday. “A new town, especially with the high cost of living in New York City, a new home, a new community, new doctors, new pediatricians and dentists, and being far away from family. Not to mention a new career, except that the process to transfer my social work license has been impossible to achieve. A year and a half later and the state of NY still has not issued my license. That means we are living on one income with 2 small children. This is when we turned to the Blue Star Families Essential needs pantry. It has helped our grocery bill (even with diapers alone). We are ‘getting by’ although I am sure other military members are feeling the same pinch. The meeting with the senator today was very helpful. It was nice to hear she is advocating for military members. I hope after the meeting today, there is change in the future.”
Senator Gillibrand noted that a Department of Defense report this summer found that 24 percent of active duty service members (one in four) experienced food insecurity compared to one in 10 people generally nationwide.
Advocates are looking to improve a the military’s basic needs allowance through the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and ensure military families have the support earned by service members as part of serving their country. Advocates are also looking at the 2023 Farm Bill as another important opportunity to help military families by ensuring that they can access federal nutrition programs such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
Senator Gillibrand previously co-sponsored the Military Hunger Prevention Act requiring the Department of Defense (DOD) to pay a basic needs allowance to certain low-income members of the Armed Forces. Senator Gillibrand has also cosponsored a bill to amend the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008 to exclude a basic allowance for housing (BAH) from income for purposes of eligibility for SNAP and voted in favor of an amendment at the NDAA mark-up this summer that would increase the income limit on basic needs allowance eligibility from 130% to 150% of the federal poverty guidelines.