Help troops stay focused on their mission by ending food insecurity
Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Dana T. Atkins is President and CEO of the Military Officers Association of America. He served as a command pilot with over 4,000 hours in fighter jets. During his career he flew as a demonstration pilot for the European A-10 Demonstration Team and the US Air Force Thunderbirds. He retired from the Air Force as Commander, Alaskan Command, US Pacific Command; Commander of the 11th Air Force, Pacific Air Force; and Commander of the Alaska North American Defense Region.
In the Defense Department’s vast web of budget debates and priorities, it’s rare to hear of a long-standing problem facing many young military families – the simple need to keep food on the table. .
Food insecurity affected 29% of junior enlisted personnel who answered a recent survey of Blue Star families. These members face this financial burden in the early stages of their military careers, and in many cases they must do so without the support offered to their civilian counterparts. Since the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (formerly known as Food Stamps) counts Army Housing Allowance as income, many in uniform are not eligible for SNAP benefits.
And like many issues the force faces, the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting economic uncertainty have made matters worse. This is particularly true in the area of spousal employment: almost half of military spouses who work lost his job during the pandemic, resulting in greater income uncertainty for many young military families. School and daycare closures triggered by COVID-19 have created even more problems. Food banks near military installations are feeling the pressure.
In almost all cases, these families do not need substantial and permanent assistance. Most will see their financial situation improve as the military moves up through the ranks. But there can be long-term cascading effects. For some soldiers, this will mean a late start of contribution to their pension fund. Some will seek to save money by moving to cheap and often unsafe housing outside the post. Others will find themselves in the trap of payday loans and will find themselves in a spiral of debt and discipline on their part.
Without assistance in the early stages of these careers, military personnel risk losing the investment they invest in these members. They will look for other ways to feed their families and separate as soon as possible, or they will suffer from the stress of their situation or from a simple lack of nutrition, putting their family’s needs before their own.
The Association of Military Officers of America, or MOAA, and the Military Coalition have joined several advocacy organizations to tackle this problem – most notably MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, which compiled a complete and essential report on the subject. One way to help which is at hand: the creation of an allowance for basic needs, which would be available to soldiers at or near the poverty line and which would be scalable according to income. The average beneficiary would receive around $ 400 per month, with the overall cost of the program estimated at $ 44 million per year.
Bipartite legislation support for this fix has been presented to the House and the Senate. Influential senators have asked Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to look into the matter. As relief efforts continue for several sectors of society facing the fallout from the pandemic, it is important that other lawmakers join this cause and ensure that those who are committed to standing up for our nation are not not left out.
Join the MOAA and our allies in calling on your members of Congress to act on behalf of these young military families.
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