How Come Military Families Are Still on Food Stamps over 15 years now?

food_stamps2Military members and their families are using more food stamps than in previous years

by Bob Hanafin, Staff Writer

Bryan Mitchell writes in an article that appeared July 22, 2009, "Military members and their families are using more food stamps than in previous years – redeeming them last year[2008] at nearly twice the civilian rate, according to Defense Commissary Agency figures.

The agency reports that more than $31 million worth of food stamps were used at commissaries nationwide in 2008 – an increase of about $6.2 million, or more than 25 percent – from the $24.8 million redeemed in 2007. That contrasts with a 13 percent overall increase in food stamp use by Americans for the same period, according to the Department of Agriculture, which administers the food stamp program…"

     [Note: Military Families = 25% vs Civilians = 13%. VT ed.]

According to Army Times Staff writer Rick Maze, the monetary increase in Military Families needing food stamps was included in the Senate plan for the FY 2010 Defense Budget. A Senate committee more than doubled the military’s Family Supplemental Subsistence Allowance (FSSA) in a move intended to keep troops from having to use food stamps.

[The Military Family Supplemental Subsistence Allowance Program was the one created way back when I was on active duty in order to take some of the stigma off military volunteers and their families having to resort to food stamps in the most highly technical and paid Armed Forces on earth. VT ed.]

The increase would applied to no more than 328 families by the Pentagon’s estimate, but it would deflect the larger public-relations problem created by the idea that military wages are low enough to drive some families to seek government assistance.

Congress created the allowance in 2000 as an extra payment of up to $500 a month to increase wages enough so military families would not qualify for what was then known as food stamps.

groceries_400[No, as I mentioned this program or some version thereof was implemented while I was still on active duty way back in 1994. a full six years prior to date being stated. VT ed.]

The payment would rise to $1,100 monthly under a provision of S 1390, the version of the 2010 defense authorization bill passed by the Senate Armed Services Committee. That should be enough for all military families to stay off food stamps – now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP – according to a panel report.

The FSSA was created at a time when about 14,000 military families were believed to be receiving food stamps, mostly large midgrade or junior enlisted families. The issue of service members on food stamps gained renewed attention after a March 2009 visit with military families in North Carolina by first lady Michelle Obama.

One military spouse told Obama that her family was on food stamps while her husband was deployed in Iraq. "It’s not right," Obama said in an ABC News interview after the visit.

In its report on the 2010 budget, the Senate committee notes the FSSA "was designed to alleviate the need" for service members to use food stamps and said it is "troubled" by the fact that the Pentagon is not tracking the number of military families receiving the assistance.

[That means that between 1994 or earlier and the GWOT today, the Pentagon is still failing to track the number of actual military families receiving food stamps. So much for the All Volunteer Force and a classless society. That said, keep in mind that the ratio of military families on food stamps to those who are not speaks volumes. Regardless, the point is that NOT ONE MILITARY FAMILY SHOULD BE ON FOOD STAMPS DURING WARTIME - PERIOD!!! VT. ed.]

For a family of four, payments may be available if net income is $1,767 or less a month, although factors such as family savings, enlistment and re-enlistment bonuses received and even cars owned are part of the calculation. Pentagon estimates show that an E-1 with a family of four would qualify for the allowance. An E-5 with a family of seven or more would qualify.
FSSA levels When a service member’s income is a family’s only income, eligibility for the Family Supplemental Subsistence Allowance is based on these family sizes:

• E-1: 4 or more household members
• E-2/E-3: 5 or more
• E-4: 6 or more
• E-5: 7 or more
• E-6: 8 or more
• E-7: 9 or more
• E-8: 10 or more
• E-9: 11 or more
• O-1/O-2: 9 or more
• O-3: 10 or more
• O-4: 11 or more
• O-5: 12 or more

[Note of clarification: there are so many variables that go into figuring out both access and need for foodstamps. Example: when I returned from Vietnam in the early 1970s, I chose to go to college on the GI Bill. The benefits paid by the VA were so low for a married Veteran with one child that I had to work full time. Considering that I worked full time (for the VA at that) with my combined GI Bill education allowances, AFROTC monthly stipend of $100 bucks, and salary as a GS3/4 at the time I was still eligible for food stamps. I applied for them not so much due to need than the fact that my familiy qualified. We were quick to learn the stigma associated with a married college student going to a grocery store to use food stamps. Lesson learned, we used food stamps only one semester if we qualified or not. Elitist or humanitarian view -what would you have done - you decide. VT. ed.]

Robert L. Hanafin
Major, U.S. Air Force-Retired
Veterans Advocacy Editor

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9 Comments for “How Come Military Families Are Still on Food Stamps over 15 years now?”

  1. What a greatful nation! Our soldiers are on food stamps and VA denys disabled veterans claims for disability. I guess the banks need the bail-outs more than our dedicated military members.

  2. Veterans Advocacy Editor

    "I remember an NCO being embarrassed by a cashier at the commissary because he had left the id required to use food stamps at home."That was 1980.


    First, thanks for reading the article and making the time to comment.

    Got a question if you or anyone else sees this.

    I’m getting feedback that SOME military families have been eligible for food stamps or some equivalent thereof since the 1950s and 1960s.

    Don’t know if the Department of Agriculture Food Stamp program began that early, but it may have been called something else.

    However, I began using Commissaries way back in 1968. I never paid much attention to who was on food stamps or not, I was too young and single to really care much less give it a thought. I do know the food stamp program was around in the early 1970s.

    Two things I’ve been informed that I did not know.

    1. That from the 1950s to 60s if a military family was eligible for food stamps, they were forbidden from applying for them. I don’t know if this ban was self imposed, a documented DOD policy, or just reaction to social stigma?

    2. You mention an NCO being embarrassed about leaving an ID card home that showed he/she was allowed to use food stamps at a base commissary. I didn’t know there was such an ID. The only ID most of us are familiar with that is ever asked for at a Commissary is our Military ID regardless if you are active duty, medically retired with retirement benefits, or a regular Military Retiree.

    Bobby Hanafin
    Veterans Advocacy Editor

  3. Notorious Kelly

    I remember an NCO being embarrassed by a cashier at the commissary because he had left the id required to use food stamps at home.

    I was shocked that a military family would need food stamps.

    That was 1980.


  5. Jim Davis, Veterans-For-Change

    I’m not quite convinced yet Obama was the right choice, but I am also glad we didn’t get saddled with McCain!

    One thing I do agree with is the military and government do not take into consideration any hardships placed on families of those who serve, and how much the circumstances at home can distract a service man or woman from their appointed duties.

    They shouldn’t have to worry about whether their family is eating, has a roof over their head, a good education or good medical care. This should all be provided to them absolutely FREE of charge for the duration of their tour to their families!

    I know when dad was sent to Viet Nam, we had to vacate base housing, and when the landlord found out dad was in Viet Nam we were evicted and had to move into a mobile home.

    Mom worked in the base exchange, and we were lucky to have a hot meal once a day if that even. And this was back in 1970, and back then chicken was I believe $0.21 a pound. So we ate a lot of chicken during that 18 months.

    I can only imagine the hardships placed on today’s families and especially at today’s market prices and making it harder are the wages a soldier is paid doesn’t even compare to anything in civilian life making the matter all the worse!

    And heaven forbid the allotment checks are messed up which happens a great deal more than most realize!

    Any little financial set back for a family at home can be disastrous!

    Jim Davis

  6. Obama was probably the best choice for President, but he and his wife have no idea what military families go through. There is no reason for military families to be using food stamps, give the families food as part of military contracts. The last thing a soldier needs to be worried about is how their family is going to be cared for. Free food, free education, free medical, and free housing, if anyone in this country deserves these perks, it is the military.

    • Washington has long believed military men and women to be expendable.
      As long as America plays along she too will believe the same.

  7. “Military men are just dumb stupid animals to be used as pawns in foreign policy.” — Henry Kissinger, as quoted in Kiss the Boys Goodbye: How the United States Betrayed Its Own POW’s in Vietnam (1990) by Monika Jensen-Stevenson and William Stevenson

  8. Veterans Advocacy Editor

    The First Lady on Military families on food stamps: "It Hurts" (Video) [] []

    March 13th, 2009

          When Robin Roberts on Good Morning America asked First lady Michelle Obama her thoughts upon hearing that many military families are having to go on food stamps in order to make ends meet, Mrs. Obama demonstrated why she is the best person to be in the position of First Lady at this moment. The compassion and committment to real people with real issues is what put this family in the White House at THIS time. Below are some of the excerpts from the First Lady’s interview.

    m_obama_military_families [] [] It hurts. It hurts," the first lady said of hearing about military families on food stamps. " []These are people who are willing to send their loved ones off to, perhaps, give their lives – the ultimate sacrifice. But yet, they’re living back at home on food stamps. It’s not right, and it’s not where we should be as a nation."

          "I think that’s one of my jobs, is to try and shed some light on some of these issues," she said, "to not just be in that conversation with military spouses and hear those stories, but to take that information back to the administration to share it with the nation, so that we can think again about how we can better support these families."
    In his article, Michelle Obama Makes Military Families Her Mission
    The first lady is often moved by accounts of personal sacrifice by service families. Kenneth T. Walsh
    noted that, "First ladies are always the subject of fascination. Their experiences often illustrate the evolving roles of women in our society, and they are usually an essential part of the governing team at the White House. Most first ladies have taken on special projects that reflect their core values, Michelle Obama [] is emulating her predecessors by her signature initiative-improving the lives of military families- a personal mission and an emotional cause.

    Related LINKS:

    Exclusive: ‘It Hurts,’ Says First Lady of Military Families on Food Stamps []

    ‘Good Morning America’s’ Robin Roberts Talks With Michelle Obama About Her Agenda as First Lady []

    Editor’s Note: Given that it has been near two decades that Military Families have been on food stamps, and of course this cannot be laid on the doorstep of any First Lady, it is more essential now than ever during the GWOT to ensure that Mrs. Obama stays focused on her signature initiative-improving the lives of military families- a personal mission and an emotional cause. The approval rating of her husband may go up, down, sideways, etc…however her focus on Military Families must not be allowed to stray. Ironically, it is up to Military Families to not allow Michelle Obama to get side tracked or distracted by politics. In the world and game of politics, only WE are capable of doing so.

    Robert L. Hanafin
    Veterans Advocacy Editor

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