US Soldiers Are Relying on Millions of Dollars in Food Stamps to Survive

Soldiers march near a plane at Eielson Air Force Base in Fairbanks, Alaska, on February 14, 2008. (Photo: Morning Calm Weekly Newspaper Installation Management Command, U.S. Army)Soldiers march near a plane at Eielson Air Force Base in Fairbanks, Alaska, on February 14, 2008. (Photo: Morning Calm Weekly Newspaper Installation Management Command, US Army)

Military service members on active duty spent $24 million in food stamps at military commissary shops from September 2014 to August 2015, and 45 percent of students in schools run by the military are eligible for free or reduced-price meal programs.

For years, the military has been embarrassed by reports showing that some active-duty service members struggle to feed their families and use government benefits to get by. A recent report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the Department of Defense (DoD) does not fully understand the scope of the problem.

The USDA runs the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the benefits of which are commonly called food stamps. Neither the military nor the USDA tracks how many active-duty service members receive SNAP benefits, according the report.

The base salary for low-ranking service members can start as low as $18,800 a year. A soldier making that much to support a two-person household would be eligible for food stamps.

A provision in the 2016 defense spending bill encourages data sharing between the Pentagon and the USDA to address this problem, but the DoD does not have a coordinated effort underway to access that data through the USDA. The GAO concludes that without an interagency dating-sharing effort, the military will miss a valuable opportunity to understand the needs of its service members and address hunger within its ranks.

Abby Leibman, the president of MAZON, a Jewish anti-hunger group that runs a program focused on military families, testified before Congress in January that food insecurity among active-duty soldiers is triggered by a number of different factors, including low pay among lower-ranking enlistees, high unemployment among military spouses, larger household sizes, challenges around activation and…

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