Some Active-Duty Service Members Have to Struggle to Make Ends Meet

Census data shows that roughly 23,000 active-duty service members rely on food stamps

Some Active-Duty Service Members Have to Struggle to Make Ends Meet
Image: Morguefile
April 19, 2017

Thousands of active-duty service members are struggling to make ends meet, according to data taken from the Census Bureau in 2013.

Twenty-Three Thousand on Food Stamps

In July 2016, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that almost one in four children enrolled at a Department of Defense (DOD) school is eligible for an income-based free meal program. Census data shows that approximately 23,000 members of the military currently in active service rely on SNAP benefits, commonly known as food stamps.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers the SNAP program, families spent roughly $67 million in food stamps last year at commissaries, the discount stores located on military bases.

"This suggests that people serving our country may be having difficulty making ends meet," stated the GAO's report. The office called on the DOD to improve how it tracks the eligibility of service members for food-assistance programs as well as their use of such programs.

"Without more complete survey data, DOD will not understand the prevalence of need among service members to effectively target its support," the report said.

One Year Later and No Change

The Pentagon said at the time that it agreed with the recommendations. However, nearly a year has passed since that time, and it still has not changed its tracking methods.

"This particular issue crosses multiple offices within the DOD in terms of policy responsibility," says Pentagon spokesman Johnny Michael. "Each of those offices takes their specific policies very seriously. They look at things like the GAO report and try to improve whichever policy they're responsible for in terms of taking care of our service members."

According to the USDA, only a small percentage of the overall active-duty population consists of service members who qualify and get federal food assistance—barely two percent. However, those members are part of a specific demographic: low-ranking enlisted members with children.

Enlisted service members begin serving with a salary of $1,449 per month, an amount that could make them eligible for SNAP benefits in a family with three children.

A Legal Loophole

According to a recent survey called Blue Star Families, which was administered by military spouses, seven percent of active-duty families stated that they had experienced food insecurity over the past year. When counted as a percentage of the overall active duty population, this represents more than 80,000 families across the country.

And this figure may not include all the military families that actually need food assistance. At this time, funds received by service members for living off-base—known as the Basic Allowance for Housing—count toward their SNAP eligibility. When added to a family's income, this pushes some into an income bracket classified as too high to qualify for food aid.