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A Win for Military Families Experiencing Food Insecurity

By December 9, 2021No Comments

The breakthrough comes in the form of a Basic Needs Allowance for active duty military whose income falls below 130% of the federal poverty level. This allowance, with other support, is being included for the first time in the national defense spending bill. To further understand the scope of the problem, a detailed study on food insecurity will be conducted by the Department of Defense.

Washington state played an integral role in this win in several key aspects. Congresswoman Marilyn Strickland (WA-10) is the original co-sponsor of the Military Hunger Prevention Act, H.R.2339, with additional cosponsors Congresswoman Suzan DelBene (WA-1), Congressman Derek Kilmer (WA-6), Congressman Rick Larsen (WA-2), Congresswoman Kim Schrier (WA-8). Senator Patty Murray is a co-sponsor of the Military Hunger Prevention Act, S.1488 in the Senate. These bills served as the basis for the provision that was ultimately adopted in the National Defense Authorization Act.

Moreover, the entire purview of defense spending fell under the leadership of Congressman Adam Smith (WA-9) as Chair for the House Armed Services Committee. Representative Smith is Food Lifeline’s representative in Congress, and a staunch supporter of both hunger issues and champion for veteran and military families.

Food Lifeline prioritized the issue of military family hunger in our work as a Feeding America affiliate. This partnership on federal priorities brought important resources and expertise to the advocacy campaign we built. We formed an ad hoc statewide coalition – the Washington Military Family Hunger Coalition – to unite more than 60 stakeholders, advocates, local, state, and national organizations around issues, service, and advocacy for veteran and military families.

The coalition helped highlight community efforts like those of Second Harvest in Spokane, Nourish Pierce County, Thurston County Food Bank, Eloise’s Cooking Pot, and The Mission Continues – each active in providing food to military households. And in working with state policymakers, we are finding additional ways we can make a difference. Notably, State Representative Mari Leavitt and State Senator T’wina Nobles have added voice and perspective through published opinion articles and attending local food distributions. Representative Leavitt will be sponsoring legislation in 2022 state legislative session to further support military families.

A catalyst in advancing the issue of military family hunger, and a tipping point for action in Washington, came in the form of the Military Family Advisory Network. A national organization of military and veteran spouses and community leaders who are dedicated to improving the lives of military and veteran families. In June 2021, they brought their national campaign “One Million Meals Challenge” to Lakewood, Washington, to serve nearby Joint Base Lewis McCord families with the first of three food distributions. A national leader on military family focused research, their insight, gleaned from military families by collecting lived experiences, sounded the alarm that 1 in 5 military households are facing food insecurity during the pandemic.

All told, we are proud to do this work, proud of this win, and will continue our advocacy on behalf of veterans and more than 160,000 service members, reservist, and their families that live in and around Washington state’s six active duty military bases.

To learn more and join our campaign, please visit Food Lifeline’s Military Family Hunger campaign page here.

More about the new Basic Needs Allowance in the NDAA:

The final version of the Act resolved a key difference between House and Senate approaches by giving the Secretary of Defense discretion, based upon the cost of living where the service members are stationed, to exclude a separate Basic Allowance for Housing from counting toward gross household income, thereby helping servicemembers who otherwise would have been disqualified for SNAP.

In addition, the Act requires a specific detailed study on food insecurity in Department of Defense to include:

  • An analysis of food deserts that affect members of the Armed Forces, and their families, who live in areas with high costs of living;
  • The current method employed by the Secretary of Defense to determine areas with high costs of living;
  • The development of a process to determine an appropriate allowance to supplement;
  • The income of members who suffer food insecurity; and
  • Engagement with and outcomes of forums with beneficiaries, military service organizations, and advocacy groups to elicit information regarding the effects of food insecurity on members and their dependents.