Duckworth, Murkowski & Udall Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Help Ensure Servicemembers Don’t Go Hungry

U.S. Senators Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Lisa Murkowksi (R-AK) and Tom Udall (D-NM) introduced bipartisan legislation this week to help prevent troops and military families from going hungry so that no one willing to serve this nation in uniform struggles to feed their families. The Military Hunger Prevention Act fixes a quirk in federal law and eliminates inconsistencies that prevent many low-income servicemembers from accessing federal food assistance programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)—commonly referred to as “food stamps”—and several others. The current flaw in federal law often forces those military families to instead rely on food pantries and food banks for emergency food assistance when the nation they are serving owes them much more.

“Our military is weakened when servicemembers go hungry and are unable to feed their families,” said Senator Duckworth“As someone whose family depended on food stamps after my father lost his job, and who served in uniform for most of my adult life, this is personal for me. We are the wealthiest nation in the world. Our servicemembers shouldn’t be forced to rely on food stamps to feed themselves – but at the very least, we must ensure that those who need food stamps have access to them.”

“Our military families have enough to worry about as they defend our nation’s security,” said Senator Murkowski. “They should not have to rely on their local food bank to help them put food on the table. Even as I work with my colleagues to ensure that our military families do not need to rely on anti-hunger safety net programs, too many remain food insecure. The Military Hunger Prevention Act will take a step in the right direction by eliminating the barriers that prevent many needy military families from being able to access the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and school meal programs. I was proud to work with Senators Duckworth and Udall to craft this legislation.  I look forward to working with my Senate colleagues to achieve its passage.”

“Congress has a solemn obligation to provide members of the military with the resources they need to serve our nation,” said Senator Udall. “Yet military families across the country are struggling with food insecurity – and at the same time facing down unacceptable and unnecessary barriers to accessing the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Our troops should not have to worry that their families are well fed. Congress should live up to its promise to service members and pass this common-sense legislation to remove needless roadblocks preventing military families from being able to put food on the table.”

When the military is unable to provide servicemembers with housing wherever they are stationed, servicemembers receive a Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) to pay for off-base or privatized military housing. Because of how the qualification calculations for federal food assistance programs like SNAP currently work, many low-income servicemembers can be excluded from receiving food assistance benefits if they receive BAH funding. This is despite a demonstrated need that results in servicemembers and their families having to rely on local food pantries. The Military Hunger Prevention Act would fix this flaw.

The Senators’ bipartisan legislation is cosponsored by Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Doug Jones (D-AL), Parry Murray (D-WA), Tina Smith (D-MN) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD).  The legislation has also been endorsed by MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger; Greater Chicago Food Depository; the St. Louis Area Foodbank; National Military Families Association, Blue Star Families and Western Center on Law and Poverty. A short one-page summary of the bipartisan legislation is available online here.

“Food insecurity among currently serving military families is a real but preventable reality,” added Abby J. Leibman, President and CEO of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger. “We applaud Senators Duckworth, Murkowski and Udall for their leadership in introducing the Military Hunger Prevention Act, which will remove a major barrier that prevents tens of thousands of military families from putting nutritious food on the table. We urge Congress to pass it into law quickly and to do so without sacrificing the existing standards of our nation’s most important nutrition program.”

A 2013 Census Bureau survey found that 23,000 active-duty servicemembers depend on food stamps and a 2016 Government Accountability Office report found servicemembers spent $21 million in SNAP benefits between September 2014 and August 2015, indicating that many servicemembers are having difficulty making ends meet. However, the military does not collect data on how many military families struggle with hunger, which makes it difficult to determine how widespread food insecurity is among military families. As a result, Senator Duckworth passed an amendment in the FY 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which was recently signed into law, that will require the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) to finally begin collecting data on how many servicemembers rely on federal hunger assistance programs to help our military and our nation make sure no military family has to struggle with food insecurity.

Related Issues: Defense