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One in four troops experience food insecurity. Advocates want Congress to adapt a program to help.

A food pantry at Fairchild Air Force Base in Washington. (Photo courtesy of Department of Defense)
A food pantry at Fairchild Air Force Base in Washington. (Photo courtesy of Department of Defense)



Food insecurity among people in the active duty military has been increasing, with young families being hardest hit, national surveys show.

Sailors with young families are stretched thin, said Tom Porter of Blue Star Families. The group advocates for military families and conducts regular surveys about quality of life and military benefits.. 

According to the most recent Blue Star Families survey, 26% of enlisted active duty families struggled to provide enough to eat.

Advocates want Congress to reform a program to lift the troops out of poverty. The Basic Needs Allowance program is designed to raise the pay of the enlisted troops with families. 

”It's for service members that are at lower rank and have a little bigger family. What this does is this boosts them up to get a certain percentage of the poverty line,” said Cory Titus, director of government relations for the Military Officer Association of America.

The program passed by Congress raises their pay to 130% of the federal poverty line. 

Potentially more than 200,000 troops could potentially qualify for some assistance under that rule. The program’s parameters includeBecause the rules include the service members’ Basic Allowance for Housing, so the program has had few takers since it was passed in 2022, Titus said.

“Other federal programs don't include any housing assistance in how they calculate support for financial or nutritional assistance, but this program does,” he said. “And what that means is we're only seeing a handful of people in the thousands actually being eligible and taking advantage of this program. We’re talking only a few thousand.” 

Blue Star also wants a GI Bill for Childcare to help lower unemployment among military spouses.

Since military couples typically move regularly, spouses often have a tough time finding a job in the new community. 

“Or a spouse has a graduate degree and they end up taking a job as cashier at an on base exchange, so they’re under- employed,” Porter said.

Complicating their job search, they often have to look for work while taking care of young children. 

“If you're a military family, you can't get childcare unless you already have a job,” Porter said.

The plan would cover up to nine months of childcare while caregivers search for a job in their new community. 

Advocates are working to remove the housing stipend from the next defense bill, he said.

Steve joined WHRO in 2023 to cover military and veterans. Steve has extensive experience covering the military and working in public media, most recently at KPBS in San Diego, WYIN in Gary, Indiana and WBEZ in Chicago. In the early 2000s, he embedded with members of the Indiana National Guard in Kuwait and Iraq. Steve reports for NPR’s American Homefront Project, a national public media collaboration that reports on American military life and veterans. Steve is also on the board of Military Reporters & Editors.

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