Upset that a promised report on ways to address the hunger that many military families suffer is overdue, Sen. Mark Warner is calling for steps to make sure military families have enough to eat.
Warner and Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., a retired Army National Guard lieutenant colonel, this week asked Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to provide a Department provide a plan to address military families’ food insecurity and hunger issues by April 15. They said such a plan should consider ending a barrier that keeps military families from access to federal nutrition assistance programs, the result of counting the Basic Allowance for Housing as income.
They also asked Austin to take a look at the twice-rejected Military Family Basic Needs Allowance, a temporary allowance for low-income military families.
“We believe that as a country we must do more to assist these struggling families, and therefore ask the Department of Defense to outline concrete steps they intend to take to support these families, and ways in which Congress can assist these efforts,” the two senators said in a letter to Austin.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated this crisis for military families,” they wrote, noting that a survey by Blue Star Families last year found 5% of military families couldn’t afford to buy more than a week’s worth of food while 17% of military spouses had lost their jobs or were unable to work because of the pandemic.
Even before the pandemic, surveys suggested hunger is a problem for many in the military. A 2019 survey by Military Family Advisory Network found one in six military families in Virginia struggled to get enough to eat. A Pentagon study found one third of students in Department of Defense schools were eligible for free or reduced-price school meals during the 2018-2019 school year.
In addition to looking again at the idea of a basic needs allowance and at Basic Housing Allowance issue, the senators said the Pentagon should recommend ways to coordinate with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and other agencies involved with food aid. They also asked for steps to end the stigma and shame that often come when military personnel seek help.
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