Addressing food insecurity in the military

Published: Mar. 29, 2023 at 1:55 PM EDT
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WASHINGTON (WWNY) - The Department of Defense says 1 out of every 4 service members in the U.S. military experience food insecurity, meaning they don’t have enough money to put food on the table.

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D. - NY) highlighted the statistic at a meeting of the Armed Services Committee in Washington where Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was answering questions.

Starting this year, those who qualify can receive Basic Needs Allowance (BNA). It goes to service members whose income falls below 130 percent of the federal poverty guidelines in their area.

The threshold was supposed to go to 150 percent of the poverty level next year so more soldiers will qualify.

Instead, Secretary Austin says it’ll happen this July, sooner than expected. He hopes it, along with other measures, will help soldiers and their families.

“With your support, Senator, you’ve seen us ask for a pay raise last year of 4.6 percent. You’ve seen us raise BAH (Basic Allowance for Housing) amounts, and you’ve seen us work to get child care costs down. So we’re trying to increase the resources and reduce the strain on families, and hopefully that total equation will create benefits for our families and our troops,” said Austin.

One issue Senator Gillibrand has is that a soldier’s housing allowance is part of his or her income, and often can disqualify a soldier’s eligibility for the basic needs allowance payment.

Gillibrand asked Secretary Austin to consider removing the housing allowance from the equation.

Austin says the defense department will do whatever is feasible or what it’s allowed to do by law.