July 06, 2017

MAZON Condemns Chairman Mike Conaway's Blocking of Amendment to Help Military Families

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Contact: Michelle Stuffmann
Phone: (424) 208-7203
Email: mstuffmann@mazon.org


LOS ANGELES, CA (July 5, 2017)—Abby J. Leibman, president and CEO at MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, responds to the decision by House Committee on Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway to block consideration of an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would correct a drafting oversight that has prevented military families from accessing the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP): 

“MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger condemns the recent action by House Committee on Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway to block an amendment that would correct an unintended barrier preventing military families from accessing SNAP benefits.

“The issue involves the Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) received by servicemembers who live off base or in privatized housing. An estimated 25,000 to 30,000 households of lower-ranking enlisted servicemembers cannot enroll in SNAP because BAH is counted as income, which elevates their household income above the eligibility line for the program. This is inconsistent with the eligibility rules of most other federal assistance programs. BAH is not counted as income when determining eligibility for the Earned Income Tax Credit; Child Tax Credit; the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC); Pell Grants; and Head Start. Federal law also does not treat BAH as income for federal income tax purposes.

“The oversight in the current legislation leaves tens of thousands of servicemembers turning in desperation to food pantries to feed their families. MAZON has found that there are food pantries operating on or near every Naval and Marine base in the United States. At Camp Pendleton alone, there are four different pantries that operate on base each month, serving hundreds of military families who are struggling to make ends meet.

“For the past several years, MAZON has been calling attention to the hidden problem of food insecurity among currently serving military families and working to achieve a policy solution that will permit food insecure military families to get the help they need.

“In February, Representative Susan Davis introduced—with bipartisan support—the Military Hunger Prevention Act, which proposed a simple and common sense remedy: to exclude BAH from counting as income when qualifying for SNAP. MAZON has been working closely with staff for Rep. Davis and the House Armed Services Committee to include the provision from this bill as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

“Chairman Conaway had professed, in multiple conversations with MAZON leadership, a commitment to resolving this problem. But given an opportunity to honor these prior statements, Chairman Conaway instead refused to grant the necessary waiver that would allow the House Armed Services Committee to consider and debate the merits of this provision. He instead chose to renege on prior promises and betray the well-being of the tens of thousands of military households who struggle with the painful reality of food insecurity.

“It is wrong to treat the military families who honorably serve our country as political bargaining chips when a reasonable, bipartisan solution, which has support from the US Department of Agriculture, has been proposed in Congress. MAZON calls on Chairman Conaway to step up to resolve this issue with the urgency struggling military families deserve.

“Struggling military families shouldn’t have to wait for help another year or more for the next Farm Bill. MAZON urges Chairman Conaway to champion this amendment now before NDAA is considered by the full House of Representatives, and to work with Rep. Davis, the bipartisan coalition of Members who supported the Military Hunger Prevention Act, and House leadership to get this issue resolved once and for all, without any further delay.”