MAZON VP of Public Policy Testifies on Hunger Facing Veterans and Military Families before House Veterans’ Affairs Committee

May 18, 2022

Issues like hunger, housing, and healthcare must be considered holistically — not in a piecemeal fashion, Josh Protas, MAZON’s Vice President of Public Policy, told lawmakers before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity. If we commit to addressing these issues holistically, then our servicemembers can have a smooth, dignified transition into society and enjoy fulfilling lives that honor the magnitude of their service to this country.

Protas was an expert witness in a legislative hearing today; his written testimony can be found here, and you can watch video of Protas’s oral testimony below:

“Even before COVID-19, an estimated 11% of working-age veterans lived in a food insecure household, and food insecurity rates among low-income veterans were upwards of 22.5%,” Protas said during his testimony. “The rates of food insecurity and other measures of economic hardship trend significantly higher for subsets of the veteran population that have unique challenges, including female veterans, Native American and other veterans of color, and LGBTQ+ veterans, though more robust research and targeted policy and programmatic interventions are desperately needed.”

Protas’s testimony highlighted the critical need to improve access to and enrollment in SNAP, sharing that “an estimated 1.2 million veterans receive SNAP, but this only tells part of the story — recent studies show that only 30% to 41% of food insecure veterans living in SNAP-eligible households are actually enrolled in the program. This is often because they don’t know about SNAP, they don’t know that they qualify for this benefit, or they are reluctant to apply due to persistent stigma and shame.” This significant SNAP participation gap among veterans is staggering and unacceptable. Food is literally within reach, but left on the table for hundreds of thousands of low-income veterans.

As part of his testimony, Protas called on Congress to work with the entire federal government to address the problem of food insecurity among veterans and military families, including:

  • Establishing an Office of Food Insecurity at the VA to coordinate interagency collaboration and accountability;
  • Mandating on-site SNAP eligibility screenings and application assistance for veterans who screen positive for food insecurity in the VA system;
  • Testing and adopting new outreach models and technological innovations to connect veterans with SNAP and other wrap-around services;
  • Providing information about programs like SNAP to veterans through the Transition Assistance Program upon separation from duty and exploring a transition benefit program;
  • Utilizing the upcoming White House Conference on Hunger, Health, and Nutrition to understand the complex root causes of hunger and to outline a visionary plan to address this injustice.

The federal government clearly has the responsibility and authority to make structural changes to end veteran food insecurity. While charitable organizations provide critical local assistance for veterans and others, we cannot food bank an end to hunger. It is long past time for the federal government to step up and embrace its rightful role to fully meet the needs of those who bravely serve our country.

Learn more about MAZON’s work to address hunger among veterans and military families.