Half-Measures in NDAA Fall Short of Truly Addressing Military Hunger

December 16, 2022

The leading anti-hunger advocacy organization MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger issued the following statement on the passage of the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) through both chambers of Congress. The defense authorization bill, which President Biden is expected to sign, expands eligibility for the Military Family Basic Needs Allowance but keeps intact a provision that considers housing assistance as income in determining benefit eligibility for most low-income military families.

“Congress clearly knows that we have a military hunger crisis in this country, but with this bill, our policymakers have made a choice to prolong it,” said MAZON’s President & CEO, Abby J. Leibman. “By failing to accept MAZON’s proposal to categorically exclude a service member’s Basic Allowance for Housing when calculating benefits that would help meet their family’s basic needs, Congress simply applied a band-aid on a deep wound. But our leaders cannot continue to ignore the shameful reality that, by the Pentagon’s own estimate, 24 percent  of military families experience hunger. It is irresponsible and unconscionable.”

The NDAA does call for helpful new federal data collection and reporting about military hunger. It also expands the number of service members eligible for the Military Family Basic Needs Allowance, from those living at 130% of the federal poverty level to 150%, and gives the Secretary of Defense the ability to expand that eligibility to 200% in some  circumstances. MAZON also crafted a provision in the bill to create a pilot grant program with $15 million in annual funding to combat food insecurity among veterans and their family members.

“This year, we made great strides in getting the Defense Department to finally acknowledge the scope of hunger among veterans and military families, and we elevated this issue to the highest levels of government,” Leibman added. “We are grateful that many policymakers are working with MAZON to craft meaningful solutions to this and other pervasive problems. But I am deeply disappointed that we once again handed Congress a commonsense, bipartisan policy solution and they once again decided to punt the issue and allow military families to continue to needlessly struggle with hunger. We look to Congress, the Biden-Harris Administration, and Pentagon leaders to support — and to prioritize — meaningful, long-term solutions that we know will curb this preventable and costly crisis.”

Earlier this year, MAZON and its partners released a series of videos urging the Biden-Harris Administration to address rising hunger among military families in advance of the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health. Its comprehensive 2021 report, Hungry in the Military, frames food insecurity among military families as “a matter of mission readiness, retention, and recruitment.”