Congress – Yet Again – Ignores the Needs of Hungry Military Families

December 10, 2019


~Ensuring That Our Country Properly Takes Care of Our Military Families Should Be a Top Priority in Nation’s Defense Bill~

WASHINGTON, DC (December 10, 2019) – MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger condemns the Conference Report for the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2020 that was released today. MAZON’s stance is clear: Ensuring that our nation’s military personnel are food secure is not a political matter and should be a national priority. After almost 10 years of calling public attention to the long-overlooked yet urgent issue of hunger among military families, MAZON is deeply disappointed that the NDAA Conference Report followed the misguided example set by the Senate and this Administration and did not include a provision that would have directly addressed this issue.

The Military Family Basic Needs Allowance is a bipartisan provision that was included in the House NDAA and championed by Representatives Susan Davis (D-CA) and Don Young (R-AK), along with Senators Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). This provision would provide a modest and targeted supplement to base pay for all service members whose household income is at or below 130 percent of the federal poverty level, ensuring that military personnel are able to provide basic needs for their family members, particularly food, and can be spared the crushing anxiety associated with hunger and food insecurity.

Abby J. Leibman, President, and CEO of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger stated, “Congress and this Administration should be ashamed that they have once again ignored the needs of service members who struggle to make ends meet, shockingly making them collateral damage yet again. Our provision, the Military Family Basic Needs Allowance, would have provided much-needed support to military families who struggle financially and must regularly rely on food pantries. This is a slap in the face to military families who are hurting. The excuse that more data is needed is a distraction and, it certainly doesn’t put food on the table for the children of military families who are struggling NOW.

“For those of us working to find solutions to the challenges of food insecurity, there is a particularly odious hypocrisy when our policymakers deny the basic, human and civil right of putting food on the table to those serving to defend our great nation and fight for our freedom. We will not give up in our pursuit of viable solutions to food insecurity facing military families. MAZON will keep fighting for the best interests of America’s military families to ensure they have the resources they need and deserve,” said Abby J. Leibman, President & CEO of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger.

Pentagon officials and Congressional leaders are quick to point out the harm caused to our military from the uncertainty that comes with each Continuing Resolution of short-term government funding, yet they perpetuate painful anxiety and uncertainty faced by thousands of military families by failing to provide them with the resources they need to take care of their basic needs. To support optimal mission readiness for our troops, we must ensure that they have what they need to put food on the table and take care of the essentials for their families.

The NDAA bill does mandate a report on food insecurity among members of the armed forces and their dependents. MAZON looks forward to working with the Department of Defense and Congress to see they undertake this report without delay and to ensure that this report provides a robust and complete accounting of the issues at play, the barriers to needed assistance that military families face, and the needed solutions to address this solvable problem. However, a report provides absolutely zero immediate comfort to the service members who regularly struggle to put food on the table for their children and loved ones. With food pantries on or near every military base in this country quietly serving military families coming in desperation because they don’t qualify for needed federal assistance, Congress should do much better than calling for a report. This is an issue of military readiness, retention, and recruitment that is dangerous and costly to continue to leave unaddressed.

We must never turn our backs on the tens of thousands of military families who struggle to put food on the table. The NDAA Conference Report without the Military Family Basic Needs Allowance provision leaves our military and our country weaker and hungrier than before. We must ensure that no one goes hungry while they or their family members serve in our armed forces. Our military families deserve better than a Hungry NDAA bill.