NDAA Compromise Falls Short of True Relief for Food Insecure Military Families

December 7, 2021

Today, Congress unveiled compromise language for the Fiscal Year 2022 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), including a provision establishing a Military Family Basic Needs Allowance, which was first conceived by policy experts at MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger.

The NDAA provision falls short of what MAZON and its partners called for in order to adequately address the growing crisis of hunger among military families, leaving questions of eligibility and enrollment unresolved and open to broad interpretation. Nevertheless, the bill represents significant progress in the fight to end hunger among military personnel and their families. In response to the bill, Abby J. Leibman, MAZON’s President & CEO, released the following statement:

“For the first time, Congress is poised to pass a bill that acknowledges and starts to address the plight of military families who struggle with food insecurity. In many ways, this is a historic achievement and a helpful step forward, but it is not a comprehensive solution.

Under Congress’ revised provision, the Secretary of Defense would notify a servicemember that they might be eligible for the new Military Family Basic Needs Allowance, but that individual must then initiate and undergo the onerous application process. This has real potential to exclude military families who are struggling to put food on the table, as we have seen with previous DoD programs. MAZON specifically designed the original provision to avoid this type of flawed policy and to address the acute needs of military families, including persistent stigma and shame associated with applying for federal nutrition assistance programs.

The well-being of military families should not be an open-ended question subject to the whims or interpretations of whomever happens to be seated at the head of the Pentagon, and the federal government must not penalize those who do not happen to live in ‘high cost of living’ areas. Particularly in the wake of COVID-19, families in every zip code and near every military base in America are facing hardship, and we know that military families often face unique financial challenges related to frequent relocation, high spousal unemployment rates, and lack of affordable childcare.

The deleterious impact of hunger on military readiness is not up for debate; flagging retention rates caused by food insecurity are a matter of fact, not opinion. For nearly a decade, we have been urging policymakers to set a higher, healthier, and safer standard of living for military families, but unfortunately, Congress layered on a cumbersome process to accessing support that is antithetical to the support itself.

It is now more urgent than ever for the Administration to take action on concrete, long-term solutions to address military hunger. MAZON calls on President Biden, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to use the authority Congress has granted them to remove barriers to federal nutrition programs like SNAP, which currently treat military families differently than civilians. Hunger, in a country as bountiful as ours, is an indignity no person should have to face — least of all military families who already sacrifice so much.”