New MAZON Report: Hungry in the Military

April 5, 2021

Military servicemembers and their families make significant sacrifices for the United States, yet many regularly struggle to put food on the table, a new report finds.

As demand at food banks remains at an all-time high amid the COVID-19 pandemic, MAZON’s new report details the persistent food insecurity among currently serving military families. Drawing from decades-long expertise in the anti-hunger field, MAZON offers solutions to end military hunger in the report.

“Despite the fact that solutions are both possible and readily available, Congress has paid lip service to supporting our troops while consistently failing our servicemembers by doing next to nothing to ensure that the members of our military who sacrifice to keep us safe can feed themselves and their families,” said Abby J. Leibman, President and CEO of MAZON and co-author of the report. “Even one military family facing food insecurity is unconscionable. The hunger crisis in the military has only gotten worse amid the pandemic. It’s a persistent problem that is deliberately obfuscated and doesn’t receive nearly the attention it deserves. We are pleased to release today’s report, which summarizes MAZON’s justice-centered approach to tackle the structural problems that allow hunger to continue, especially among military families.”

Even before the pandemic, servicemembers with dependents struggled to put food on the table. In fact, food pantries operate on or near every military base in the United States. Hungry in the Military: Food Insecurity Among Military Families in the U.S. outlines four key findings:

  • At least part of the widespread problem of food insecurity among military families stems from a procedural barrier to assistance — counting a servicemember’s housing allowance as revenue in determining eligibility for federal nutrition programs like SNAP (formerly food stamps).
  • Junior-enlisted servicemembers are more diverse in race, ethnicity, and gender than higher-ranking members who earn higher incomes. They are also supporting families at much higher rates than previous cohorts of servicemembers. The Pentagon has not adequately adjusted the base salary to reflect the reality of our modern military force.
  • The circumstances that give rise to food insecurity among military families are complex, and simplistic responses based on unfounded stereotypes are often lifted ahead of more meaningful responses.
  • In the last year, COVID-19 has exacerbated military families’ unique financial challenges, such as high spousal unemployment rates, access to affordable childcare, and frequent relocation.

MAZON offers several recommendations for how the nation’s leaders must address military hunger, which include incorporating the Military Family Basic Needs Allowance in President Biden’s Fiscal Year 2022 Budget Request and prioritizing the provision in this year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). MAZON also urges the administration to take executive action to ensure housing allowances do not count as income in determining eligibility for federal nutrition safety net programs and implores the government to re-examine military pay levels to ensure they meet the needs of service members. Additionally, MAZON encourages further collaboration between Congress and the administration, anti-hunger advocates, and community organizations to share and publicize data on military hunger to understand the scope of the problem and change the stigmatized narrative around hunger.

Released following last week’s introduction of the Military Hunger Prevention Act in the U.S. House of Representatives, the report from MAZON is garnering the attention on Capitol Hill as policymakers turn their attention to the critical issues facing military families:

“Far too many of our military families are experiencing hunger because they are cut off from essential nutrition assistance programs,” said Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois. “I applaud MAZON for releasing this important report to help us better understand the scope of military hunger, and I will continue working to make sure that our servicemembers and their families have enough to eat.”

“Currently, there are federal regulations that unintentionally cause military families to lose out on SNAP benefits,” said Congressman Jimmy Panetta of California. “Our bipartisan Military Hunger Prevention Act would make up for that loss by providing certain military households with a basic needs allowance to purchase groceries. Although it’s unfortunate that some military families have to resort to SNAP, it’s our responsibility to ensure that those families, at the least, have access to the necessary support they need to lead healthy, food-secure lives.”

“Our servicemembers and their families make daily sacrifices to protect the nation. It’s frankly disturbing and unacceptable that so many military families struggle with food insecurity,” said Senator Mark R. Warner of Virginia. “I applaud MAZON for their critical work to shed light on this troubling reality and remain committed to making sure we’re doing everything we can to ensure our servicemembers and their families don’t go hungry. That’s why I recently teamed up with Senator Tammy Duckworth to tackle the alarming rate of food insecurity many military families face.”

“Our nation’s servicemembers are willing to fight and die for our country, and we should be doing all that we can to ensure that our heroes and their families do not go to bed hungry,” said Congressman Don Young of Alaska. “Every year, we spend billions to make sure that our nation’s servicemembers are trained and equipped to defend our country. But all too often, we forget about their very real needs at home. No family, and certainly no child, should go hungry. Sadly, that is a reality for too many military families in Alaska and across the nation. I am very proud to introduce the Military Hunger Prevention Act with Representatives Panetta, Carbajal, and Baird. I also want to thank MAZON for their continued support and advocacy on this issue. Our bill takes necessary steps to tackle hunger by implementing a Basic Needs Allowance for low-income servicemembers and their families. This is a very good bill, and it comes at a crucial time. The COVID-19 pandemic has shined a light on the issue of food insecurity; we must stand up for those who defend us. Hunger is not a partisan issue, and I call on my friends on both sides of the aisle to join us in this urgently needed legislation.”