MAZON Briefing Addresses Growing Hunger Among Military Families

Yesterday, MAZON partnered with the National Military Family Association (NMFA) to convene a briefing with Rep. Susan Davis (D-CA), Rep. Don Young (R-AK) and others, urging the Senate Armed Services Committee to address the growing problem of hunger among U.S. military families.

Earlier this week, MAZON coordinated and sent a letter signed by over 100 national, state, and local organizations — ranging from the Military Officers Association of America to the Center for Rural Affairs to NAACP — urging members to prioritize the “Military Basic Family Needs Allowance” in the fiscal 2021 National Defense Authorization Act. The provision, which has also been introduced as the Military Hunger Prevention Act, co-sponsored by Davis and Young, would provide targeted aid to certain military families living close to the poverty line.

This week’s briefing and Senate letter come as hunger and food insecurity (the inability to regularly access food) are intensifying issues for military families. The problem is so widespread that food pantries, soup kitchens, and mobile sites operate at nearly every military base in the U.S., but the needs are outpacing the network’s supplies. The COVID-19 pandemic, which has seen the number of food-insecure Americans nearly double from 40 million people pre-pandemic to 80 million today, is only intensifying the crisis.

Both sides of the political aisle in the House and Senate recognize the crisis and support the basic needs allowance. Congresswoman Davis, who participated in the briefing, said the Department of Defense has declined to provide detailed data about military hunger due to fear of public backlash. But the Congress can enact a program to address this issue, much as it has with legislation such as the federal school lunch program, she said.

“We see military families lining up in food banks across the country. This is something we have the power to change,” said Davis. “This is so important to these families and we have to get it right. We can’t let military families suffer.”

Young, via video, said military hunger “should never have happened. With the new funding, we’ll be able to take care of those people who serve our country with pride and are our true patriots. Our job is to make sure they have food on their tables, so they can do their duty and their mission.”

MAZON President and CEO Abby J. Leibman said no American — and especially those serving our country — should be forced to choose between feeding their families or paying for necessities. “Those who serve in the military should not need help from a food pantry on a regular basis,” she said.

Moreover, the crisis of food security among military families should be considered a matter of national security, added Leibman. “How can we expect our troops to be fully present if they are worried that their children are hungry? How can a service member focus on the mission at hand if they are concerned about providing the basic needs for their family?”

Those in the military, especially junior enlisted and low-ranking service members with families, also face singular financial challenges: frequent, costly relocations; lack of nearby family support; and limited affordable childcare — all of which compound their financial challenges.

With Congress set to approve massive defense spending, MAZON and others say the Congress must also prioritize the most vital element of our national security: the men, women, and families who make great personal sacrifices to serve our country.

“The good news is that a solution is within reach, and our leaders have a window of opportunity to do the right thing,” said Leibman. “These are people who step up and serve our nation. The least we can do is ensure they have enough to eat. The time is now to act.”

Also joining the briefing were Ashish S. Vazirani, Executive Director and CEO, National Military Family Association; Bianca Strzalkowski, who spoke about her personal experience of food insecurity while her husband was serving in the military; and Jennifer J. Davis, Deputy Director, Government Relations, NMFA.