February 17, 2023
A bill reintroduced by Sens. Tammy Duckworth, D- Ill., and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, would extend SNAP benefits to certain military families.
Many active-duty military members receive a basic allowance for housing to cover the cost of off-base housing. Current regulations require them to classify BAH as income when determining eligibility for federal food assistance programs.
The Military Family Nutrition Access Act would exclude BAH as a consideration for SNAP eligibility. Advocates for the bill note that this revised policy would be in line with eligibility requirements for other federal programs including Head Start, the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit. The IRS also does not count BAH as taxable income.
According to a July 2022 study by the Department of Defense, nearly a quarter of active-duty military families experience some form of food insecurity.
“Far too many of our military families are going hungry because of unintended barriers that make them unable to access essential nutrition assistance programs that they should be eligible for,” Duckworth says. “As someone whose family relied on these nutrition programs after my father lost his job, and who served in the uniform for most of my adult life, I’m proud to be reintroducing this bipartisan legislation with Senator Murkowski that builds on the progress we made in the last two defense bills so we can help make sure our servicemembers and their families have enough to eat.”
Also signing on to the bill were Sens. Angus King, I-Maine, Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., Michael Bennet, D-Colo., Peter Welch, D-Vt., Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Dick Durbin, D-lll., Cory Booker, D-N.J., John Fetterman, D-Pa., Jon Tester, D-Mont. and Patty Murray, D-Wash.
The bill has been endorsed by the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the National Military Family Association, the Military Officers Association of America, MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, the Alliance to End Hunger, MomsRising, Share Our Strength, VoteVets, Bread for the World and the Food Research & Action Center.
Duckworth and Murkowski first introduced the Military Family Nutrition Access Act in March 2022. It was referred to the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry. No further action was taken before the last Congressional session ended. Now, the two senators are hoping for a different outcome.
“Our military members and their families have enough to focus on as they serve and defend our nation—they shouldn’t have the additional anxiety about how they’re going to put food on the table,” Sen. Murkowski said. “That’s why I am joining Senator Duckworth in leading this bipartisan measure to address food insecurity which is impacting the military community. By removing barriers to assistance and improving the ability for service members to afford food, we’re supporting our military families and preventing hunger—all of which strengthens our nation’s defense efforts.”
It remains to be seen how this act will affect Farm Bill negotiations. Nutrition programs now account for more 80% of current Farm Bill spending. Since 2018 the cost of SNAP has increased from $65 million to an expected $127 billion this year. According to Congressional Budget Office projections released this week, SNAP benefits are expected to cost approximately $1.2 trillion over the next 10 years.
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