The financial strains of the pandemic have made the demand at local food banks skyrocket, and many of those waiting for that food are military families.
Feeding America estimates 160,000 servicemen and women struggle with food insecurity. That number includes 29% of junior-level service members.
“Enlisted members typically are younger. They’re maybe in their early 20’s, so these are younger folks who maybe haven’t been able to build a career and they might be really struggling,” said Effie Rorke, spokeswoman for Feeding Colorado, a branch of Feeding America.
On the government pay scale, E1 to E4 members of the military, the four most entry-level rankings, make an average of $23,559 per year. Those salaries are enough to qualify these servicemen and women for SNAP benefits, but because servicemembers receive other benefits like housing assistance, which SNAP counts as income, it pushes them over the yearly income threshold for receiving help.
It leaves many receiving too little money for food and other expenses, but too much money for help.
“You know you can’t ask for a raise when you’re an enlisted service member. It’s not like you can go to your boss and say, ‘Hey, I’m struggling,’ or ‘Hey, I need to be paid more.’ So, this is an issue that’s widespread, it’s definitely under the radar. Most people aren’t aware of it,” said Rorke.
“It’s hard. It puts a lot of stress on you, but it also puts stress on your family and on your relationships too,” said Cory Kilgore, a veteran who retired from the U.S. Army in 2012.
Kilgore served in the Army for 20 years and says this problem has persisted for decades from before his service. When he joined the Army, he had a wife and young baby at home and tried applying for SNAP benefits but was denied because of the same issues.
“A lot of the benefits that you get in the military, like healthcare, you count that [as income], but as far as your paycheck and everything like that when you first join is not that much,” he said.
This past April, Senators Marsha Blackburn (R., Tenn.) and Tammy Duckworth (D., Ill.) introduced SB 1488, titled the Military Hunger Prevention Act, that would create a basic needs allowance for low-income military families who would otherwise qualify for SNAP. It has been referred to the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry for revision.
Feeding America is also lobbying for a similar stipend so those who serve us can afford to serve their own.