For many active-duty military members, hunger is a reality. As many as 125,000 active-duty service members and their families experience food insecurity in the United States.
That group includes people like Sgt. Edgar, who returned from a yearlong deployment in the Army. He wasn’t able to afford a holiday meal for his family, so he visited a food pantry near his home in Virginia.
Unfortunately, Sgt. Edgar’s experience isn’t unique. While we may not think the people who bravely defend our country face hunger, the unfortunate truth is that they often do.
Below, we break down three facts you should know about hunger among military members.
Hunger may affect 125,000 active-duty service members
Right now, as many as 125,000 active duty service members and their families may be facing food insecurity. Service members often experience unique challenges that make them more likely to face hunger:
- Limited income: Some lower-ranking active duty military members make less than $40,000 a year. With a lower income, it can be challenging to afford food at the end of the month, especially while supporting a family.
- High cost-of-living: Service members don’t necessarily get to choose where they are located, and with some bases located in cities with a very high cost-of-living, the salaries and housing benefits can be stretched thin.
- Financial commitments: For those with existing loan commitments, the money that’s leftover for food once monthly bills and payments are made can be small, leaving service members without enough to make ends meet.
Military spouses face barriers to consistent work
Service members often are required to move from base to base, making it difficult for spouses to maintain consistent work. This can be especially challenging for family members with jobs that require special licensing which differs by state, like teachers, hairdressers, or nurses. This often leaves the family to rely on the single income of the service member.
Regardless of profession, supporting a family with only one income can be difficult, and being an active military member is often no different. With a family relying only on the military salary, especially when they are low ranking salaries, money can be very tight. One-third of students at Department of Defense schools—primary and secondary schools specifically for children of military personnel--were eligible for free and reduced-price meals during the 2018-2019 school year.
Few active-duty service members qualify for federal food assistance programs
Even though many military members and their families face hunger, very few qualify for federal food assistance programs. When determining federal food assistance eligibility, housing allowances are considered income for service members, which is not the case for other groups receiving housing assistance. Only 2% of active-duty service members qualify for SNAP benefits, according to the USDA. But approximately 7% of military personnel experience food insecurity.
How Feeding America and food banks are responding
While anyone can get food from pantries, including military members, some food banks near military bases have specific programs in place to ensure our troops don’t have to worry about putting food on the table.
Whether it be through pantry locations and events near bases, school pantries at schools with high concentrations of military families, partnerships with other organizations with existing military connections, or advocating for policy changes to support service members, the Feeding America network of food banks is working every day to make it easier for active-duty service members and their families to receive the help they need.
We're proud that Feeding America network food banks are working hard to provide service members with access to the food they need. But no one, including military families, should face hunger. If you want to help, tell Congress to act now to help alleviate hunger among military families.