Food Stamp Cuts Could Hurt Thousands of Service Members

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Military service members are among the millions of Americans who would be affected by proposed budget cuts to federal food stamps, also known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

In February, President Donald Trump released a fiscal-year 2019 budget proposal that included a new approach to the program that “combines traditional SNAP benefits with 100-percent American grown foods provided directly to households.” The change would cut SNAP funding by $213 billion dollars over 10 years.

According to a 2016 report from the US Government Accountability Office (GAO), approximately 23,000 active duty military service members were SNAP recipients in 2013.

Brenda Farrell, director of defense capabilities and management at GAO, oversaw development of the report.

“Don’t assume that service members don’t need help,” Farrell said. “We all know that over the years the pay has increased and bonuses have been there to attract the right people, but you still have pockets where the need is still there.”

The San Antonio Food Bank provides food for 58,000 people a week, and one in seven active or former military service members use similar services across the U.S., according to food bank President and CEO Eric Cooper.

“We know from our work that many active enlisted servicemen and women call our center,” Cooper said. “Sometimes they might not want to share with people they are closest to that they are in need, so they reach out to the food bank as a neutral place so they don’t have to ask for help from those who are closest to them.”

According to Cooper, the House proposal increases some barriers and the program's cost while cutting some benefits for low-income families.

“Our current farm bill has a strong nutrition title,” Cooper said. “It’s not perfect, but it helps to ensure that 42 million Americans have access to good nutrition. … It just never seems to make sense to me that we would increase cost and bureaucracy while decreasing services and benefits to someone in need.”

The San Antonio Food Bank and its partner agencies have been discussing how to move forward if the budget cuts are approved, Cooper said, but their ability to meet people’s needs is heavily dependent on farmers, donors and food industry partners.

“If the proposed SNAP cuts go through, it will literally take food off the table,” Cooper said. “For that need to be met, we feel that we will see longer lines at our food pantries and the demand for services will be even greater for us at the San Antonio Food Bank.”

Cooper said there are some challenges unique to service members that frequently result in them turning to the food-stamp program. Often they have children and a spouse who's unable to build a career due to the constant mobility of active-duty life. The military's Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) benefit can also present a challenge since it can make a person ineligible for food-stamp assistance.

San Antonio’s Director of Military Affairs Juan Ayala said there has been a shift in the people who volunteer for service.

“If you take a look at the average service member that joins today, a lot of them are married and have dependent children,” Ayala said. “That is different than when I came into the Marine Corps in 1976, when almost everybody that came in was single. … Less than one percent of the population in the United States think about joining the military, and a small number actually join so sometimes the pool for recruiting is challenging so sometimes we get older recruits.”

Ayala said lower-ranking service members are the most likely to need food assistance services because they make the lowest salaries, and with a family they could easily become eligible for SNAP.

Lower ranking troops stationed in high cost areas such as California and Washington D.C. will be the most directly affected by the SNAP budget cuts, according to Ayala.

“It is going to affect those that are in uniform, a lot of those that are deployed and can’t get a second job,” Ayala said. “If you’re in uniform performing a service to the country I think that it should be taken into consideration — for anybody that really deserves [SNAP] and really needs it — but especially for the troops.”

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