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Military Families And SNAP Benefits

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This week the White House proposed a $17 billion budget cut to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which helps millions of low-income Americans feed themselves and their families. An estimated 23,000 U.S. military families are among those who receive SNAP benefits. Amy Bushatz has covered food assistance and military families for Military.com. She joins us now from Palmer, Alaska. Thanks so much for being with us.

AMY BUSHATZ: Thanks so much for having me.

SIMON: I think a lot of people are wondering how could it be that the families of people who are serving their country in the U.S. armed forces need food assistance.

BUSHATZ: So when you come into the military, that compensation system has not kept up with how the force has changed and how military families have changed. You're no longer looking at, say, a 17 or 18 year old kid right out of high school with no family who's receiving that base-level pay, right? You're looking at, say, somebody in their late 20s who might have a couple of kids. Well, that income compared to his family size or her family size puts them at a place where they qualify for this food assistance.

SIMON: What would the change in, as you see it, SNAP benefits mean for military families that receive that kind of assistance?

BUSHATZ: What the president has proposed is to really cut the amount of money people receiving food stamps receive. That's a benefit that they can take to the grocery store and use it to buy food. So what the president is proposing is to instead replace that with a box of really what are shelf-stable food items. Now I think it's important to mention they didn't actually release really any major details about this - how you would request this box, what would be in it, if you could change what's in it based on your dietary needs or really anything like that.

SIMON: Have you been hearing from people who read your stories?

BUSHATZ: Yeah, I hear from a lot of advocacy organizations who can't believe that this is happening. I think people are surprised to find how many military families access food banks. There are food banks in or around most military bases nationwide. I think people are surprised that military families struggle just like anybody else. You know, I'll tell you. It's - it can be more of a struggle. Our society relies on a two-income household system. That's sort of an expectation now. Military spouses have a terrible time finding consistent employment. Military families often move every two to three years.

SIMON: I understand some military families have to deal with the complications of what's called the Basic Allowance for Housing that can wind up affecting how much food aid they might need or even can receive. Can you explain that to us.

BUSHATZ: A Basic Allowance for Housing is what's known as an entitlement. It's essentially a paycheck plus-up that military families receive that's based on the zip code in which they live. By the way, where you live is ordered by Uncle Sam, right? So you don't have any say in this matter really. So this amount of money that's based on where you live is counted as your income when they look at whether or not you qualify for the SNAP program. OK, so why does that matter? Well, if you qualify in Kansas, where your BAH might be a $1,000, you certainly should qualify in San Diego where - because of cost of living your BAH is much, much higher - but because they look at that as a part of your income, you don't. So there are a lot of advocates who are working very hard to get this allowance discluded from that income.

SIMON: Amy Bushatz is spouse and family editor for Military.com Thanks so much for being with us.

BUSHATZ: Thank you so much for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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