March 29, 2023

The Military Family Nutrition Access Act is introduced

The Military Family Nutrition Access Act is introduced 

By: Sydney Sheffield 

United States Senators Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) have introduced The Military Family Nutrition Access Act, to support active-duty military families experiencing food insecurity. The bipartisan bill would address food insecurity by excluding Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH), from income calculations used to determine Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) eligibility. 

“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,” said Duckworth. “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.”

In 2021, lawmakers passed the National Defense Authorization Act, which expanded eligibility for BNA by increasing the maximum income from 130% to 150% of the federal poverty line.  Under the eligibility criteria passed in 2021, the military services reportedly had not helped as many members as anticipated. In the first few weeks, only 85 service members were eligible for BNA. This includes Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Space Force members, and represents less than 0.000167% of the combined active enlisted force of those services. 

In addition to base pay, many servicemembers receive BAH to offset the cost of off-base or privatized military housing. BAH is not intended to serve as a supplemental income and is not treated as income by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) or when determining eligibility for numerous other federal assistance programs, like the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). The bill would ensure SNAP mirrors other federal assistance programs that already exclude BAH to determine eligibility, such as Head Start, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit.

“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,” said Murkowski. “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.”

The bill summary describes a 2020 survey that revealed that active-duty enlisted families experienced low food security at a rate of 1.5 times the national average. According to the Senators, in July 2022, the Department of Defense (DoD) released an updated report on military hunger which found that 24% of all active duty servicemembers experienced some level of food insecurity in 2020 and 2021, with junior enlisted facing the highest risk.

Read the bill summary here