CREDIT: Go Army
Military families were more reliant on food stamps in 2013 than in any previous year, according to a Department of Defense (DOD) review that found over $100 million in food stamps spending at military grocery stores last year.
The DOD-run stores, known as commissaries, sell food to active-duty and retired military personnel and their families at prices that are lower than what private grocers charge. Nearly $104 million of the $6.2 billion in total revenue the commissaries brought in during fiscal year 2013 came from food stamps.
Food stamp usage at the stores has more than quadrupled since 2007 as the recession compounded the already difficult financial situation faced by military families. New soldiers with a child and a spouse earn $20,000 per year in pay, according to CNN Money, and the frequent relocations and disruptions inherent to the lifestyle of a military family make it harder for military spouses to find jobs and bring in supplementary income. The unemployment rate for young military spouses was 30 percent in 2012. Retired military servicemen and women who joined up after 9/11 have a 10 percent unemployment rate, which also contributes to the elevated food stamp figures at DOD commissaries, and nearly a million working-age veterans lived in poverty in 2010.
Despite elevated need, veterans have not been spared from the successive waves of food stamp cuts imposed by Congress in recent months. The automatic cuts that came into effect in November took a bite out of the food budgets for 900,000 U.S. veterans. Over 486,000 of those veteran food stamp recipients live in states affected by the most recent cut to the program enacted as part of the farm bill, according to figures from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Veterans and their families make up less than one tenth of one percent of all food stamp recipients. Tens of millions of poor and hungry people who rely upon the program to feed themselves, and tens of millions more are eligible but do not receive the benefits for one reason or another. In addition to making life harder for all of those people, recent food stamp cuts are also unnecessary, given that the program’s costs will fall back to 1990s levels naturally as the economy improves over the coming years.