Why Thousands of Military Families Don’t Have Access to Food Assistance

Civilian families across the U.S. depend on SNAP -  known as CalFresh in California - to purchase the food they need to make ends meet. But thanks to a tangle of legal red tape, many military families in need are denied access to this vital food resource.

Roughly 1.4 million men and women serve as active duty personnel in the United States military. Their families comprise another nearly 2 million people. Just as the men and women in uniform serve and sacrifice for the safety and security of our nation, so do their spouses and children. These families cope admirably with the stress and instability of frequent moves and deployments and, sometimes, injury or death of their loved ones.

They also sacrifice financially. Unemployment of military spouses reaches up to 30% according to the Institute for Veterans and Military Families, which has been attributed to frequent moves, deployments, a lack of job opportunities in some station locations, and increased parenting responsibilities due to the service members’ long hours. With reduced ability to have two breadwinners, the FINRA Investor Education Foundation found that in 2012 more than 40% of military personnel nationwide had difficulty making ends meet, rising to 56% of entry level personnel. Yet many of these families are not able to access the same federal assistance programs that other Americans rely on every day.

A Tangle of Red Tape

Rather than building and maintaining additional government-owned base housing, the Department of Defense (DoD) often relies on the private sector to address the housing needs for currently serving military families.  Military service members living off base receive a Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH). The BAH is based on geographic duty location, pay grade, and dependency status. The intent of the BAH is to provide uniformed service members adequate and equitable housing compensation based on housing costs in local civilian housing markets.  Since BAH is provided in lieu of on-base housing, federal tax law exempts BAH from taxation as income; however, there is lack of uniformity in how the BAH is treated in various basic needs assistance programs for military families. For example:

  • The IRS does not consider BAH taxable income and does not consider BAH to be earned income when determining eligibility for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) program.
  • The Special Supplemental Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program gives states the option to not count BAH as income for the purposes of determining eligibility and benefits.
  • Treatment of BAH in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program varies state by state.
  • The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) requires that states must count BAH as income for the purposes of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) eligibility. 
  • Eligibility for free and reduced price school meals is also impacted by a military family’s housing.

The Basic Allowance for Housing was never intended to be considered income. We need to uniformly exempt the BAH from consideration as income or asset for any government assistance program. This is a common sense fix to streamline how military housing allowances are assessed across government programs. Our military families should never have to worry about how they will provide enough food for their children.

We can untangle the red tape and help these military families put food on the table.

We need your help. Will you sign this petition to help make sure our military families don't have to go to bed hungry? Together, we can help our nation's heroes.

Sign the Petition

The Hunger Advocacy Network, facilitated by the San Diego Hunger Coalition, represents the voice of these families and the nearly half a million San Diegans who don’t have ready access to healthy, affordable food. We share their experiences with policymakers nationwide and advocate for improvements to anti-hunger policies and programs.