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According to the Military Families Learning Network, four levels of food insecurity can be grouped into two categories, food secure and food insecure. The four levels include:
- Food Secure - High: no problems or anxiety about food
- Food Secure - Marginal: some problems or anxiety at times
- Food Insecure - Low: reduced quality, variety, the desirability of diets but food quantity is not disrupted
- Food Insecure - Very Low: eating patterns of one or more family members are disrupted
Using data from the December 2019 Current Population Survey Food Security Supplement, the USDA Economic Research Service reports, “In most instances when children are food insecure, the adults in the household are also food insecure.” This means that when military families are affected by food insecurity, it is not just the children that suffer.
The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that in DoD schools in 2015, almost a quarter of all military children were eligible for free meals. In 2013, SNAP benefits were used by around 23,000 Service members and their families. The GAO report concluded that the DoD “does not know the extent to which Service members use food assistance programs.”
Surprisingly, food insecurity is above average in many states with large military populations, such as Texas and North Carolina. The projected rates of food insecurity are only going to get worse, according to Feeding America. Food insecurity is also associated with a lower-quality diet. Adults in households with more severe food insecurity are more likely to have a chronic illness, according to the US Economic Research Service.
So what are the Solutions to Food Insecurity?
After identifying people who experience food insecurity, the next step is to provide them with resources such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits or emergency food assistance. However, military families are severely limited to SNAP benefits because of how BAH is calculated into a service member’s income.
Programs that provide food assistance to military families include the following:
- Family Subsistence Supplemental Allowance (DoD)
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (USDA)
- Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)
- National School Lunch Program (USDA)
- National School Breakfast Program (USDA)
- Summer Food Service Program (USDA)
The Military Families Learning Network reports that some of these programs are more readily available than others. For example, an E4 stationed at Naval Base San Diego makes about $4,787 a month. However, for that Service member to qualify for Family Subsistence Supplemental Assistance (FSSA), nine people need to reside in the household. To be eligible for SNAP, seven people need to live in the home. A total of 6 people need to reside in the local community for the Service member and their family to be eligible for the National School Lunch Program. Three people need to reside in military housing for the Service member’s family to be eligible for the School Breakfast Program.
Lincoln Military’s Support for Food-Insecure Families
Because of many of these housing requirements, resources available to civilian families aren’t always available to military families. That means that many food-insecure military families don’t know where to turn. Here’s how LMH is helping.
In 2020, in regions all across the country, LMH organized several food drives to offer meals to military families. The Southwest Navy region distributed 17,000 meals to military families through a variety of events. At JBLM, the community services director organized 250 pizza nights with dessert, along with 500 Trick-or-Treat bags. The team also handed out 1,100 craft bags that included craft supplies and snacks. The SW Marines and Kansas installations served 11,650 families with food-related events in 2020. LMH served 989 families in the Lemoore, China Lake, and Ventura communities.
If you or someone you know is experiencing food insecurity, know that there are resources available. Food pantries operate near most major military installations. The Armed Services YMCA runs many of these food pantries. Please reach out to your local ASYMCA branch or search for a food bank here.