Military families redeemed more than $100 million in food stamps in the fiscal year for 2013, a record high.
Food stamp use at military grocery stores — called commissaries — has nearly doubled since the beginning of the “Great Recession,” topping out at $103.6 million in fiscal 2013, from $31.1 million in 2008.
While the amount of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, or food stamps, has soared over the past five years, the rate of increase has slowed, according to data from the Defense Commissary Agency and published by CNN Money on Monday.
Nearly $104 million of the $6.2 billion in total revenue the commissaries brought in during fiscal year 2013 came from food stamps.
This problem is almost certainly among the enlisted ranks.
“Base pay for a new soldier with a spouse and kid is about $20,000, just above the poverty line,” according to the CNN Money piece. “Although that doesn’t include housing or food allowances. The housing and food help put the income of an Army private with two years of experience a bit more than $40,000, the Pentagon says.”
Pentagon officials claim they don’t follow the demographics of military members who redeem food stamps at commissaries, but they say that it’s thejunior enlisted ranks, who may already have one or more children and are barely into their 20s.
More soldiers used food stamps to buy milk, cheese, meat and bread at military grocers last year. Food stamp redemption at commissaries has been rising steadily since the beginning of the recession in 2008.
“Some of the growth in soldiers’ redemption of food stamps reflects the weak economic recovery, especially for spouses looking for jobs,” CNN Money reported. “In 2012, there was a 30 percent unemployment rate among spouses of active-duty military who were 18 to 24 years old, according to the Military Officers Association of America, which released the survey last week.”
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.
According to the Army Times, the Agriculture Department’s most recent tally of active-duty military members on food stamps was in 2011, when about 5,000 were enrolled. At the time, that number made up about 0.01 percent of all food stamp recipients and .36 percent of the active-duty population.
Is it time for the military to start paying the enlisted ranks a better living wage? Maybe.
Members of the junior-enlisted ranks are at the bottom of the food chain in the military and are forced into taking the highest risks in times of war. The overall majority of military members killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and every war since the formulation of the United States, have come from the junior-enlisted ranks.
Shouldn’t they be rewarded with salaries that reflect that sacrifice, instead of coming home only to find they are struggling to feed their families?