The Trump administration has “strongly objected” to legislation that would provide a basic needs allowance for military service members whose family income is lower than 130% of the federal poverty guidelines.
“Most junior enlisted members receive pay that is between the 95th and 99th percentiles relative to their private-sector peers,” officials with the White House Office of Management and Budget wrote, calling the policy an “unnecessary entitlement.”
“When I reluctantly applied for SNAP, I was incredibly embarrassed that I was even having to apply,” Navy wife Erika Tebbens said in a phone call to reporters on Wednesday. “Then when they told me that I didn’t qualify because they were counting our housing allowance as part of the earned income, all I remember next was just sobbing.”
Tebbens is one of many advocating for the proposed provision in the Democrat-controlled House’s 2020 defense policy bill. The military’s Basic Allowance for Housing isn’t typically treated as income for the majority of federal assistance programs, but it is when qualifying for food stamp (officially called SNAP) benefits. This puts families like Tebbens’, whose husband serves in San Diego where the cost of living is high (the median home is priced at roughly $626,000), at a severe disadvantage.
While the Trump administration is balking at the cost of this provision — estimated to cost $15 million, according to Military.com — the president happily signed a $1.3 trillion defense bill in 2018 – the largest military budget in history. The Trump administration even proposed a $96 billion increase in war funding. The House is set to allow $733 billion in defense spending in fiscal 2020, while the Senate’s version calls for $750 billion. The Republican-controlled Senate’s bill does not include the provision offering basic needs assistance to poverty-stricken military families, and this is expected to be a point of debate between the two branches of government.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates that approximately 10,200 service members would qualify for federal assistance under the current plan being proposed by the Democrat-controlled House. A recent NBC News report found that a third of 6,500 children enrolled in Defense Department-run schools on military basis use free or reduced lunches, with percentages going as high as 65% in some individual bases.
More than 23,000 active-duty troops used food stamps in 2013, according to a 2016 Government Accountability Office report.
Trump’s 2018 bill did give military members a 2.6% pay raise, the highest military raise since President Obama’s 2.9% pay raise in 2010. In a 2018 speech to troops serving in Iraq, Trump claimed he’d given them 10%.
“The basic needs allowance really is an allowance to do exactly what it says, help with basic needs, a plus-up to the base pay for service members who are at or below 130% of the federal poverty line. We are talking very low pay,” said Josh Protas, vice president for public policy at MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger.
“It’s something that should be a priority in Congress,” Protas continued. “They should identify the funds to pay for this, because if this issue doesn’t get resolved, it’s the families themselves who are paying the price.”
(Featured image: Senior Airman Dillon Davis/Public Domain)
Nathan Wellman is a Grit Post contributing editor in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter: @LIGHTNINGWOW. You can also email him at info AT gritpost DOT com.