Military Members and Veterans Facing Food Insecurity in TN
Too many military and veteran households experience food insecurity, with nearly 1 in 5 military families reporting food insecurity and veterans experiencing it at a rate 7.4% higher than their civilian counterparts. Despite high rates of food insecurity, many members of the military and veterans communities are unable to access food assistance programs due to income calculations, a lack of information, and social stigmas. A legislative and policy fix could make the program work better for military families and others who are negatively impacted by the benefits cliff.
There is proposed legislation that would address this issue. The Military Hunger Prevention Act cosponsored by Tennessee Senator, Marsha Blackburn and Illinois Senator, Tammy Duckworth is a bill that would further improve access to SNAP for military families by creating a “basic needs allowance.” The legislation supports troops that earn less than 130 percent of the poverty line, helping solve issues regarding military compensation. One Clarksville mother, in a veteran household, detailed her frustrations with food assistance eligibility. While their children are eligible for reduced-price meals, they are not eligible for other benefits, and yet their income is not high enough to support them. It is important for the government to reconsider SNAP eligibility cut-offs because people who do not qualify still struggle to meet basic needs, especially our military and veteran families.
A policy fix that would address the benefits cliff for many Tennessee families is Broad Based Categorical Eligibility (BBCE). Tennessee is one of just 10 states that have not adopted BBCE, but should adopt to address the benefit cliff that military families and the working poor face. BBCE allows states to raise the SNAP income eligibility limits given that many families must pay costly housing and childcare expenses, which constitute a significant portion of their income. Through this change, military families and others would be able to access more affordable food.
The P-EBT program was an important support for the Clarksville mom and her family and was a major support to many Tennessee families during the pandemic, who often fall into the eligibility gap. Other programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infant, and Children (WIC) can also support military families by providing benefits to buy food at participating grocery stores. However, these programs could be reaching more families in Tennessee if the state would adopt BBCE and if the legislation cosponsored by Senator Blackburn is passed to better support military families.