The House action that stripped food stamp funding from a massive farm bill would threaten vital assistance for about 5,000 military families, mostly from the junior enlisted ranks, Pentagon officials said Friday.
A Department of Agriculture report last year showed that more than 5,000 of the 48 million Americans receiving Supplementary Nutritional Assistance Program (food stamps) listed their employment status as "active duty military," the Pentagon officials said.
"Military members who receive SNAP tend to be made up of members in junior pay grades with larger than average household sizes," said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen, a Defense Department spokesman.
"Military members normally 'promote out' of the need for additional subsistence benefits, due to the corresponding raises in basic pay and other allowances as one moves to a higher pay grade," Christensen said in an e-mail statement.
"It's a small population but it's a vulnerable population," Joye Raezer, executive director of the National Military Families Association, said of the active duty military families receiving food stamps.
Older recruits who already have several children and join the military because of the poor job market tend to need SNAP, Raezer said. "If you're junior enlisted and you're single, fine," Raezer said, but if the servicemember has children and a non-working spouse, "you're going to be on food stamps."
"It gets tough, even with a housing allowance," Raezer said.
The 5,000 military families receiving food stamps was a tiny percentage of the 48 million recipients nationwide, but it was a major increase over the previous year when the Department of Agriculture reported that only 1,000 recipients listed "active duty military" as their employment status.
In addition, the Defense Commissary Agency reported that food stamps were being redeemed at base commissaries at a record pace.
Last year, $99 million in food stamps were cashed in at bases by military families, disabled vets and others with military identification, and more than $53 million in food stamps were cashed in this year through June, according to Defense Commissary Agency data provided to the Huffington Post.
The concerns over the threat of a food stamp funding cutoff were raised by the 218-208 vote in the House Thursday that passed a $500 billion farm bill that stripped out $80 billion in SNAP funding. It was the first time since 1973 that a farm bill failed to join farm subsidies and food stamp funding.
Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., the House Agriculture Committe chairman, said he would introduce a separate food stamp bill "as soon as I can achieve a consensus," but consensus could be difficult to reach in the gridlocked Congress.
Democrats charged that the bill would devastate poor families and the White House threatened a veto of the farm bill if the House and Senate failed to reach a compromise that would restore SNAP funding.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said that House Republicans were using poor children as pawns "in the name of deficit reduction. It smacks of hypocrisy to me."