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How More Military Members Could Get Food Stamps

It works like this: if you are a military family in a lower pay grade with more than the average number of kids, you probably qualify for food stamps ...

... Depending, that is, on where you live.

That's because while a service member's base pay stays the same regardless of where he is stationed, his basic allowance for housing (BAH) rate increases or decreases based on zip code, along with how much he pays for housing. If he lives in privatized on-base housing, for example, all of his BAH disappears every month with no extra pocket padding left over. But the food stamp program, known as SNAP, includes that fluctuating and disappearing BAH pay in the calculation for whether or not a service member qualifies. That means even though he has the same trouble affording staples at Fort Polk, Louisiana that he does in Washington, D.C., he can only receive SNAP at Polk where his BAH pay and cost of living is lower.

Seems a little counter intuitive, huh?

If your base pay is small and your household size is big, you probably qualify for food stamps ... unless, of course, you live somewhere expensive. Wait, what?

So lawmakers and anti-hunger organizations like Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger, are trying to push Congress to level the playing field. One idea is changing the law to no longer include BAH in the food stamp calculation. The amendment, which they are hoping to get included in the yearly Defense authorization act (although that doesn't look very likely) would simply allow the government to ignore the BAH income completely. The measure would mean as long as your base pay to household size ratio qualifies you for assistance, you're in.

Congress seems like it's already in the mood to address the hunger among military families issue, which most recently came under scrutiny when a Feeding America report claimed that 25 percent of military households receive food aid every month (the DoD had some major objections to the calculations in that report, and the organization's methodology didn't seem to be particularly accurate).

In response to a commission's recommendation, the Senate has agreed to kill a stateside program (used by few) designed to give military members a paycheck plus-up in lieu of food stamps (while keeping the OCONUS version of the program). The House instead wants to commission a study on the issue (remember: they love studies). A final decision on that program will be reached later this year when lawmakers decide on a final version of the bill. That means, in theory, even more service members will be trying to access SNAP.

But insiders like Joyce Raezer, the executive director of the National Military Family Association, warn that while changes to how military families receive (or don't receive) SNAP are needed, the contentious nature of the food stamp program means they are unlikely to happen. Every time lawmakers start fiddling with food stamps and other similar social assistance programs big political battles go down, and even the biggest military family fans are hesitant to open that can of worms.

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