Month of the Military Child: Nutrition Assistance Programs Supporting Military Kids

girls eating school lunch

We all know that military life comes with many challenges: frequent deployments, long separations, and regular moves. For many military families, these challenges may include financial difficulties. For any number of reasons beyond their control, young military families may find themselves struggling to care for their children and put nutritious food on the table. Fortunately, programs are available both through the Department of Defense (DoD) and civilian community services to support military families in need. In honor of the Month of the Military Child, we would like to highlight some of the valuable programs and services available to support military children and families in need. No military child – or any child – should ever have to go hungry.

Families with expectant mothers and/or children under age five can seek assistance from the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). WIC provides nutritious foods, nutrition education (including breastfeeding promotion and support), and referrals to health and other social services to participants at no charge.  It is a federal government program administered at the state level by state Departments of Health. Each state sets its own income eligibility requirements; most (but not all) do not include Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) when determining eligibility. Families receiving WIC typically are provided vouchers that allow them to purchase items such as infant cereal, iron-fortified adult cereal, fruit or vegetable juice, eggs, milk, cheese, peanut butter, dried and canned beans/peas, and canned fish. To find out if you are eligible for assistance through WIC and to contact the program administrator in your state, visit WIC’s website.

The Women, Infants and Children Overseas Program provides nutrition assistance to eligible military families living overseas. It was established thanks to the hard work of our Association who recognized military families abroad may also face financial struggles. Eligibility criteria are the same as for families living in the United States. Your installation will have a WIC overseas coordinator who can determine families’ eligibility for the program. WIC Overseas Counselors provide eligible families with an approved food list and redeemable food checks called "drafts," that may be exchanged for specific foods and quantities in overseas commissaries and NEXMARTs. Counselors can also offer nutrition advice and ideas for meal planning and food preparation.

Families with school-age children can benefit from several program operated by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service including the National School Lunch Program, the School Breakfast Program, and the Summer Food Service Program. Your child’s school will have information about eligibility criteria and how to apply. Schools typically send applications for the free and reduced price meal program home at the beginning of the school year. Military families who move midway through the school year can ask for an application at their school office. Families who are receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits automatically qualify for free school meals.

Low-income military families may also be eligible for the Department of Defense (DoD) Family Subsistence Supplemental Allowance (FSSA) program. FSSA is a voluntary financial benefits program for military families, intended to increase a service member's income in order to remove their household from eligibility for SNAP benefits. Eligibility for FSSA is based on household income and family size. The maximum allowance authorized is $1,100 per month.

Our Association believes strongly that no military family should ever have to struggle to put food on the table. Although the majority of military families may never need nutrition assistance, these programs are a vital resource for those in need. We firmly believe that all USDA nutrition assistance programs should be fully funded to ensure that families and children in need can benefit from these important services.

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