No Child Should Ever Go Hungry—Nutrition Assistance Programs For Military Families
Military life often comes with frequent deployments, long separations, and regular moves. And for many military families—especially young ones—you can add money problems to the list of challenges. A new report from the Government Accountability Office shows between 2014 and 2015, service members and their families received more than $21 million in food stamps, also known as SNAP benefits. And according to that same report, the Department of Defense (DoD) has no good way to track just how many military families need or are eligible for SNAP, as well as 18 other programs that provide food assistance. If DoD can’t track the need, how can it adequately help families who would benefit?
Our nation’s families shouldn’t have to struggle to put food on the table. Here’s a look at the variety of nutrition assistance programs available:
For families with young children.
The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) provides nutritious food, nutrition education (including breastfeeding support), and free referrals to health and other social services. It’s a federal program administered by state Departments of Health. Each state sets its own income requirements, and most states do not include Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) when determining WIC eligibility. Families receiving WIC typically receive vouchers to buy items such as cereal, fruit or vegetable juice, eggs, milk, cheese, peanut butter, dried and canned beans/peas, and canned fish.
To find out if you’re eligible, contact the program administrator in your state.
For families living overseas.
The Women, Infants and Children Overseas Program expands WIC benefits overseas. It was established thanks to the hard work of our Association and others who recognized military families often also face financial struggles when living abroad. Each installation has a WIC Overseas coordinator who can determine families’ eligibility for the program. Criteria are the same as for families living in the US. WIC Overseas counselors give eligible families an approved food list and redeemable food checks called "drafts." Those drafts can be used at overseas commissaries and NEXMARTs. Counselors can also offer nutrition advice and ideas for meal planning and food preparation.
For families with school kids.
Families with school-age children can benefit from several program operated by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), 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 home applications for the free and reduced price meal program at the beginning of the school year. If you move midway through the school year, you may have to ask for that application at your school office.
For any family in need.
The largest national nutrition assistance program is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), often referred to as food stamps. To be eligible, a family must have an income below set limits. Unlike WIC, BAH is included in determining SNAP eligibility, which limits the number of military families who can benefit from this program. However, junior service members with larger than average families may qualify. Find out if you’re eligible and how to apply at your local SNAP office.
No military family should ever struggle to put food on the table. Although most military families may never need nutrition assistance, these programs are a vital resource for families who do.
Posted July 24, 2016