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Military Families Are Using Food Stamps More Than Ever

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Matt Rourke/AP File Photo

Much has been made of military compensation in recent months.

Congress reduced, then quickly restored, cuts to the pensions of working-age retirees. Pentagon officials have talked repeatedly about the need to curb rapidly expanding pay and benefits costs, while military advocacy groups have lobbied for maintaining current levels.

By at least one measure, many members of the military are still struggling to get by.

Military families used food stamps to purchase supplies at Defense Department grocery stores in fiscal 2013 more than in any other year, according to the Defense Commissary Agency.   

Members of the military redeemed almost $104 million worth of food stamps at commissaries from October 2012 through September 2013 fiscal year, as first reported by CNN. The figure has risen consistently since the economic recession hit in fiscal 2009.

Military families used about $5 million more worth of food stamps last year than in 2012. Their use of this government assistance, formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, has increased by more than 300 percent since 2007.

An increased use of food stamps in recent years is not unique to the military; Americans across the country have turned to the federal government’s assistance program during the economic downturn and many states have lowered their standards to qualify for food stamps.

Still, the continuing rise could set off some alarms at the Pentagon, which is currently conducting a review of military compensation and is planning to issue recommendations in early 2015.

New soldiers make about $20,000 in base pay, according to CNN, and many military spouses struggle to hold down a job because they have to move so often.

Pay Bumps

The Office of Personnel Management provided a reminder -- and some additional details -- to all federal agencies that certain employees will be eligible for extra pay this year, thanks to the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act.

One group benefiting from the NDAA is civil servants working in U.S. Central Command, primarily the Middle East and Northern Africa. The act extends for one year an agency head’s authority to waive the normal premium pay cap for civilians serving in the area. Premium pay allowable under the waiver authority increased to $233,000 this year.

The NDAA also extended through fiscal 2015 agencies’ authority to grant a civilian serving in a combat zone the allowances, benefits and gratuities provided to members of the Foreign Service. This includes paying for family members to follow the employee, travel within the country of service, special medical care and other travel expenses, as well as a special death benefit.

The Internal Revenue Service has a list of combat zones here.

Some reservists also will benefit from the act, as it extended for one year the Reserve Income Replacement Program, which provides additional pay for certain reservists who experience extended and frequent mobilizations for active duty. 

Eric Katz joined Government Executive in the summer of 2012 after graduating from The George Washington University, where he studied journalism and political science. He has written for his college newspaper and an online political news website and worked in a public affairs office for the Navy’s Military Sealift Command. Most recently, he worked for Financial Times, where he reported on national politics.

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