October 25, 2023
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Angus King, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), is joining 18 of his colleagues in calling for an expanded food allowance for servicemembers and their families to be included in the upcoming annual defense legislation. In a bipartisan, bicameral letter to the leadership of the Senate and House Armed Services Committees, the Senators urged them to expand servicemember eligibility for the Basic Needs Allowance (BNA) in the Fiscal Year 2024 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA)
According to a July 2022 study from the Office of the Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, 24 percent of all active duty servicemembers experienced some level of food insecurity over the prior 12 months. As it is currently implemented, the BNA reaches fewer than 3,000 servicemembers.
“Our servicemembers are our military’s greatest resource,” the Members wrote. “When they experience hunger, we put our national security at risk. We must give members of our military every possible tool to focus on the mission and be ready to defend our Nation when called to action. As you negotiate during conference and reconcile the differences between the House and Senate bills, we urge you to do right by our servicemembers and their families, who sacrifice considerably when they volunteer to serve.”
The BNA program provides a monthly allowance to qualified eligible low-income active duty servicemembers with dependents. This allowance assists military families with accessing basic needs, most notably food insecurity. The expanded program will address the growing number of servicemembers who are food insecure and will support long-term efforts in solving military hunger.
Representing one of the states with the highest rates of veterans per capita, Senator King has been a staunch advocate for America’s servicemembers and veterans. Earlier this year, Senator King cosponsored bipartisan legislation to address food insecurity challenges across the military. This year he also introduced a bipartisan bill to help military spouses build successful careers while their family members serve the country, and in last year’s NDAA, he helped secure a basic needs allowance for servicemembers below 150% of the federal poverty guidelines to assist them with affording basic necessities, particularly food.
A full copy of the letter is available here and below.
Dear Chairman Reed, Ranking Member Wicker, Chairman Rogers, and Ranking Member Smith:
We write to request that the final version of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2024 (NDAA) include Section 621 of the House bill (“Basic needs allowance: exclusion of basic allowance for housing from the calculation of gross household income of eligible member of the Armed Forces”) and ask that the Senate recede with respect to Section 605 of the Senate bill (“Modification of calculation of gross household income for basic needs allowance to address areas of demonstrated need”). This legislation will best address the needs of the substantial number of servicemembers and their families who are food insecure, as identified in recent data and reporting by the DoD.
The BNA program, established by Congress in the FY2022 NDAA, provides a monthly allowance to qualified servicemembers to make up the difference between their gross household income and the income needed for members of the household to attain a modest yet adequate standard of living (currently the eligibility criteria and benefits are aligned with 150 percent of the federal poverty level). This allowance addresses readiness, retention and recruitment challenges resulting from the scourge of food insecurity among our active duty military families, a growing problem that Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has prioritized addressing.
In July 2022, the Office of the Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness released a new analysis2 suggesting that previous assessments have underestimated the size of the problem and the number of servicemembers enduring food insecurity. Rather than the 0.1 percent of the force previously identified as food insecure, the updated analysis showed that 24 percent of all active duty servicemembers–approximately 286,800 individuals–experienced some level of food insecurity during the previous 12-month period, with junior enlisted servicemembers facing the highest risk. Similar rates of food insecurity among active duty military households have been documented in the Status of Forces Spouses Survey, reporting by the RAND Corporation and several different surveys conducted by national military service organizations.
As it is currently implemented, the BNA reaches fewer than 3,000 servicemembers, just a tiny fraction of the 286,000 who are estimated to experience food insecurity. The most significant issue limiting the reach of this program is the counting of the Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) as income for most servicemembers. Food insecurity is a problem that impacts servicemembers at every duty station in the United States, and BAH should be categorically excluded as counted income for the BNA, as has been recommended with broad bipartisan support in House-passed NDAA bills during the past three cycles. This common-sense adjustment to the eligibility guidelines for the BNA will help ensure the majority of military families who struggle with food insecurity are able to access this critical support.
By including Section 621 from the House bill (“Basic needs allowance”) in the final version of the NDAA, Congress can expand much-needed access to the BNA during a time when hundreds of thousands of servicemembers struggle to put food on their tables for themselves and their families. As such, we request that the House provision to expand eligibility for the BNA be included in the final FY2024 NDAA to strengthen the BNA program and adequately address the substantial need identified in the DoD’s own assessments.
Our servicemembers are our military’s greatest resource. When they experience hunger, we put our national security at risk. We must give members of our military every possible tool to focus on the mission and be ready to defend our Nation when called to action. As you negotiate during conference and reconcile the differences between the House and Senate bills, we urge you to do right by our servicemembers and their families, who sacrifice considerably when they volunteer to serve. Thank you for your consideration of this request, and we look forward to working with you on this matter.