Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen announced today that the Department of Defense intends to establish a DoD subsistence plan. The subsistence plan, designed primarily for junior members of the U.S. armed forces, would establish a benefit for military members who now qualify for food stamps under eligibility criteria established by the Department of Agriculture (USDA) or who would qualify if the cash value of their off-base housing allowances were not counted.
The DoD subsistence plan would provide eligible members with electronic debit cards containing a fixed monthly value based upon the member's pay grade and family size. Eligibility guidelines would generally follow the USDA food stamp guidelines with a few important exceptions: first, the value of housing allowance received by members living off-base would not count as income in determining eligibility or amount of benefit, and second, the benefit would be administered on military installations, making access to the benefit much easier than having to travel to the state office.
Also, the plan would ensure that service members assigned to remote locations, where commissaries are not available, are not disadvantaged solely by the location of their assignment. These members would be reimbursed, upon presentation of food receipts, an amount equal in value to the benefit which would have otherwise been provided through the use of the plan debit card.
The plan was developed to specifically address the issue of military members eligible to receive food stamps and to restore equity among members living either on or off military installations. It addresses an identified need to improve the financial well-being of many of our junior personnel, while providing an alternative benefit to those currently relying on public assistance in the form of food stamps.
The plan's benefit structure should serve as an incentive for individuals to participate in the DoD plan rather than the food stamp program, since many would receive a benefit for which they would not have previously qualified and others would receive a roughly comparable benefit. An additional benefit for those who may have been using food stamps in local grocery stores would be the significant savings of approximately 26 percent gained by shopping in the commissary. This would have a direct and measurable effect in increasing the discretionary income of some of our most junior enlisted men and women with families.
"The subsistence plan is the right thing to do for our men and women in uniform," Secretary Cohen said. "It addresses inequities in current programs, and continues the steps started last year with enactment of increased pay raises and changes to retirement benefits. These measures directly improve the standard, and quality, of living that our service members deserve. Of paramount importance is the ability to attract and retain the quality force on which our nation has come to rely. This new step is consistent with that goal and shows that the Department of Defense takes care of its own."