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Family Size Big Factor in Food Stamp Use

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 17, 1997 – About 11,900 junior enlisted service members and their families receive food stamps, according to a 1995 DoD report.

Pentagon officials consider this a problem, but not a major one because it affects only about 0.8 percent of the 1.5 million people in the military, said Ken Bacon, Pentagon spokesman.

"This is too bad, but it's a function of the size of their families more than anything else," Bacon said at a news briefing Jan. 14.

According to DoD officials, an E-1 with less than four months' service currently earns $833.40 per month in base pay. After four months, E-1 pay increases to $900.90 per month. Basic Allowance for Quarters for service members with dependents living off base is $361.50 per month. Variable Housing Allowance depends on the area.

"Pay is not high for the people entering into the force," Bacon said. "If you're a young soldier -- E-1, E-2, E-3 -- and have a large family, you could ... qualify for food stamps. This has been true for a long period of time. It's not something that's just become true in the last year or so."

What has changed, however, is the number of married service members. The military has more married service members than ever before, Bacon said. "About 60 percent of the people in the military are now married. Twenty years ago, it was about 40 percent. So there has been a fairly important demographic change."

"We believe that since the program is very highly publicized at the unit level, the number of families receiving food stamps is close to the number eligible," a DoD official said. DoD has a variety of programs to help families cope with financial problems, and service members are encouraged to apply for the same benefits available to all Americans, the official said.

About 10 million American households in the United States receive food stamps through the Department of Agriculture and state welfare agencies. Eligibility is based upon gross and net incomes, total financial resources and household size.

Of the military members receiving food stamps, 59 percent -- about 7,000 -- live on base and qualify for food stamps only because the Department of Agriculture does not take into account the family's forfeited Basic Allowance for Quarters -- the value of the housing -- as cash income.

Only 0.3 percent of all active duty members live off base and receive food stamps, DoD officials said. These are primarily junior enlisted military members with larger than average families.

Bacon said DoD has worked hard to improve pay and quality of life for service members. "One of the things that's been done in the last year is to build in what's called the full military pay increase over the next five years," he said.

In the past, the pay increase had to be negiotiated with Congress every year, he said. For the next five years, DoD has funded the maximum amount allowed by law, which is determined by the wage inflation rate. "It not only will increase the pay over time, but it gives some predictability to future pay," Bacon said.

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