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Fewer Troops Are on Food Stamps (corrected copy)

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 1, 2000 – Far fewer service members are on food stamps than people think, according to Defense Secretary William S. Cohen.

Speaking with reporters en route to Europe April 30, Cohen said DoD officials have been operating on the assumption that about 12,000 active duty service members receive food stamps. Since DoD's last survey, however, he said, the number has dropped to about 6,300.

Pentagon officials recently announced they hope to eliminate food stamp eligibility inequities. Cohen said DoD wants equity for people living off-base and those living on, but not by taking away the food stamp benefit from eligible families

"We'd like to see a situation where no service members are on food stamps, but we also want to make sure that any benefit that is available to our citizens is also available to our service members," he said.

DoD officials want to change food stamp eligibility rules by eliminating monthly cash housing allowances as income. Current food stamp rules count the allowances as income but not the value of government quarters. A service member living on base, then, would appear to earn less and could qualify for stamps more easily than a peer living off base.

Actually, according to department data, members receiving allowances fare worse because the money covers only 81 percent of off-base housing costs on average -- and by law is intended to cover only 85 percent. Members and families off base also may have added transportation and gasoline costs because they don't have easy access to the commissary or the exchanges.

"So they have a double expense," Cohen said.

The secretary said he hopes that systematically targeted pay increases can eventually get all service members off food stamps.

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