Troops on Food Stamps May Get Special Allowance
By Staff Sgt. Kathleen T. Rhem, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 31, 2000 Service members currently receiving food stamps may soon be eligible for a special DoD subsistence allowance.
The Floyd D. Spence National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2001, signed by President Clinton Oct. 30, provides for the allowance to partially address the issue of service members receiving food stamps.
The act allows for a cash allowance in the amount of the food stamp allotment or $500, whichever is less, said Navy Capt. Elliott Bloxom, DoD's director of military compensation. The allowance is scheduled to begin in spring or summer 2001. DoD and service officials are still working out the details of how it will be implemented.
"For instance, if a person gets $350 a month in food stamp allotments, he would get a $350 cash payment," Bloxom said. Individuals who receive more than $500 in food stamps would get $500 cash.
There is one major caveat to this example, Bloxom said. The value of base housing will be added to the income of members in computing their eligibility for the new allowance.
"For example, for someone living in government quarters in Jacksonville, Fla., we'd have to count the value of what somebody in Jacksonville at that pay grade and dependency status would get in (basic allowance for housing) into determining whether they would still be eligible for food stamps, and what their allotment would be if that value counted," Bloxom explained.
He said this provision wouldn't effect whether those individuals still qualified for food stamps, just whether they qualified for the additional DoD allowance. "Many of those living on base and receiving food stamps may not be eligible for this special subsistence allowance," Bloxom said.
Receiving the special subsistence allowance doesn't disqualify an individual from receiving food stamps, although it could lower the member's food stamp entitlement because it's paid in cash.
"There is nothing in the law that says people who get this allowance can't receive food stamps," Bloxom said. "We believe that many people will receive the special subsistence allowance of a cash value and still be eligible to receive food stamps. Based upon their additional income, their food stamp allotment may go down somewhat but not to zero."
Defense officials have noted current Department of Agriculture food stamp rules create an inequity among service members because they count monthly cash housing allowances as income but not the value of government quarters. Military members who live off base appear to have larger incomes than their peers who live on base. Ironically, the allowance members forfeit to live in base housing covers their costs in full while a cash allowance by law is supposed to cover only 85 percent of off-base housing costs -- but actually covers only 81 percent on average, according to DoD statistics.
DoD does not keep track of individual service members receiving food stamps, but officials estimate there are currently about 5,000. Bloxom said compensation experts estimate this new allowance will remove about 500 of those from the food stamp rolls.
The new allowance is in lieu of a plan DoD had proposed in April to provide eligible members with commissary debit cards in the amount of their food stamp allotment. Instead of counting the value of base housing in determining eligibility, as the new allowance does, the debit card plan would have addressed the equity issue by not counting the housing allowances of those living off base. This plan would have made more families eligible for additional subsistence assistance, DoD officials believe.