Our proxy war in Ukraine with Russia, rising tensions with China, and Congress’ attachment to the military-industrial complex allowed the birth of the largest, dirtiest defense budget seen in generations. Congress this year established an enormous $858 billion defense budget and did so almost ceremonially.
You’d think within the monstrosity of that bill that most members of Congress, who couldn’t read even if they wanted to, would have some money in there to improve the lives of service members.
There was a salary increase. The biggest pay increase the military has seen in 20 years, in fact. But hold on.
At 4.6%, the wage increase is below the current inflation rate of 6%; It’s just a service member saying, ‘Look, your situation isn’t as dire now as it used to be.’
But the biggest shame is how this year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) made it harder for active duty members to get the help Congress claims to provide.
I am very grateful to be in @AirForceTimes For my work on food insecurity as opposed to “military spouse arrested after naked FOD walk”. https://t.co/waeDcbWjpb
— Ashley Gutermuth (@AshGutermuth) January 18, 2023
Mouths to feed
A study commissioned by the Pentagon last year found that 24% of active duty service members experienced “low food security” in the past year. To put that into perspective, approximately one in four military members lacks quality meals.
Of that 24%, 10% experienced “very low food security,” meaning they did some, but all, of the following:
- He ate less during lunch
- Overall, the meal was missed
- Lost weight due to food insecurity
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You all know I love my numbers so let’s break it down even more. The study found that about 286,000 active duty military members have some level of food insecurity and 120,000 suffer from hunger overall.
Be alert; Those numbers do not include family members of these service members or Americans serving in the reserves. But don’t worry; Congress is here to help because they all care so much about the military, right?
RELATED: How 4 Republican Senators Turned Their Backs on Soldiers Discharged for Refusing Covid Vaccine Order
Military food insecurity and our obsession with defense spending • @mazzarino_a • https://t.co/jnLSRCqjX7
– Dick and Sharon🌹 (@DickandSharon) January 13, 2023
Devils in the details
NDAA includes income supplement for low-ranking military members to alleviate the food insecurity crisis. In 2022 this ‘Basic Essential Allowance’ was to increase the salary of members to 130% of the poverty line in their area.
This year that percentage has risen to 150% of the poverty line. But, according to the Pentagon, it only helps less than 1% of service members.
So why does this allowance only help such a small percentage? As usual, because of the language in the bill that no one reads.
Income calculations for service members must include their Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) if they live off base, but not for those living on base. Now for those of you unfamiliar, allow me to explain.
BAH helps cover housing costs. For those who choose to live on base or are ineligible to live in base housing, they are paid that amount to cover rent and utilities. The local economy of each base is well aware of this amount. Most rent is at the BAH level, meaning most members who must live off base have to go out of pocket for their utilities.
Depending on your perspective, let’s hope you’re lucky enough to live off the basics. In that case, your BAH will immediately go to a housing contractor that, as you know, is known for taking care of base housing, such as Balfour Beatty.
So as hunger public policy expert Josh Protas explains:
“Military housing payments do not count toward taxable income for the IRS and other federal programs. By counting as income for those living off base but not for the value of on-base housing for troops living there, programs like the Basic Needs Allowance create inequities in who can benefit.
And just who is benefiting?
RELATED: Circle Back: Updates on What Happened to DOD Diversity Chief and Other Stories of Military Awakening
“You are not forced to fight a pointless war”
Try telling poor kids who join the military as the only way to get an education, their families need food stamps to feed them, and then the military doesn’t want to admit the injuries they caused. https://t.co/6lJIGN9E9P
– These are the stupidest and funkiest times (@ljmontello) January 14, 2023
It is estimated that only 2,400 service members will be helped by this program, only .8% of the 286,000 who lack good food and only 2% of the 120,000 who suffer from hunger. And since I can’t help it, let’s look at another crucial number.
The basic needs allowance covers $12 million of the $858 billion defense budget. That’s .001% of the defense budget, which is how much legislators care about those who support and protect the Constitution.
What’s more, if Congress were to remove the language requiring BAH to be part of the income calculation for those living off base, it would only benefit approximately 50,400 service members, still missing the bar by a large margin.
As Congresswoman Sarah Jacobs of California, a Democrat, said:
“This crisis not only tarnishes our country’s conscience, it harms our military readiness, recruitment and morale.”
I am mostly Ms. Agree with Jacobs, I think it goes much deeper than just a preparedness issue. It’s time for our elected leaders, political defense appointees and the American people to stop equating members of this nation’s military with readiness as part of the weapons system. Soldiers are unique in that, although they are weapon systems, they are biological entities with basic needs.
In other words, they are people.
What kind of country are we that nearly a quarter of our military members are starving while we are asking them to risk their lives to fight our wars?
RELATED: Jim Jordan leaves open possibility of cuts to bloated Pentagon budget
The US military budget is one of the most bloated and wasteful areas of our spending but no one in Congress dares to do anything about it. They take food from children’s mouths. #Military Industrial Complex https://t.co/PIEn3qUG4d
— Robert Romero (@rgoalierob) January 18, 2023
who we are
Those who raise their right hand to wear the uniform and make the ultimate sacrifice do so for a variety of reasons, including myself. I joined because I lacked options because of my socioeconomic background, and I stayed for 20 years because I loved serving my country and was a part of something I believed was bigger than everyone else.
The same study commissioned by the Pentagon found:
“Food insecure members are more likely to be mid-career enlisted personnel in grades E-4 to E-6…”
An estimated one million military families, including veterans like mine and Guard and Reserve, are forced to use food stamps. What a terrible thing we have stolen from the best of our country; By not ensuring that our military and veterans have the means to support themselves and their families, we have stolen their dignity.
As Shannon Razzadin, who leads the Military Family Counseling Network, explains:
“There is this culture of resilience in the military community. And there’s the concern that if I seek support, I might take it away from someone else who needs it more than I do.
Because let’s talk about who we are, who they are.
So, can you start with wasteful military spending that only goes into the pockets of contractors while military families can’t afford decent housing and food? Start there.
— Jim Parker (@JParkerSD46) January 18, 2023
who they are
I saw an acquaintance repost the Washington Post article on his LinkedIn profile, saying it was an excellent piece to cut through the rhetoric and educate those of us too dull to understand how DC works. The article by Paul Waldman was titled ‘6 Things People Believe About Politics That Are Totally Wrong’.
In it, Mr. Waldman explains that it is unreasonable to expect our legislators to read the bills they vote on to pass:
“…Most legislators don’t usually read the text – and that’s fine. It’s not because they’re lazy. It’s because legislation contains a special kind of language, written by experts for purposes that have nothing to do with understanding and intelligent decision-making.
So it’s an elected bureaucratic mechanism that wrote our defense bill that elected lawmakers deliberately chose to vote on without reading it, not because they’re lazy, that part is more than likely true. But because they don’t care.
Because if they had, they might have caught language in the bill that would continue to dangle food aid out of reach for those in need. So maybe the next time you see a military member out on the town or with their family, you can thank them for their service by paying for a nice meal; This may be one of the few he gets this year.
— Kat ✍️ (@mohawkmoderate) October 6, 2022
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